Virginie at The Wonderful World of Cinema graciously hosts The Wonderful Grace Kelly Blogathon on November 11 & 12th, celebrating one of her favorite actresses Grace Kelly. Rather than cover a Grace Kelly film (she made relatively few films) I cover the man we may describe as the most influential to her career, Don Richardson.
I am certain my darling readers wonder, “who was Don Richardson what does he have to do with Grace Kelly?”
What follows is a friendlier version of an excerpt from my previously published thesis combined with extra Grace Kelly information that did not make the final cut.
After graduating from The American Academy of Dramatic Arts, Don Richardson began his theatrical career with the legendary Group Theatre. The Group Theatre’s members included actors, directors, and playwrights (Lee Strasberg, Elia Kazan, Lee J. Cobb, Robert Lewis, Clifford Odets, Eli Wallach, Stella Adler, to name a few) who would eventually control and influence Hollywood with their technique “The Method”.
Richardson observed The Method was an effective means for characterization, but its grueling internal work created “needless misery” (Richardson 35). After leaving The Group, Richardson returned to American Academy of Dramatic Arts as an instructor. His students included Anne Bancroft, Elizabeth Montgomery, and Grace Kelly.
But it was Kelly upon whom he made a lifelong impression. For in addition to being her instructor, he was romantically involved with her for several years. He was responsible for getting Kelly her first agent. He also coached her to model herself after Deborah Kerr, and to lose her native Philadelphia accent.
According to her biographer Wendy Leigh, Kelly would rehearse for hours with a “clothespin on the end of her nose, reciting Shakespeare” to reduce her natural nasal accent.
Essentially, he created the actor we recognize as Grace Kelly.
“Don enjoyed playing Pygmalion to Grace. … She had the ability to make men want to take care of her, and he felt he was doing just that. I don’t think it was a manipulative tactic. She was just that kind of person” (Leigh 37). From her autobiographies, Kelly seems incredibly ambitious, Richardson compares her to “a Patton tank on its way to somewhere” (Leigh 115). Yet Leigh argues Kelly’s many advantageous affairs were not motivated by ambition, but her romanticism.
Leigh’s book also suggests Richardson paid for Grace Kelly’s Broadway debut in The Father with Raymond Massey, Richardson had taken Grace to meet the producers of the production, they were unimpressed with Kelly, but Richardson offered to pay her salary.
Don Richardson’s technique is outlined his book Acting Without Agony: An Alternative to the Method, his approach is a quick-paced technique designed for the television actor; he felt Stanislavsky’s approach was:
For another place and another time, he could rehearse a play for months or even years. We need new ways of teaching actors for the cost-hastened productions of today… Scripts are in constant rewrite and the actor is expected to learn changes and perform them in a matter of minutes. New ways of working are essential under these conditions. (Richardson 10-11)
Richardson’s text is caustic and antagonistic toward the Method and its practitioners. Readers should note Richardson published his text when there was a strong negative public opinion toward Strasberg and The Method (Krasner 6), possibly influencing the text style and structure.
His primary focus is to create actors who are ready to perform any number of script rewrites with minimal rehearsal time. The first chapter of his book describes how, in his opinion, Stanislavsky’s System does not work for television (11). His technique lacks many of the steps one often sees in Stanislavsky-based acting techniques. This was not a problem for students in Richardson’s class because his students had some existing form of Method or Stanislavsky training (evident in their questions from the text Acting Without Agony). When an actor has an existing level of technique, there is less need to plan the individual steps. A trained actor can automatically read the emotional changes in a script; there is less need to plan where these shifts occur because the process can become second nature to the trained actor. While an invaluable tool for students with an existing Stanislavsky-based training, Richardson’s text is problematic for the beginning actor, despite his technique’s simplicity.
Richardson found success in television directing regular television series and television films, including The World of Sholom Aleichem (with Zero Mostel, Jack Gilford and Morris Carnovsky), Lullaby (with Anne Jackson and Eli Wallach) and Don Juan in Hell (with George C. Scott). Despite his work with some notable twentieth-century actors, Richardson remains relatively unknown. He directed made-for-television films and series including Bonanza, The Virginian, Lost in Space, and Mission Impossible. Richardson worked as an independent contractor moving from series to series. Besides his television credits, Richardson also directed several plays on Broadway and taught acting at American Academy of Dramatic Arts, Barnard College, the University of Israel at Tel Aviv and UCLA.
Despite his efforts in grooming Grace Kelly’s talents, her family objected to Richardson. He did not fit in with her family: he was Jewish and ten years her senior. The relationship ended when Richardson discovered he was one of many whom she used to propel her career. Despite this, the two remained close and maintained a correspondence until Kelly’s death.
Please be sure to visit Virginie and her charming blog The Wonderful World of Cinema, where she celebrates Hollywood’s glamorous ladies like Audrey Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman and of course, Grace Kelly. This post is part of The Wonderful Grace Kelly Blogathon make sure you check out all the other great entries!
Ciao for Now My Dearies!
Krasner, David, ed. Method Acting Reconsidered: Theory, Practice, Future. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000. Print.
Leigh, Wendy. True Grace: The Life and Times of an American Princess. New York: Macmillan, 2008. Print.
Lister, John Harold. “A Case History of Don Richardson and His Technique for Directing Dramatic Television Actors.” MA Thesis. San Francisco State University, 1981. Print.
Reeves, Summer. “Without Agony: Analyzing Don Richardson’s Approach to Actor-Training for the University Curriculum.” MA Thesis. San José State University. 2013, Print.
Richardson, Don. Acting Without Agony: An Alternative to the Method. 2nd Ed. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon, 1994. Print.
Smith, Wendy. Real Life Drama: The Group Theatre and America, 1931-1940. New York: Knopf: Distributed by Random House, 1990. Print.
Spada, James. Grace: The Secret Lives of a Princess. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1987. Print.
Spoto, Donald. High Society: The Life of Grace Kelly. 1st Ed. New York: Harmony Books, 2009. Print.