In Memoriam: Lenore DeKoven

June 04, 2024

Last week, our beloved colleague and friend Lenore DeKoven passed away peacefully in her home, surrounded by loved ones. A long-time leader within the Columbia University School of the Arts Film faculty, who taught here for more than 20 years, she will be dearly missed. 

Lenore’s legacy shines through the many successes of her former students—including James Mangold ’99, who has directed two Oscar-winning performances to date: Angelina Jolie in Girl, Interrupted and Reese Witherspoon in Walk the Line. Another former student, Kimberly Peirce ’96 (who directed Hilary Swank in her Oscar-winning performance in Boys Don’t Cry), recently reflected on the significance of her time studying under Lenore, equating discovering her method to “learning another language.”

lenore dekoven talking at a microphone

Lenore’s work spans decades, genres, and media. A director, playwright, filmmaker, and, above all, brilliant educator, Lenore also held executive positions at the Mark Taper Forum, Los Angeles, the N.Y. Shakespeare Festival, Lincoln Center Repertory Theater, the National Repertory Theatre, and Roundabout Theatre in New York, and was former Chairperson of the Board of Theatre West, L.A. She served as Vice President and member of the Board of the League of Professional Theatre Women, was a Special Adviser for the N.Y. Coalition of Professional Women in the Arts & Media, and was the co-founder and former Vice President of New York Women in Film and Television. 

Lenore taught at UCLA’s Theatre Department and NYU’s Theatre and Film Divisions in addition to her two decades as an integral member of the School of the Arts Faculty. After retiring as a full-time professor at the School of the Arts, Lenore continued to nurture the next generation of filmmakers as an adjunct professor for several years. 

Professor Annette Insdorf had this to share from her memories of Lenore:

"When I first started teaching at Columbia in the 1980s, the focus of the Graduate Film Division was on Screenwriting, as well as "HTC" (History, Theory, Criticism). The MFA program gradually grew into a leading conservatory for Directing as well—thanks in no small part to the creation of a "Directing Actors" curriculum. Lenore DeKoven was the gifted actor-director-teacher who introduced and oversaw this area of specialization. Once she started teaching at Columbia in 1988, our pedagogy was enriched by workshops that trained directors to work more collaboratively with actors. Moreover, she expanded the workshops from one semester to two, and then from two semesters to four. Because she was such a respected figure in theater, film and television, she was able to bring professional actors into the classroom. And the casting file she created was—and continues to be—of tremendous help to our students in their pre-production. (Fortunately, June Stein was able to assume these responsibilities after Lenore retired.)

Lenore's influence is palpable in the stellar work of her former students. For example, Ang Lee has credited her for his ability to work successfully with his actors. And a glance at Lisa Cholodenko '97’s High Art—whose performances by Ally Sheedy and Patricia Clarkson received raves and awards—attests to Lenore's training of Lisa as well.

The amount of service she gave to the School of the Arts was astounding. I remember when she was the only full-time faculty member of her discipline, as well as the Supervisor: in addition to teaching five courses per year, she oversaw half a dozen adjuncts who taught 17 classes and engaged hundreds of professional actors. 

She was not only an educator of the highest caliber, but the most collegial of colleagues—a voice of sanity at faculty meetings (which could get rambunctious), and a supportive friend to many of us. Although Lenore will be missed, her 95 years on this planet are evidence of a life lived meaningfully, generously, and joyfully."

More information about Lenore, including where to purchase her books, can be found at