Director, Producer, Writer, Teacher
Jack (Jacob) Garfein was born in Mukacevo, Carpathian Ruthenia, Czechoslovakia (now Mukacheve, Ukraine), to a well-to-do Jewish family. During World War II, when the Nazi regime started to persecute Jews, the Slovakian government decided to collaborate, and even paid to send the Jews to the camps. His entire family was killed, but he survived 11 concentration camps, including Auschwitz. At the end of the war, he was liberated from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp by the British Army.
In 1946, he moved to New York to join his uncle, who lived in the city. Determined to become an actor, Garfein won a scholarship to the Dramatic Workshop at The New School. He took acting classes with the influential German director Erwin Piscator. Among his classmates were Walter Matthau, Tony Curtis, and Rod Steiger. In 1949, encouraged by Piscator, Garfein joined The American Theater Wing to study directing with Lee Strasberg. After graduating at the age of twenty, he was hired to direct fifteen-minute dramatic segments on television with Barry Nelson, Phyllis Love, and Donald Buka, who, at the time, were the exciting new actors of Broadway. In 1951, Garfein was invited to attend The Actors Studio. During that time, he directed the play End as a Man by Calder Willingham, with participation by all of The Actors Studio members. He also gave James Dean his first role in the first Actors Studio production of the play. Praised by Strasberg and Kazan, the play opened off-Broadway, starring another Actors Studio alumni, Ben Gazzara. In 1953, after rave reviews, it moved to Broadway. The legendary critic Stark Young hailed the acting as, "The best ensemble work in the American theater.” At the age of 23, beating Orson Welles’ record, Garfein received The Show Business Award as the best director on Broadway. It was the beginning of a long and prolific career for Garfein, both as a producer and director. In 1955, he was officially invited to become a member of The Actors Studio. He was the first director to receive this honor.
As a director and an acting teacher, Garfein actively participated in the development of The Actors Studio work and collaborated with famous filmmakers, such as Elia Kazan, John Ford, and George Stevens. He directed Uta Hagen, Herbert Berghof, Shelley Winters, Jessica Tandy, Hume Cronyn, Ralph Meeker, Mark Richman, Mildred Dunnock, Elaine Stritch, Malick Bowens. He discovered Ben Gazzara, James Dean, Steve McQueen, George Peppard, Bruce Dern, Doris Roberts, Jean Stapleton, Pat Hingle, Albert Salmi, Paul Richards and Susan Strasberg.
Garfein is the author of two both politically and artistically challenging films that did not spare Hollywood’s conservatism, and ultimately led to censorship. In The Strange One (1957), he tackled the question of the effect of military psychology on young men. Another controversial aspect of the film was the fact that Garfein used African-American extras in the last scene of the film, which got him into trouble with the studio. The Strange One was also censored by The Motion Picture Production Code for general “homosexual overtones” and “excessive brutality and suggestive sequences [that] tend to arouse disrespect for lawful authority”. In his second film, Something Wild (1961), derived from Alex Karmel’s novel Mary Ann, he similarly challenged the studios’ conventions by formally depicting rape. Something Wild features an original score by Aaron Copland, the title sequence by Saul Bass, and the photography by Eugen Schüfftan.
Aside from participating in the revolutionary acting process of The Actors Studio in New York, in 1966, Garfein, in collaboration with Paul Newman, founded the second branch of The Actors Studio in Los Angeles. He was also one of the co-founders of New York Theatre Row, where, in 1974, he created The Harold Clurman Theater, and later The Samuel Beckett Theatre.
During his theater career, he produced and directed over 50 plays. Some of the most notable productions include: Shadow of a Gunman by Sean O’Casey, two plays by Arthur Miller, The Price and The American Clock; Childhood by Nathalie Sarraute, starring Glenn Close (1985); Rommel's Garden by Harvey Gabor (1985); For No Good Reason by Nathalie Sarraute (1985); Kurt Weill Cabaret with Alvin Epstein and Marta Schlamme (1985); Endgame by Samuel Beckett (1984); The Chekov Sketchbook with Joseph Buloff and John Herd (1981); California Reich and The Lesson by Eugène Ionesco (1978–79), as well as The Beckett Plays (Ohio Impromptu, Catastrophe, What Were) in London, Vienna, and Jerusalem (1983-1984). His most recent production of An Address To An Academy by Franz Kafka (2013) had a successful run in two theaters in Paris.
Garfein also created a unique acting technique, which he described in his book Life and Acting: Techniques for the Actor, 2010. He has been teaching the craft and art of acting for the past 40 years in Paris, New York, London, Berlin, Madrid, and Vienna. Among his students were such prominent actors as Sissy Spacek, Samuel Le Bihan, Irène Jacob, Sam Karmann, Bill Smitrovich, James Thiérrée, Valérie Stroh, Jacky Narcissian, Laetitia Casta, Mark Richman, Bruce Dern, and others. In 1985, he founded his own studio, Le Studio Jack Garfein, in Paris. For his teaching work, he was awarded three Masque D’Or awards in France: for best scene work and as the best acting teacher in France.