A celebrated Broadway actress who is also noted as perhaps one of the most respected acting teachers in the USA, Uta Hagen has been an outspoken critic of both the Stanislavsky 'Method' as practiced (but not of the Russian master himself) and of formalism in acting. Born in Germany, but raised from childhood in Madison, WI, Hagen made her professional acting debut in 1937 playing Ophelia opposite Eva Le Gallienne in the latter's ground-breaking New York production of "Hamlet". That same year, she made her Broadway debut as Nina in a Broadway production of Chekhov's "The Seagull" starring Alfred Lunt and Lynne Fontanne, both of whom would have a profound influence on her acting style. She went on to star opposite her then-husband Jose Ferrer and Paul Muni in "Key Largo" (1939-40) and was the subject of controversy playing Desdemona to Paul Robeson's "Othello" (with Ferrer as Iago). When the show toured, some less liberal audience members were not accepting of a black actor and white actress having physical contact on stage. Hagen was actually contemplating abandoning the craft until she was cast by Harold Clurman in "The Whole World Over" in 1947. Clurman, one of the founders of The Group Theatre, introduced Hagen to Stanislavsky and what she would term "truthfulness on stage" as well as to Herbert Berghof, who asked her first to join his HB Studios as an acting teacher and then, several years later, to be his wife.
While building her reputation as a legendary acting teacher, Hagen also continued a thriving stage career, touring as Blanche DuBois in "A Streetcar Named Desire" opposite Anthony Quinn. In 1950, she received her first Tony Award creating the role of long-suffering George Elgin in Clifford Odets' "The Country Girl". Throughout the 50s and into the early 60s, Hagen continued to build on her reputation, often appearing in classics like Shaw's "Saint Joan" (1952), "A Month in the Country", with Michael Redgrave, and "The Good Woman of Setzuan" (both 1956). In 1962, she was tapped to create the role of Martha to Arthur Hill's George in Edward Albee's blistering "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?", earning a second Tony Award. More recently, she triumphed in a revival of Shaw's "Mrs. Warren's Profession" (1985) and in the title role of psychotherapist "Mrs. Klein" (1996-97). She returned Off-Broadway in 1998 as a celebrated writer who takes a student under her wing in "Collected Stories" (1998).
The actress has maintained that she was 'greylisted' from film and TV work, partly over her association with Robeson. Hagen has also claimed that the few roles she did accept were "for the money". Just over 60, she made her film debut as the sane grandmother of good and evil twins in the haunting "The Other" (1972). Six years later, she appeared alongside Laurence Olivier and Gregory Peck in "The Boys From Brazil" (1978), portraying the woman who arranged for the adoption of Hitler clones. It was over a decade before she returned to films as the loyal maid to Sunny von Bulow in Barbet Schroeder's "Reversal of Fortune" (1990). Her small screen roles have included a brief turn as a hotel guest who gets robbed on the ABC daytime drama "One Life to Live" (which netted her a Daytime Emmy nomination), a woman who has problems with the display of religious symbols in a public park in "Seasonal Differences", a 1987 "ABC Afterschool Special" (which garnered her a second Daytime Emmy nod), an outspoken Holocaust survivor in the first two episodes of the NBC drama series "Tattinger's" (1988) and a woman who resists the attempts of her children to put force her to a retirement residence in "The Home", a segment of the 1991 PBS special "The Sunset Gang".
As her Broadway triumphs were not taped and live merely in the memories of those who witnessed them, Hagen earned a second audience as an author. Her first book, "Respect for Acting" (1973), became a widely-selling how to text book on acting. In 1991, reflecting her revised concepts of acting techniques. she rewrote the book and published the new version as "A Challenge for the Actor". Hagen has also fashioned a cookbook, "Love For Cooking" (1976) and penned a memoir, "Sources" (1983). While she occasionally travels to hold master classes or lecture, she primarily devotes herself to running and teaching at the HB Studios in NYC, where classes generally cost less than $10.