Melina Mercouri: 30 years without Melina of all Greeks

“I was born Greek, I will die Greek”. Her historical statement in the news that her junta removes Greek citizenship. The famous actress with the thunderous laughter and the burning eyes and an advocate of their return to Greece died today 30 years ago. Melina Mercouri was one of the greatest women in the world. First actor after politician her name was associated with Greek culture and especially the request to return his Sculptures Parthenon to Greece. “Melina” as everyone called her, under her first name. Melina of “Stella”, of “Never on Sunday”, of the “Children of Piraeus”, Melina of the Theatre, Politics, Marbles, Medea, Phaedra, Ilia Darling, Melina of all Greeks. There was an improbable woman full of passion and perseverance in every move, a woman who split and charmed the planet, a woman didn’t give up. Top militant of the Republic, the fight against junta (1967-1974) resulted in the removal of its Greek citizenship. Great actor of theatre and cinema with an international career and with interpretations recorded on the pages of Seventh Art. Politician who marked with her presence the culture of Greece, brought him to the first pages of the newspapers. He firmly believed that culture is our heavy industry. The politician who founded the Cultural Capitals and envisioned the Acropolis Museum. She fought very hard for the return of the Parthenon sculptors from the British museum to Greece until the end of her life. “I want my Marbles back!” said in 1983 as Minister of Culture Melina Mercouri, to Sir David Wilson, director of the British Museum to get the answer: “You want yours Marbles, others want theirs”. Melina Mercouri would not have left unanswered N. Wilson’s complaints by telling him: “But they are members within a building. They ripped them out. So there are many Parthenons in the world?”. On March 6, 1994, Melina Mercouri passed into eternity. Cancer beat her. That day has been established in her honour with free entrance to all museums in Greece. Thirty years later she remains alive in memory. To honor the “last Greek goddess”, as described by the international press, the Greek Ministry of Culture declared 2020 as the Year of Melina Mercouri on the occasion of the completion of a century from its birth. Melina Mercouri was born in Athens on 18 October 1920. She came from a family of politicians and was the beloved granddaughter of Spiros Mercouris, one of the most successful and popular Mayors of Athens for more than 20 years. Her father was Stamatis Mercouris, MP for more than 30 years, who had also funded a Minister of Public Order and Public Works. Her mother, Irene Lappa, who belonged to one of the best Athenian families. She was baptized Amalia – Maria, but she was never called that. The name they would use throughout her life, and with which she became famous, was Melina. Many times the last name “Mercury” was not needed to introduce itself. It was Melina of all Greeks, but also Melina of foreigners. Her parents had a son, younger than Melina, Spyros. They later divorced, created new families, and Melina lived at her grandfather’s house, Spyros, whose death she was unable to manage easily. Her first theatrical rehearsal Melina Mercouri made it in front of the mirror, at the age of 5. At 10 she gave an impromptu performance at Spetses, at a coffee shop table, where she was warmly applauded but also cost her a magnificent slap from her mother when she found out. She didn’t have her head in class. She’s still a teenager when she falls in love with Panos Harokopo. They secretly marry and send their families a telegram: “Marriage finished”. After years they’ll break up. When taking an exam at the Drama School of the National Theatre, he recited a poem by Kostas Karyotakis. Among her examiners, Emilios Veakis. Although she believed she did not pass, she was officially accepted and taken over by Dimitris Roderis. He graduated in 1944. He joined the potential of the National Theatre, where he performs small roles on the central stage and on the scene of Piraeus. In 1945 she performs her first lead role, Lavinia’s role in Eugene O’Neill’s work “Grief fits Electra”. Her first great success, however, comes with Tennessee Williams’s “Volume of Desire”, a performance of the “Art Theatre”, where she performs the role of Blanche Dubois. The Art Theatre remained until 1950 and the following year settled in Paris. In 1953 he received the “Marika Kotopoulis” prize. Two years later he returns to Greece and starring in the Kotopoulis – Rex theatre in works from all over the dramatology, such as Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” and Anouille’s “Corydallos”. The cinema first appeared in 1955 with the legendary film by Michael Cacoyannis “Stell. ” Her presence in Cannes fascinated American director Jill Dassen and on the coast of the French Riviera began their artistic and personal relationship, which was completed by marriage in 1966. With Dassin he filmed the films “Christ is recrusted (1957), from the novel of Nikos Kazantzakis, “The Law” (1958), “Never Sunday” (1960), “Faedra” (1962) and “Topkapi” (1964). The film that launched her fame was of course “Never Sunday”, which gave her an interpretation award at the Cannes Festival and an Oscar nomination the following year. Her full brio performance in Manos Hadjidakis’ song “The Children of Piraeus”, revealed another aspect of her talent. The same role of ‘Ilia with the good heart, gave her in 1967 and a Tony Award nomination, in the film’s theatrical metaphor on Broadway, entitled ‘Ilia Darling’ with Jill Dassen, her husband from the previous year, alongside her. Overall, he has starred in 19 films. 