* In 1935 Laurence Olivier’s performances in Romeo and Juliet (he alternated the parts of Romeo and Mercutio) were regarded as ultrarealist; ten years later, in his Shakespeare films, it is clear that he was a somewhat stylized actor; on stage twenty years after that he was dismissed by many as monstrously mannered. His acting had not changed; the temper and taste of the times had. The shock of the new has a built-in decay, and it is in the nature of pioneers to believe that they have finally reached the promised land, the end of the rainbow.
* The supposed influence of the Method came to a climax in the 1980s in the work of Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, and Robert De Niro, and then, as it always will, acting started to change again: the form and pressure of the times required new heroes, new villains, new representative human beings.
* Butler certainly takes it seriously, as we know by his subtitle: “How the Twentieth Century Learned to Act.” The idea that Lee Strasberg taught them how to act would certainly have come as a surprise to Greta Garbo, Charles Laughton, Mickey Rooney, Agnes Moorehead, Pierre Brasseur, Nikolai Cherkasov, Edith Evans, Laurence Olivier, or Anna Magnani, to select a tiny handful of twentieth-century acting titans, though one does see that the more factually precise “One of the Dominant Approaches to Acting in the United States of America for About Twenty-Five Years” is less likely to sell copies. On the whole, the book is much more sober than the subtitle threatens, though as he proceeds Butler seems increasingly impelled to justify it; toward the end, for example, we’re told that when Sanford Meisner died, “America entered a new era, one in which none of the original Method teachers remained.” I suspect that America took the news pretty calmly.