Cause Celeb highlights a celebrity’s work on behalf of a specific cause. This week, we speak with actress Anna Strasberg about her work with various philanthropic organizations, especially the Institut Montfort for the Deaf and Blind and the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen. The Institut Montfort, a subsidiary of Friends of Montfort, provides encouragement and financial support to deaf and deaf-blind children in Haiti. The Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen provides over 1,200 nutritional meals each day to anyone who comes to their door in Manhattan’s Chelsea area.
Strasberg is also involved with Angels - Beacons of Hope, the organization behind an initiative here notable people with connections to Ireland decorate angel figurines that will then go on tour before being auctioned for charitable causes.
Anna Strasberg is the widow of famed acting teacher Lee Strasberg, who died in 1982.
Q: Can you tell me how you became involved with the Institut Montfort for the Deaf and Blind in Haiti?
Strasberg: Charity, philanthropy, but what all of it means is a basic, intrinsic human thing. Especially here in America, where there’s a lot of very, very kind people who do things, who do good things, or smile, or help a neighbor, cook for somebody. When we were little, my mother used to say to us, “You are blessed, and blessings are for sharing.” That meant you had to do something nice, or you had to share with somebody who needed a smile, or who needed a meal, or things like that. I think it starts from when you are young. Anything you can do to help is wonderful.
I went to D.C. right after the earthquake [in Haiti] and I was really depressed. I kept saying, what can I do? There’s got to be something I can do. You write a check, and it’s a check and it helps — it helps a lot. But there’s something more. I walked into my son, Adam’s and Nora’s home, and I have two little grandchildren, Asher who just turned 3 and Owen who is 6, and there was great excitement that they were going to make brownies for the children of Haiti.
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I looked at Nora [O’Connell], who works for this women’s organization, she travels all over the world for them, it’s called Women Thrive Worldwide and writes policies for women. She says, “We’re making happy things for the children of Haiti. We’re making brownies and cookies.” The children were all helping, and everybody was involved. My 6-year-old brought a little hand-lettered poster that said, “Haiti,” “Children,” and in big letters “Brownies,” “Help.” I looked at them and I thought, “Oh my god, it does start there!”
Q: Why did you decide to get involved with the Institut Montfort and the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen?
Strasberg: Well, we went on the street and we sold that stuff [the cookies] and the children were saying, “For the children of Haiti!” and people were responding. I get a call from Vicky Crane who runs the school [Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute]. She said, “Listen, we’re collecting. We are going to do a collection. Anything, any loose change, anything for the school and for children.”
Lee had a thing about education. Lee was a poor boy from the Lower East Side, so there was no question that that would be his passion — teach and help. She said, “And you’re going to match anything we make?” I said, “So, then go and raise the roof. Make them give lots of it. I can match it and we can send it.” Lee didn’t think anybody was handicapped and that we are handicapped only in thinking. Because people who have a disability use other senses, other ways of being whole.
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I first became involved with The Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen many years ago, after seeing a long line of people waiting outside the church on a wintry day, some of them holding children. I asked what they were waiting for and was told they were waiting for food. Since then, every year the students and staff contribute for The Holy Apostles, and I match the contributions. We all eat at Thanksgiving and eat too much you know, so [everyone is] just happy to share. A lot of them [the students] go and help serve which is a wonderful thing. It gives you more than you give.
Q: Did your late husband Lee Strasberg share your philanthropic passions and was there an organization he was particularly passionate about?
Strasberg: Don’t forget that Lee was part of a whole generation of immigrants who came and didn’t have anything. This country was really good to them. It allowed them to live a dream. When he was asked, “What brought you in to the theater?,” he said, “We came on the wings of a dream.”
His big thing was education because the public library allowed you to learn and opened up worlds. Lee didn’t care whether you [his students] paid or not. I remember at his memorial in Los Angeles, an old actor sat on the stage and started to cry, and he said, “Lee, why did you do this? All those years I was on scholarship to you, and now that I can pay you, you go and die on me.” I couldn’t think of a better tribute [laughs], it was quite wonderful.
Q: What are you currently working on?
Strasberg: My philanthropic endeavor now is Angels – Beacons of Hope. These are angels that are being painted in Ireland, by different people, by the president of Ireland and actors. There is one of Lee with [actor/theater director, Constantin] Stanislavski. It [the angel] will go all over the world and then be auctioned off for charity.
Q: Is there anything else you’re working on, a book?
Strasberg: Well, Lee’s new book is out, but I didn’t write it. Lee wrote it himself with the expert Lola Cohen. She edited all his tapes from his classes and some notes. So it’s very exciting and it’s just called "The Lee Strasberg Notes." But, if you’re asking me if I’m going to write a personal memoir — no. I’m living, I don’t want to observe my life, I want to live it.
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