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Mary Ellen "Mala" Powers

Co-Founder of National Michael Chekhov Association

Direct Student of Michael Chekhov

Executrix of Michael Chekhov Estate

December 20, 1931 - June 11, 2007 Mala Head

The daughter of a United Press executive, Mala Powers attended the Max Reinhardt Junior Workshop as a kid and fell in love with acting the first time she set foot on a stage. She made her film debut in Universal's 1942 Tough As They Come before actress Helen Thimig (Max Reinhardt's wife) convinced her to continue studying rather than become a child actress Powers worked in radio ("Cisco Kid", "Red Ryder", "This Is Your F.B.I.", "Lux Radio Theater", "Screen Guild on the Air") and met actress Ida Lupino while working on the latter show; Lupino auditioned and approved Powers for the top role in Outrage (1950/I), made by Lupino's Filmmakers production company. Powers' promising career was derailed by illness in the early '50s; when she resumed work, it was as the "B queen" of Westerns and sci-fi flicks (and much TV). For many years she has been lecturing on and teaching the Michael Chekhov acting technique throughout the U.S.

M. Hughes Miller (17 May 1970 - 28 November 1989) (his death)
Montague Max (Monte) Vanton (12 October 1954 - 24 September 1964) (divorced) 1 child


Mala PicTrivia

She was a visiting professor at a number of universities.

Studying with Michael Chekhov in her early years, she later was one of the founders of the National Michael Chekhov Association and is considered a leading authority on his acting techniques. She is the author of the book "Michael Chekhov on Theatre and the Art of Acting: The Five-Hour Master Class". In addition, she is the executrix of his estate.

While on a Christmas entertainment tour in Korea in 1951 she became ill and subsequently developed an allergy to the medication prescribed, which caused a blood disorder.

She had one child, Toren.

She was born Mary Ellen Powers on December 20, 1931, in San Francisco to journalist parents who moved to Hollywood after losing their jobs. She began training as an actress early on and at age 11 played in "Tough as They Come.".

Attending UCLA to study acting, she later taught acting using the Michael Chekhov method. Her last performance on stage occurred in 2003 at the Laguna Playhouse in a production of "Mr. Shaw Goes to Hollywood".

Best remembered film role was playing the lovely Roxanne opposite Oscar winner José Ferrer in Cyrano de Bergerac (1950). Also known for playing a rape victim in the landmark Ida Lupino film Outrage (1950/I). A sensitive subject, rape had not yet been given such a frank treatment in films, due to censorship.

Howard Hughes took a strong interest in Powers and put her under contract at RKO in the early 50s. When her film career declined, she continued on radio, stage and TV.

Became very close friends with Ida Lupino, who directed Mala in her first big film, Outrage (1950/I). When Lupino died in 1995, Mala was the executrix of her estate.

Personal Quotes

[1990 interview]


No, I'm not pleased with my career; yes, I am pleased with my life. I just loved good roles: I would love to have done great big roles in great big "A" pictures, roles that had meat in them. Would any actress not like to play Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind (1939)? From a career standpoint, of course that's what I would like to have done. It never quite happened for me that way, but I had some wonderfully satisfying experiences, I learned a tremendous lot, I had a marvelous teacher, and who knows what'll happen at this point? I don't necessarily know that I've finished with acting.

Thoughts from Mala's colleagues

From Maine:

I have heard wonderful comments about the screening of Outrage on Turner Classics. Many emails from around the world have come expressing their deep appreciation for Mala. If you have any thoughts to share, I will be happy to post them here.

I have been very saddened by Mala's departure. She was truly a Great Lady. I loved her mixture of great seriousness and intense professionalism, with sometimes unexpected childish charm and youthful energy.

I remember in particular a day when she told us that, while working with her inner-voices, she discovered the one who loved looking at bugs. She shared with us how she missed allowing herself spending time observing bugs in nature, and how this side of herself was linked to her creative aspect.

Since her departure, I have noticed many bugs around me and I look at them differently: I do not get scared of them, I am now fascinated too and remember Mala's genuine interest and passion for them. They make me think about her.

Mala taught me to be open to life and to listen to my inner-voices. She taught me to allow myself to be freely centered on my creative side. She showed me how to be indulgent with my actress and to love myself instead of letting my inner critic undermine all of my creativity.
Mala was a true Artist and a remarkable teacher.
We will miss her dearly.
Emmanuelle Chaulet - USM Adjunct Theatre Faculty
Starlight Acting Institute, Director

From Lithuania:

Dear Lisa Dalton,
I never was very close to Mala, but always had experienced radiation of her warm feelings and thoughts. I met her just a few time at some workshops, but she was and will stay very important person in my life for ever.
With hope to meet soon in Paris
Gytis Padegimas

Mala and her Balcony

by Lisa Dalton

Over the years since I met Mala in Ted Pugh’s class in the mid-80’s through our 18-years of team-teaching, there are many stories to be told, and will be saved for another time. Now, I want to talk about Mala and her balcony.

Most of the world remembers Mala on a Balcony overlooking Cyrano. Those who were in her home may remember vividly the commemorative sculpture made for her of that scene. Those who were touched by her life have surely felt her presence above us, beckoning us to step up beside her, cheering us on from the balcony. So when I recently heard about a book called Balcony People by Joyce Landorf, I thought of her! I ordered one for me and one to send to Mala. I felt I should read the book before I sent it to be sure that my understanding of a balcony person was indeed the same as the book’s. I wanted her to know she was a magnificent balcony person to me and to more people than most people ever know. As I read the book, I pictured Mala, those close to her and myself. I realized that the book was meant for me, for her dear ones, for you, not Mala. It is a guide to becoming just such a person as Mala already was. I finished the book precisely when my plane landed on Tuesday as they announced that we could turn on our cell phones. I immediately turned it on, saw an email update on Mala, smiled because I sensed it was going to tell me Mala had come home from the hospital. I plummeted with the news that she had indeed gone home. I wish to acknowledge the divine timing of completing the book at that moment by sharing this concept with you.

There are people who sometimes transform into voices in our head – if their speech and actions drag us down to the basement, we will dwell in darkness. We get lonely and drag down someone else because basement people love company.

There are others who lift us up, who listen and support even when we drift in directions they wish we would not. They guide and inspire us to be loftier, nobler humans. They lighten and enlighten. They cheer wildly from their balcony for us to reach our divine potential.

This was and will continue to be Mala.

Can I be a balcony person to myself and to others more constantly? Can we all strive to be balcony people to our spouses, families, co-workers and colleagues? I am confident she will be helping us from her balcony if we ask. If we do, this will expand the presence of Mala Powers into future generations. What a great way to honor her: to increase the peace with in and around us and join her on the balcony.

Expanding toward that Palace of Beauty With love, Lisa Dalton