07/10/1989 at 01:00 AM EDT
PBS(Mon., July 10, 9 P.M. ET)
If human beings were musical instruments, acting teacher Stella Adler would be a Wurlitzer organ with all the stops pulled out. "Tyrant or angel?" asks this American Masters documentary about one of our country's most flamboyant grandes dames.
As the daughter of New York Yiddish actor Jacob P. Adler, Stella has always been a part of the theater. She made her first appearance onstage as a baby in her father's arms, and in the early 1930s she was a contentious member of the Group Theatre, which pioneered method acting. Although Adler never achieved anything approaching full-blown stardom in the theater or in Hollywood, she found it in teaching others, starting in 1949. Her acclaimed pupils have included Marlon Brando, Candice Bergen and Karl Maiden, who is interviewed here. This lively documentary includes a tour of Adler's opulent Park Avenue apartment (suitable for Marie of Rumania) and clips of her teaching students the art of acting—her way, of course. Beware, these later clips are not for the fainthearted, as Adler is not afraid to call a ham a ham. This fiery, passionate lady makes the harridan piano teacher Shirley MacLaine played in last year's Madame Sousatzka seem like June Cleaver.