Melina Mercouri (18/10/1920 - 06/03/1994)

Melina Mercouri Melina Mercouri was a Greek actress and politician. She received many awards for her performances, while she also became Minister of Culture in all governments of PASOK during the periods 1981 – 1989 and 1993 – 1994.

Her real name was Maria Amalia Mercouri and she was born in 1920. In 1939, she married Panagis Harokopos and she also enrolled at the Drama School of the National Theatre; she completed her studies in 1944. She performed her first main role as Lavinia at the play Mourning Becomes Electra by Eugene O’ Neil, in 1945. However, the triumph was a few years later, when she performed the role of Blanche Dubois at Tennessee William’s play A Streetcar Named Desire. She had a great collaboration with Karolos Koun at the Art Theatre, performing in various plays by Aldus Huxley, Arthur Miller, and Philip Jordan.

She then went to Paris and made appearances at various plays, such as “Le Moulin de la Galette”, “Les Compagnons de la Marjolaine” and “Il etait une gare”. There, she met Jean Cocteau, Jean Paul Sartre, Colette, and Francoise Sagan. In 1953, she received the Marika Kotopouli award and two years later, she returned to Greece to perform at various plays, such as Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Anouilh’s L’ Alouette. She also made her first appearance in a movie, “Stella”, by Michalis Kakogiannis, which was an adaptation of the theatrical play “Stella with the red gloves” by Iakovos Kampanellis. The movie was highly praised at the Cannes Festival in 1956, but did not receive an award. However, this is when Merkouri met the love of her life, American director Jules Dassin.

Merkouri participated at various movies directed by Dassin, including “Celui Qui Doit Mourir”, “Phaedra” and “Topkapi”. However, she was widely praised for her performance on the movie “Never on Sunday”, for which she won the Best Actress Award at Cannes, and she was also nominated for the Best Actress Academy Award; she lost to Elizabeth Taylor. In 1967, she went to New York and participated in the theatrical play “Ilya Darling” in Broadway. While there, she learned about the coup in Greece and started an awareness campaign all over USA and Europe. The Regime of the Colonels cancelled her Greek citizenship and the FBI followed her for three months, after attempts against her life.

After the fall of the Regime, in 1974, she returned to Greece and started her political career, being a cofounder of the PASOK political part, alongside Andreas Papandreou. In parallel, she participated in various roles in theatrical plays and movies. When she was elected member of the parliament in 1977, she stopped working at the theatre. From 1981, she became Minister of Culture and retained that position for 8 years. One of her main goals as a minister was the return of the Parthenon Marbles from the British Museum. She died in 1994 at Memorial Hospital, New York, after a hard struggle with cancer.

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