11/24/1980 at 01:00 AM EST
Since its founding in 1947 in a seedy walk-up on the West Side of Manhattan, Lee Strasberg's Actors Studio has been America's most prolific school for stars. Marilyn Monroe and James Dean learned the Method there; so did Julie Harris, Bea Arthur, Sylvia Miles, Al Pacino, Ben Gazzara and Marlon Brando. Last week guests assembled at $150 a plate in the Waldorf-Astoria to watch the Studio honor its distinguished alumni. The 128 honorees represented an astonishing 387 Oscar, Tony and Emmy nominations. One star-struck observer approached Anne Jackson and her spouse, Eli Wallach. "Are you who I think you are?" the fan gasped. "Yes, I'm Joanne Woodward," Jackson answered. "And this is my husband, Paul Newman. He's wearing brown contact lenses."
Alumni Woodward and Newman were honored in absentia, but the 44 award winners who came in person heard Strasberg praise their "sense of aspiration, of growth and progress, never settling for what has been done but always going further." Most of the honorees spent the evening swapping memories and praising their mentor. "There are some teachers who make their pupils honor them," Celeste Holm said, "but the really great teachers make people honor themselves." "I came from a family where we didn't show our emotions, a Quaker family, and the first time I cried in front of people was in Lee's class," Eva Marie Saint recalled. "And nobody laughed at me." Typically gnomic, Cloris Leach-man announced that Strasberg had taught her "a sense of discovering experience and experiencing discovery." It was left to a very grown-up "Baby June" Havoc to remember the school's early, hardscrabble days: "Twenty-seven years ago we walked up five flights of stairs to work and when the lights went out we had to chip in to buy a new bulb," she said. "It was good then, Lee, and it's good now."