Michael Chekhov

Michael Chekhov

Mikhail A. Chekhov, 1910s
Born Mikhail Aleksandrovich Chekhov
29 August 1891(1891-08-29)
St. Petersburg, Russian Empire
Died 30 September 1955(1955-09-30) (aged 64)
Beverly Hills, California, United States
Years active 1921–1954
Spouse Ksenya Karlovna Ziller (1918-1955) (his death)
Olga Tschechowa (1914-1917) (divorced) 1 child

Michael Chekhov (Russian: Михаил Александрович Чехов, 29 August 1891 – 30 September 1955) was a Russian-American actor, director, author, and theatre practitioner. His acting technique has been used by actors such as Clint Eastwood, Marilyn Monroe, Yul Brynner, and Robert Stack. Constantin Stanislavski referred to him as his most brilliant student. He was a nephew of the playwright Anton Chekhov.

Although mainly a stage actor, he made a few notable appearances on film, perhaps most memorably as the Freudian analyst in Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound.



Chekhov was considered by the Russian theatre practitioner Constantin Stanislavski to be one of his brightest students. He studied under Stanislavski at the First Studio of the Moscow Art Theatre, where he acted, directed, and studied Stanislavski's 'system'. When Chekhov experimented with affective memory and had a nervous breakdown, this aided Stanislavski in seeing the limitations of his early concepts of emotional memory.[citation needed] He later led the company of the studio under the name the Second Moscow Art Theatre. Stanislavski came to regard Chekhov's work as a betrayal of his principles.

His father was Alexander Chekhov (brother of playwright Anton Chekhov) and his mother was Natalya Golden, the eldest of three Jewish sisters. Chekhov's first wife (1915–1919) was actress Olga Chekhova born Knipper, whom he met at the MAT First Studio. (She was named after her aunt, the wife of Anton Chekhov.) She was a movie-star in Germany and admired by Adolf Hitler. Their daughter, also baptized Olga, was born in 1916, she became a German actress under the name of Ada Tschechowa. Olga Chekhova was a daughter of Konstantin Knipper and the niece and namesake of Olga Knipper, Anton Chekhov's wife. His second wife was Xenia Ziller, of German origins.

After the October Revolution, Chekhov split with Stanislavski and toured with his own company. He thought that Stanislavski’s techniques led too readily to a naturalistic style of performance. He demonstrated his own theories in parts as Senator Ableukhov in the stage version of Andrei Bely's Petersburg. In the late 1920s, Chekhov emigrated to Germany and set up his own studio, teaching a physical and imagination-based system of actor training. He developed the use of the "Psychological Gesture," a concept derived from the Symbolist theories of Bely. In this technique, the actor physicalizes a character’s need or internal dynamic in the form of an external gesture. Subsequently, the outward gesture is suppressed and incorporated internally, allowing the physical memory to inform the performance on an unconscious level. Between 1930-1935 he worked in Kaunas State Drama Theatre in Lithuania. Between 1936 and 1939 Chekhov established The Chekhov Theatre School at Dartington Hall, in Devon, England. Following developments in Germany that threatened the outbreak of war in 1938 his school moved to Connecticut in the United States, where it took up residence of an old boarding school, awarding its first diplomas in 1939.


Mikhail Chekhov 4.jpg

Following Stanislavski's approach, much of what Chekhov explored addressed the question of how to access the unconscious creative self through indirect non-analytical means. Chekhov taught a range of movement dynamics such as molding, floating, flying, and radiating that actors use to find the physical core of a character. His techniques, though seemingly external, were meant to lead the actor to a rich internal life. In spite of his brilliance as an actor and his first-hand experience in the development of Stanislavski's groundbreaking work, Chekhov as a teacher was overshadowed by his American counterparts in the 1940s and 1950s and their interpretations of Stanislavski's 'system,' which became known as Method acting. Interest in Chekhov's work has grown, however, with a new generation of teachers. Chekhov's own students included Marilyn Monroe, Anthony Quinn, Clint Eastwood, Mala Powers, Yul Brynner, Patricia Neal, Sterling Hayden, Jack Palance, Elia Kazan, Paula Strasberg, Lloyd Bridges and his wife, Dorothy Bridges.[1] In the television programme Inside the Actors Studio, noted actors such as Johnny Depp and Anthony Hopkins have cited Chekhov's book as highly influential on their acting.

Chekhov's description of his acting technique, On the Technique of Acting, was written in 1912. When reissued in 1991 it had additional material by Chekhov estate executor Mala Powers; an abridged version appeared under the title, To the Actor, which was published in 1953 and reissued in 2002 with an additional foreword by Simon Callow and additional Russian material translated and commented on by Andrei Malaev-Babel. The English translation of his autobiography The Path of the Actor was edited by Andrei Kirillov and Bella Merlin, and was published by Routledge in 2005, marking the 50th anniversary of his death. Some of Chekhov's lectures are available on CD under the title On Theatre and the Art of Acting.

The documentary From Russia to Hollywood: the 100 Year Odyssey of Chekhov and Shdanoff, profiles Chekhov and his fellow Russian associate George Shdanoff; released in 1998, it is narrated by Gregory Peck, who starred in Alfred Hitchcock's film Spellbound, for which Chekhov earned an Oscar Nomination.

Selected filmography

Michael Chekhov as Erik in the 1921 production of August Strindberg's Erik XIV.
Year Film Role
1921 Erik XIV Erik XIV
1921 Man from the Restaurant Skorokhodov
1944 Song of Russia Ivan Stepanov
1944 In Our Time Uncle Leopold Baruta
1945 Spellbound Dr. Alexander 'Alex' Brulov
1946 Cross My Heart Peter
1946 Specter of the Rose Max Polikoff
1946 Abie's Irish Rose Solomon Levy
1948 Texas, Brooklyn, and Heaven Gaboolian
1952 Invitation Dr. Fromm
1952 Holiday for Sinners Dr. Konndorff
1954 Rhapsody Professor Schuman


External links

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