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Uta Hagen

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Title: Uta Hagen  
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Subject: Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play, José Ferrer, The Other, Stanislavski's system, Presentational and representational acting
Collection: 1919 Births, 2004 Deaths, 20Th-Century American Actresses, 21St-Century American Actresses, Acting Theorists, Actresses from Wisconsin, American Film Actresses, American Stage Actresses, American Television Actresses, American Theater Hall of Fame Inductees, Deaths from Stroke, Donaldson Award Winners, Drama Teachers, Fellows of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Ferrer Family (Acting), German Emigrants to the United States, Hollywood Blacklist, People from Göttingen, People from Madison, Wisconsin, Tony Award Winners, United States National Medal of Arts Recipients
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Uta Hagen

Uta Hagen
Hagen with Paul Robeson in the 1943–1945 Theatre Guild production of Othello
Born Uta Thyra Hagen
(1919-06-12)12 June 1919
Göttingen, Germany
Died 14 January 2004(2004-01-14) (aged 84)
Manhattan, New York City, U.S.
Occupation Actress
Years active 1937–2001
Spouse(s) José Ferrer
(m.1938–1948; divorced)
Herbert Berghof
(m.1957–1990; his death)

Uta Thyra Hagen (12 June 1919 – 14 January 2004) was a German American actress and drama teacher. She originated the role of Martha in the 1962 Broadway premiere of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee (who called her "a profoundly truthful actress"). Because Hagen was on the Hollywood blacklist, in part because of her association with Paul Robeson, her film opportunities dwindled and she focused her career on New York theater. She twice won the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play and received a Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1999. She later became a highly influential acting teacher at New York's Herbert Berghof Studio and authored best-selling acting texts, Respect for Acting, with Haskel Frankel,[1] and A Challenge for the Actor. She was elected to the American Theatre Hall of Fame in 1981.[2]


  • Life and career 1
    • Early life 1.1
    • Career 1.2
  • Personal Life 2
  • Work 3
    • Stage 3.1
    • Film 3.2
    • Television 3.3
  • Awards and Nominations 4
  • Quotes 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Life and career

Early life

Born in Göttingen, Germany, the daughter of Thyra A. (née Leisner) and Oskar Frank Leonard Hagen,[3] Hagen and her family emigrated to the United States in 1924, when her father received a position at Cornell University.[4] She was raised in Madison, Wisconsin. She appeared in productions of the University of Wisconsin High School and in summer stock productions of the Wisconsin Players. She studied acting briefly at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in 1936.[5] After spending one semester at the University of Wisconsin, where her father was the head of the department of art history, she left for New York City in 1937.[6] Her first professional role was as Ophelia opposite Eva Le Gallienne in the title role of Hamlet in Dennis, Massachusetts in 1937.


Hagen was cast, early on, as Ophelia by the actress-manager [7] The New York Times' critic Brooks Atkinson hailed her Nina as "grace and aspiration incarnate".[8]

She played Clifford Odets' The Country Girl. She won again in 1963 for originating the role of the "I-wear-the-pants-in-this-family-because-somebody's-got-to" Martha in Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. (An original cast recording was made of this show.) In 1981 she was elected to the American Theatre Hall of Fame and in 1999 received a "Special Lifetime Achievement Tony Award".

Hagen considered the period between 1938 and 1947 as "the transitional years of my career, during which I lost my way and a love of acting until I finally regained it to begin a true life in the theater."[8]

Although she appeared in some movies, because of the Hollywood blacklist she had more limited output in film and on television, not making her cinematic debut until 1972. She would later comment about being blacklisted, "that fact kept me pure."

She was nominated for a Daytime Emmy Award as "Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series" for her performance on the television soap opera One Life to Live.

She taught at HB Studio, a well-known New York City acting school on a cobblestone, tree-shaded street in the West Village. She began there in 1947, and married its co-founder, Herbert Berghof, on January 25, 1957. Later in her life, Hagen undertook a return to the stage, earning accolades for leading roles in Mrs. Warren's Profession (1985), Collected Stories, and Mrs. Klein. After Berghof's death in 1990 she became the school's chairperson.

Hagen was an influential acting teacher who taught, among others, Matthew Broderick, Christine Lahti, Amanda Peet, Jason Robards, Sigourney Weaver, Katie Finneran, Liza Minnelli, Whoopi Goldberg, Jack Lemmon, Charles Nelson Reilly, Manu Tupou, Debbie Allen, Herschel Savage, Jon Stewart, and Al Pacino. She was a voice coach to Judy Garland, teaching a German accent, for the picture Judgment at Nuremberg. Garland's performance earned her an Academy Award nomination.

