A former contract player for MGM and 20th Century Fox during the '40s and '50s, Robert Lewis' greatest contribution came not from his performing career but from his ability to teach and direct the acting of others. In 1947, he, director Elia Kazan, and Cheryl Crawford co-founded the Actors Studio in New York. Lewis has also taught at the Group Theater, the Yale School of Drama, the Lincoln Center Training Program, and at his own Robert Lewis Theater Workshop. Many of the late 20th century's brightest stars, including Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, Sally Field, Meryl Streep, Eli Wallach, Faye Dunaway, and John Garfield, have benefited from his tutelage.
The New York City native launched his own acting career in 1929 when he joined Eva Le Gallienne's Civic Repertory Theater. While working at the Group Theater in 1931, Lewis became a staunch follower of Konstantin Stanislavsky's acting techniques, which are not to be confused with Lee Strasberg's Method, which Lewis felt represented a misinterpretation of Stanislavsky. In 1938, Lewis started his own acting studio. The following year, he made his Broadway directorial debut with a production of William Saroyan's My Heart's in the Highlands (1939).
Lewis came to Hollywood in 1940 and after signing with Fox made his acting debut in Dragon Seed (1943). The highlight of Lewis' film career came when Charles Chaplin cast him as Maurice Botello in Monsieur Verdoux (1947). That year, Lewis went back to Broadway and became one of the Great White Way's most respected directors. He was inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame in 1991. That year, Kent State University established the Robert Lewis Medal for Lifetime Achievement in Theater Research in his honor.
Lewis published three books. The first, Method -- or Madness? (1958), represented his take on Stanislavsky's teachings. The second, Advice to Players (1980), was a training guide for actors. His third, Slings and Arrows: Theater in My Life (1984), contained his memoirs. Lewis died of heart failure November 23, 1997, in New York at the age of 88.