The dreams of an aspiring actress who moved to New York City in 1973 “took a sharp detour” after she was allegedly raped multiple times by the chief executive of a celebrated acting school, a lawsuit filed on Tuesday claims.
The woman, identified in the complaint only as a Jane Doe for fear of “embarrassment and further psychological damage,” identifies her alleged rapist as Mitchell Nestor, then the artistic director of the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute.
Nestor, a high-ranking faculty member who the lawsuit says controlled Doe’s “education, studies and her future as an actress,” went to her apartment in early 1974 “under the pretense of giving her private instruction.” Once there, however, he then allegedly raped and tried to sodomize Doe.
A week later, according to the suit, Nestor attacked her again, luring her to his office where he “forcefully kissed” her and penetrated her “with at least one finger.” He allegedly warned her afterward that she would be expelled from the institute if she ever told anyone about the rape in her apartment.
Nestor is believed to be deceased, according to the lawsuit, which calls him “a brazen and chronic sexual harasser and sexual abuser” of women, including some of his female students. The Daily Beast could not independently confirm his death.
Named as defendants in the lawsuit instead are the school itself and co-founder Anna Strasberg, Lee’s widow and the school’s current artistic director emeritus.
The lawsuit alleges that it was a “well known” fact that Nestor was frequently “sexually inappropriate” with students, but that his misconduct was “ratified, condoned and/or covered up” by the school. Nestor was “permitted and empowered” to remain in charge of Doe’s education, it states. It is not clear when, or why, she eventually left the institute.
“Since 1974,” the lawsuit claims, “due to the sexual abuse and sexual assaults of Mr. Nestor, Ms. Doe has suffered emotional distress including anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.” It seeks an unspecified amount in damages.
The lawsuit was filed under the New York Adult Survivors Act, which last November created a one-year window for sexual assault survivors to sue their abusers, no matter how long ago the abuse occurred.
“My client has waited nearly a half century for justice for the heinous acts committed against her,” attorney Andrew M. Stengel told The Daily Beast in a statement. “The Adult Survivors Act means that it’s not too late for the voice of a victim in New York to be heard, no matter the prestige of an institution or the fame of people behind it who are responsible for or contributed to a sexual assault.”
The school did not return a request for comment sent to a general email, but told New York Magazine, which first reported the lawsuit’s existence, that it had no immediate comment on the matter.
An acting teacher who’d spent decades developing “The Method,” the style of performance more commonly known as method acting, Lee Strasberg founded his school in Manhattan in 1969. It boasts a wealth of alumni who went on to become stars, including Marilyn Monroe, Angelina Jolie, Al Pacino, Lady Gaga, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, and Armie Hammer.
The Method, which encourages actors to dredge up their own memories, experiences, and past traumas to more fully inhabit their characters, is associated with powerful performances, but has increasingly come to be known in recent years as the excuse actors use to treat their co-stars poorly.
Strasberg himself, though never accused of assault, would often allegedly comment on how desirable he found his female students in a scene as a means of evaluating their performance. Actress Patricia Bosworth once described how she was forced to strip and perform to the class in her underwear to understand her character’s shame, according to The New York Times. Strasberg was also known to “shriek” at actors, both male and female, in order to “break them down.”
He died in 1982 at the age of 80.