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Theater & Opera

Mikhail Chekhov – Founder of the Star Factory
 
Mikhail Aleksandrovich Chekhov  was born in Saint-Petersburg, then Russian Empire, to the family of Alexander Chekhov, the brother to the famed playwright Anton Chekhov, and Natalia Golden. Family traditions (his father was a moderately successful writer) influenced Michael and his decision to become an actor.
 
In 1907 he enrolled into the Suvorinsky Theater in Saint Petersburg, where he studied under two talented directors, Boris Glagolin and Vladimir Sladkopevtsev. In 1912 he was noticed by Stanislavski and invited to join the Moscow Arts Theater (MAT, Russian: МХАТ). Later he would become the head of MAT's First Studio.
 
There he studied Stanislavski's new acting methods and their limitations; at one time, when experimenting with so called emotional memory techniques, he suffered a serious nervous breakdown.
 
It was soon after his joining MAT that he met and soon married Olga, who would give him a son during their short-lived marriage (from 1914 to 1917). Soon after the divorce, Chekhov married Ksenya Ziller, who would stay with him until his very death many years later...
 
Soon after the October revolution in Russia, Chekhov had a split with Stanislavski – he considered his teacher's methods "too naturalistic" - and toured the country with his own troupe. In the late 20s, disillusioned by the Bolshevik regime, he emigrated to Germany, where he set up his own studio to develop and teach so called "Psychological Gesture," a concept derived from the Symbolist theories of Bely. 
 
Much later, in 1942, he would publish his book On the Technique of Acting. The book is used as an acting guide even now. Such established Hollywood actors as Johnny Depp and Anthony Hopkins credit the work with their acting successes!
 
In 1938, with the war looming close, Chekhov moved to Connecticut, USA, where he immediately started an acting school. The school was a resounding success: many a Hollywood star went through the course, including Marilyn Monroe, Anthony Quinn, Clint Eastwood, Mala Powers, Yul Brynner, Patricia Neal, Sterling Hayden, Jack Palance, Elia Kazan, Paula Strasberg and Lloyd Bridges.  
 
In addition to teaching, Chekhov still performed on the theater stage, sometimes foraying into the world of cinema. One of such forays, Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound, brought him an Oscar Nomination for Best supporting actor! 
 
He continued working until the very end of his life; Michael died September 30, 1955, in his Beverly Hills house. 
 
Sources:
Farber, Vreneli, Stanislavsky in Practice: Actor Training in Post-Soviet Russia (Artists & Issues in the Theatre, Vol. 16) New York: Peter Lang, 2008.
Чехов М. А. Путь актёра: Жизнь и встречи / Михаил Чехов. – М.: АСТ; АСТ МОСКВА: ХРАНИТЕЛЬ, 2007.

 


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