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Melina Mercouri.jpg

Melina Mercouri would be 100 years old in 2020, she died of cancer in New York in March 1994. She was a figure in my childhood, the movie Never on Sunday made her world famous. She was a women of great talent and became a vocal politician and defender of culture. She spoke well and with passion, her life long dream was the return of the Elgin Marbles taken from Greece during the Turkish Occupation by the British Ambassador Thomas Bruce Lord Elgin in a bid to make a quick profit, he was unlucky and despite bringing the marbles of the Parthenon to London, the British Museum refused to pay much for them. He lost his shirt in the process. The British Government to this day refuses to return the marbles, despite the fact that the New Acropolis Museum has a special room built on purpose for them. When I was accredited to Greece, I remember a plan where the British proposed to loan back the marbles at cost to the Greek Government, how cheeky!! They stole them from the Greeks in 1801.

Melina Mercouri came from a politically prominent family. She graduated from the Drama School of the National Theatre of Greece. Her first major role, at the age of 20, was Lavinia in Eugene O’Neill’s Mourning Becomes Electra, but perhaps her most memorable parts were Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire and the good-hearted prostitute in the film Never on Sunday (1960). This film gained her an international reputation that would serve her well in politics. Her involvement in politics was triggered by her indignation over the military coup that brought a handful of army colonels to power in Greece in 1967 forcing King Constantin to go into exile.Married to the French-born film director Jules Dassin (1911-2008) (who directed most of her films), she was abroad when the coup d’Etat occurred. She dedicated herself to stimulating opposition against the military junta in Europe, to the extent that she was deprived of her Greek citizenship by the colonels’ regime.After the collapse of the dictatorship in 1974, she returned to Greece and promptly joined Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou’s Panhellenic Socialist Union (PASOK). She ran unsuccessfully that year for Parliamentary deputy from the same Piraeus district that had made her famous in Never on Sunday, but she was elected when she ran a second time, in 1977. Reelected in 1981 when Pasok won a general election, she was appointed by Papandreou to be his minister of culture.As Greek minister of Culture, one of her major efforts was an attempt to persuade the British government to return the Elgin Marbles stolen from the Parthenon to Greece; she also increased government subsidies for the arts. She served in the post until 1989, when PASOK lost power; she was reappointed after their electoral victory in 1993.

In 1971 Mercouri published an autobiography, I Was Born Greek. In 1997 UNESCO created the Melina Mercouri International Prize for the Safeguarding and Management of Cultural Landscapes; the prize is awarded every two years.

White marble monument to the memory of Melina Mercouri on Andrea Siggrou street across from the Olympian Zeus Temple in Athens. In Athens I would pass her monument every morning on my way to work, hello Melina!

Manos Hadjidakis (1925-1994) won the Oscar for Best Original Song for “Never On Sunday” at the 33rd Annual Academy Awards® in 1961. He was one of the greatest Greek Composer of the 20th century. The song is actually entitled in Greek Ta Paidia tou Peiraia, les enfants du Pirée, the children of the Piraeus, the film was titled in English,  Never on Sunday. A great classic, a movie I love to watch, though the Greece presented in this movie no longer exist.