1960 is her year. Then there is also the greatest success of this period in theatre, where it continues continuously until 1967. It is the “Sweet Bird of Youth” directed by Charles Koun and produced by the “Art Theatre” with co-star Giannis Fertis. The politics and the Ministry of Culture After the imposition of the dictatorship of the Colonels Melina Mercouri exiled herself and with her talent and reputation she fought the regime around the world informing international public opinion of the political situation in Greece. Historical remains her phrase: “I was born a Greek woman and will die a Greek woman, Mr Pattakos was born a fascist and will die a fascist.” Since November 1967 and for three months, the FBI has been watching her everywhere. There is a warning that there will be a murder attempt against her. The slogan for counter-dictatorical action has been given. With Jill Dassen, with Mikis Theodorakis, with other friends, Melina will become the junta nightmare. In these difficult times he will also meet Andreas Papandreou. Her father’s death – on July 7, 1968 – finds her in foreignhood. He has no citizenship, no passport. When her mother dies, in July 1972, they allow her to enter the country for a few hours. On July 26, 1974, just two days after the fall of the junta, he returns to Greece. At the airport there is a demonstration, she will get off the plane making the victory signal and be lost in the arms of her loved ones. From there he will deal primarily with politics through PASOK classes. She was continuously elected Member of Parliament from 1977 until her death in 1994, from 1977 to 1985 in Piraeus II and in the following years with the State ballot. From 1981 to 1989 and from 1993 to 1994 he served as Minister for Culture. Her vision was the return of the Parthenon sculptors from the British Museum. She created the Municipal Regional Theatres to get the province’s resident in contact with the theatre, while her inspiration was the creation of the institution of the “Cultural Capital of Europe”. She also continues her work in theatre and cinema, with prominent interpretations in Brecht’s “Opera of the Five”, directed by Jules Dassen (1975) and Euripides’ “Media” from the State Theatre of Northern Greece directed by Minos Volanakis (1976). The performance is played throughout Macedonia and Lycabettus, but they deny its presentation at the official festival of ancient drama, Epidaurus. Her prohibition gives her the title of “Exile Medea”. Her performances in theatre after 1974 were minimal: “Opera of Pentara” by Bertolt Brecht directed by Jill Dassen, “Media” by Euripides directed by Minoa Volanakis, “Association with Brecht” (1978), “Sweet bird of youth” directed by Jules Dassen (1980) and “Oesteria” of Aeschylus directed by Charles Kun (1980). In 1992 he made one last, extraordinary, appearance, but not live but filmed, as a Klytemnistra in the chamber opera “Pylades” in music George Kouroupou and libretto George Winter, presented at the Athens Concert Hall. She is elected to the Second Region of Piraeus, in November 1977, with the combinations of PASOK, and gives all her energy to politics, always in the field of culture. In 1980 he starred in the “Sweet Bird of Youth” by Tennessee Williams, directed by Jules Dassen with co-star John Fertis, and in summer he performs Klytemnestra in the “Orestea” presented by Charles Kun with the “Art Theatre” in Epidaurus. The hollow of ancient theatre is suffocating. He is again elected Member of Parliament in 1981. In the elections to follow (1985, June 1989, November 1989, 1990 and 1993) it is on the ballot of the Members of State in an elected position. Her international radiation allows her to contact top European leaders, including her personal friend François Mitterrand, and to raise our national issues. Its purpose is to make Greece respected around the world. When PASOK wins the election in October 1981, Melina Mercouri is appointed Minister of Culture and remains in this position all eight years of party rule. During her tenure through her political initiatives and political visions, she will bring culture to the front pages of the newspapers. It will impress with the democratic governance of its ministry and with the air of change that will drown in the relations of political leadership with employees and in the relations of services with the citizen. As Minister he implemented an intense foreign cultural policy. He organized many important exhibitions in museums abroad, as well as material events. She met with great personalities and claimed a prominent position for Greece and its culture. One of the most important was the return to Greece of the Parthenon sculptors who are at the British Museum. The idea of her Marble return was born in the 60s, when, in filming the film “Faedra”, the British asked for payment to let the Greek crew film the Sculptures. She put the issue officially for the first time as Minister of Culture in July 1982 in Mexico, at the UNESCO International Conference of Culture Ministers and did not stop fighting for it until her death. “You must understand what the Parthenon Marbles mean for us,” he said. “It is our pride. They’re our sacrifices. It’s the ultimate symbol of kindness. It is a tribute to democratic philosophy. It’s our ambition and our name. It is the essence of our Greekness.” And “if you ask me if I will live when the Parthenon Marbles return to Greece, I tell you I will. But even if I am no longer alive, I will be reborn.” It did not cease to clarify that Greece was only asking for the return of the Parthenon sculptors and not the other masterpieces found in foreign museums, because they are part of a unique monument. To help the request for return, he conceived the idea of a new Acropolis Museum and proclaimed an international architectural competition for its construction in 1989. He decided to activate the ancient institution of the sponsors in order to create this museum soon and organized various events such as the concerts of M. Rostropovich, V. Papathanasiou etc. The creation of the museum would offer the appropriate space needed for the masterpieces to be exposed and would remove any argument from those who object to their return to Athens. At the same time, he emphasized the restoration work of the Acropolis monuments and the promotion of our cultural heritage. Melina Mercouri conceived the idea and commissioned the study of the unification of the archaeological sites of Athens, the unification of the historic center of Athens on the axis of Iera Street – Plaka – Pillars of Olympian Zeus, to create an archaeological park. On 28 November 1983 he invited the Ministers for Culture of the European Economic Community (then) and asked them: “How is it possible that a community that lacks its cultural dimension can develop”. He also noted that culture “is the soul of society” and that defining European identity “is precisely in respect of particularity and creating an example alive through a dialogue between Europe’s cultures”. Thus began the institution of the European Capitals of Culture, which was implemented in 1985 with Athens as the first Cultural Capital. It helped to present the looting of cultural heritage in occupied Cyprus and to celebrate in Cyprus the month of European culture in 1994. In 1990 she was nominated in the Municipal elections for the Municipality of Athens. He lost in the election to Anthony Tritsis and cost her. After PASOK won the October 1993 election, Melina Mercouri returned to the Ministry of Culture. He left life on March 6, 1994, at New York Memorial Hospital and was buried on March 10 with Prime Minister honors. With information from Melina Mercouri Foundation