The actress and film star, Melina Mercouri, was also a contemporary figure when my mother was a young girl. Apparently she married when she was a mere sixteen year old and got tired after about six weeks of domestic bliss! After this Melina took to the stage and Mum used to meet her at the various agent’s offices or in the theatre. One of Melina’s first roles was as Electra in Eugene O’Neill’s deep and harrowing play Mourning becomes Electra. She also played Blanch duBois in A Streetcar named Desire, Phaedra and many other such roles., These intense, dramatic roles suited her because she was a tremendously passionate, sexual, sensual woman and acted in her life with as much drama and flare as she did on the stage. I loved her and thought she was truly fascinating.
She was born as Maria Amalia Mercouri on 18th October 1920 and came from a well regarded Greek family. She starred in many films, the most famous being ‘Never on Sunday’ where we heard her sing in her inimitable way, the song Ta Paidia tou Pirea. It was at the Cannes Film Festival that she met her husband, Jules Dassin, and they remained together for the rest of her life.
Her enduring fame lies in her defiance along with her father of the political regime imposed on Greece by the military during 1967. (This is the era I have written about in my new story Dying Phoenix. I’ll write more about this anon.) Melina was in the States when the Colonels took over in Greece and she immediately rejected the extreme right wing regime. She went from country to country striving to rouse oppostion to their underhand rule of torture and discrimination. Many other dissidents including Mikis Theodorakis who wrote the song she sings in Never on Sunday were also obliged to flee Greece during this time. His music was always banned by right wing regimes, he was too much a man of the people for their liking.
When Melina returned at last to Greece after the fall of the Junta in 1974, she entered politics, a centre left party named PASOK and was eventually made Minister of Culture. She fought for women’s rights, the return of the Elgin Marbles from the British Museum and many other things. Some girl. A lady full of fire, passion and warmth.
But my own enduring image of saucy Melina will be Mum’s tale of her once covering herself in chocolate at her villa in Kifissia and coming into the room saying ‘Lick me!
A delightful image and I can well believe it of Melina Mercouri who never cared for convention or people’s opinions!