She also wrote Respect for Acting (1973) and A Challenge for the Actor (1991), which advocate realistic acting (as opposed to pre-determined "formalistic" acting). In her mode of realism, the actor puts his own psyche to use in finding identification with the role," trusting that a form will result.[9] In Respect for Acting, Hagen credited director Harold Clurman with a turn-around in her perspective on acting:

In 1947, I worked in a play under the direction of Harold Clurman. He opened a new world in the professional theatre for me. He took away my 'tricks'. He imposed no line readings, no gestures, no positions on the actors. At first I floundered badly because for many years I had become accustomed to using specific outer directions as the material from which to construct the mask for my character, the mask behind which I would hide throughout the performance. Mr Clurman refused to accept a mask. He demanded ME in the role. My love of acting was slowly reawakened as I began to deal with a strange new technique of evolving in the character. I was not allowed to begin with, or concern myself at any time with, a preconceived form. I was assured that a form would result from the work we were doing.

Hagen later "disassociated" herself from her first book, Respect for Acting.[10] In Challenge for the Actor she redefined a term which she had initially called "substitution", an esoteric technique for alchemizing elements of an actor's life with his/her character work, calling it "transference" instead. Though Hagen wrote that the actor should identify the character they play with feelings and circumstances from their (the actor's) own life, she also makes clear that

Thoughts and feelings are suspended in a vacuum unless they instigate and feed the selected actions, and it is the characters' actions which reveal the character in the play.

Respect for Acting is used as a textbook for many college acting classes. She also wrote a 1976 cookbook, Love for Cooking. In 2002, she was awarded the White House.

In 2001, Hagen released a video entitled Uta Hagen's Acting Class, a two-part set that captures her master classes.[11]

Harvey Korman talks about studying under her during his Archive of American Television interview in 2004.[12] David Hyde Pierce worked with Hagen in the Richard Alfieri play "Six dance lessons in six weeks", at the Geffen Playhouse in 2001.[13] Hyde Pierce spoke at her 2004 memorial at Manhattan's Majestic Theater.[14]

Personal Life

Uta Hagen was married to José Ferrer from 1938 until 1948. They had one child together, their daughter Leticia (born October 15, 1940). They divorced partly because of Hagen's long-concealed affair with Paul Robeson, their co-star in Othello. Hagen would later marry Herbert Berghof on January 25, 1957. They would be together for 33 years, until his death in 1990.


Awards and Nominations

Hagen was quoted, saying, "Awards don't really mean much."[18]


  • "Once in a while, there's stuff that makes me say, That's what theatre's about. It has to be a human event on the stage, and that doesn't happen very often."[19]

See also


  1. ^ Hagen, Uta (1973). Respect for Acting. New York: Wiley Publishing, Inc. 
  2. ^ 'The New York Times'', March 3, 1981 - ''26 Elected to the Theater Hall of Fame''"'". 1981-03-03. Retrieved 2013-11-14. 
  3. ^ "Current Biography Yearbook - Maxine Block, Anna Herthe Rothe, Marjorie Dent Candee - Google Books". Retrieved 2013-11-14. 
  4. ^ Port of New York, passenger list of the S.S. Luetzow, September 4, 1924, sheet 41.
  5. ^ Port of New York, passenger list of the S.S. Westernland, December 24, 1936, sheet 165.
  6. ^ "Lady Invincible", Wisconsin Academy Review, vol. 46, issue 4, Fall 2000.
  7. ^
  8. ^ a b Gussow, Mel (15 January 2004). "Uta Hagen, Tony-Winning Broadway Star and Teacher of Actors, Dies at 84". The New York Times. 
  9. ^ Hagen, Uta 1991. A Challenge for the Actor. New York: Scribner's. ISBN 0-684-19040-0
  10. ^ [Interview in Playbill at]
  11. ^ "Uta Hagen, " Internet Movie Databank,
  12. ^ Archive of American Television - Harvey Korman, 20 April 2004 (accessed 18 June 2012)
  13. ^ Richard Alfieri's "Six dance lessons in six weeks" Photo gallery (accessed 19 June 2012)
  14. ^ Uta Hagen Memorial, New York Times, 20 March 2004 (accessed 18 June 2012)
  15. ^ "Private Tutor". Retrieved 2013-11-14. 
  16. ^ [2] Archived July 11, 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  17. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter H" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved July 25, 2014. 
  18. ^ "Uta Hagen Quotes". BrainyQuote. 1919-06-12. Retrieved 2013-11-14. 
  19. ^ "Uta Hagen Quotes". BrainyQuote. 1919-06-12. Retrieved 2013-11-14. 

External links

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