03/07/12 at 12:10 pm
Although the Greek community had never been centralized in Hollywood, yet the strong presence of Greeks in Hollywood is undeniable. In 1952, Charles Skourasin built the Greek Orthodox Church, Saint Sophia, in the locality now known as Harvard Heights. The church emerged out of a commitment made by Charles to God. While trying to excel in Hollywood, he vowed to make a graceful cathedral if blessed with success. With the success realized in the form of Charles becoming the head of Fox West Coast, he fulfilled his commitment. The environment of the church felt very Greek with the availability of Greek dishes, wine, olives, and Greek coffee at Papa Christo’s. The church itself is an interesting place to visit. In fact, it is a treat for the eyes and soul. Its beautiful murals on almost all of the walls, attractive windows, beautiful dome, lavish golden look, and the carved wooden seats reflect the love of the builder in the project. Greeks have owned a few of the biggest theatres and have been executives of some of the biggest studios in Hollywood. Although the environment of the church Saint Sophia appears more Hispanic currently, there are still things that remind us of its very Greek origin.
1. Spyros Skouras
Spyros Panagiotis Skouras, commonly known as Spyros Skouras, was born to poor parents in Skourohorion, Greece on March 28, 1893 and died of a heart attack in Mamaroneck, New York, U.S. on August 16, 1971. He, along with his brothers Charles Skouras and George Skouras, emigrated to the U.S. in 1910 and settled in Missouri. Starting in 1914, from a meager amount of $3,500 pooled by the three brothers and two other Greeks, they accumulated $400,000 in capital stock in 1924, and they owned more than 30 local theatres. In 1926 they opened the $5.5 million Ambassador Theatre building. In 1932 they took over Fox West Coast, a chain of over 500 theatres. In 1952 their assets rose to an unprecedented $108,000,000. Spyros Skouras is also known for his introducing cinemascope in the feature film The Robe. Cinemascope has played a pivotal role in rescue of fhe film industry by enabling it to stand against the newly introduced TV.
2. Irene Papas
Irene Papas was born as Irene Lelekou in Chiliomodi, Corinth, Greece. She was discovered by Elia Kazan and started her career from Greece becoming famous there before being known to the other parts of the world. Her career expanded for more than half a century. She earned international fame after her performance in famous movies like: The Guns of Navarone, Zorba the Greek. She is matchless in the performance of the Greek tragedy Electra. She played Helen in The Trojan Women and Catherine of Aragon in the film Anne of the Thousand Days. She costarred with Katharine Hepburn in The Trojan Women. Hepburn said about Papas, “One of the best actresses in the history of cinema.” She has won more than 13 prestigious international awards.
3. Nia Vardalos
Antonia Eugenia Vardalos, better known by her stage name Nia Vardalos, was born to Greek parents Doreen and Constantine Vardalos in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada on September 24, 1962. She was educated at Shaftsbury High School and Ryerson University. In 1999 she became a U.S. citizen. She is a famous actress and best known for her outstanding performance in the 2002 Academy Award nominated film My Big Fat Greek Wedding. She said, “When I worked at Second City in Canada, they brought me down to Chicago on a work permit. I was thrilled to be in Chicago. What I didn’t know is that you only make $65 a show.” It is noteworthy that in 2002 she was paid $150,000 for acting in My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
4. Olympia Dukakis
Olympia Dukakis was born to the Greek parents Alexandra and Constantine S. Dukakis in Lowell, Massachusetts, U.S. on June 20, 1931. She received her schooling at Arlington High School, Arlington, Massachusetts, and was later educated at Boston University. She is a famous American actress. She won a Golden Globe Award, a BAFTA Award, and an Academy Award for her brilliant performance in Moonstruck. She has also been nominated for another Golden Globe and an Emmy Award for her performance in Sinatra, Lucky Day, and Joan of Arc. She has been inducted into the Arlington High School Hall of Fame.
5. Melina Mercouri
Maria Amalia Mercouri, better known as Melina Mercouri, was born in Athens, Greece on October 18, 1920 and died in New York City, New York, U.S. on March 6, 1994 at the age of 73. She was a Greek actress, singer, member of the Hellenic Parliament, and Minister for Culture of Greece. She became known internationally after her performance in Never on Sunday and Promise at Dawn. She had won the Best Actress Award at the 1960 Cannes Film Festival. She had also been nominated for three Golden Globe Awards, two BAFTA Awards, and one Academy Award. Melina Mercouri conceived the concept of the European Capital of Culture. The idea was realized by the European Union in 1985.
6. Telly Savalas
Telly Savalas was born to Greek American parents, Christina and Nick Savalas, as Aristotle Savalas in Garden City, New York, U.S. on January 21, 1922. He died in Universal City, California, U.S. on January 22, 1994 at the age of 72. He received his early education at Sewanhaka High School, Floral Park, New York and graduated in 1940. He was an American film and TV actor of high renown, best known for his title role in crime drama Kojak. He received a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his work in Birdman of Alcatraz.
7. Billy Zane
Billy Zane was born as William George “Billy” Zane, Jr. to parents of Greek descent, William George Zane, Sr. and Thalia Zane in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. on February 24, 1966. He studied at an American School in Switzerland and graduated from the Francis W. Parker School. He also attended Harand Camp of the Theater Arts in Kenosha, Wisconsin. He is an American actor and producer best known for his role as Caledon Hockley in the famous movie;Titanic. In addition to Titanic he has performed in several other famous movies like Cleopatra and Zoolander.
8. Elia Kazen
Elia Kazen was born as Elias Kazanioglou to Greek parents George and Athena Kazanioglou in Constantinople, Ottoman Empire, on September 7, 1909 and died in New York City,
New York, U.S. on September 28, 2003. His parents emigrated to the U.S. when he was four years old. Kazen was a famous American director, writer, actor, and producer. According to The New York Times, he was “One of the most honored and influential directors in Broadway and Hollywood history.” He introduced many renowned actors. His film Gentleman’s Agreement with Gregory Peck won eight Oscar nominations and won three other awards including an award for Kazen as Best Director.
9. Marina Siritis
Marina Siritis was born to Greek parents Despina and John Sirtis in London, England on March 29, 1955. She was raised in London and emigrated to the U.S. in 1986 becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen. She auditioned for drama school without the consent of her parents and was selected for the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. She performed as a supporting actress in several movies. She is best known for her role in the famous movie Star Trek. She performed in all of its seven seasons.
10. Melina Kanakaredes
Melina Kanakaredes was born as Melina Eleni Kanakaredes Constantinides,to Connie and Hary Kanakaredes in Akron, Ohio, U.S. on April 23, 1967. She was educated at Firestone High School in Akron and the Ohio State University and Point Park College, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She is a second-generation Greek and an American actress best known for her starring roles on a U.S. prime time TV drama series playing the role of Dr. Sydney Hansen in Providence.
There are people who think that Hollywood has not been fair in allocating its due share of roles to minorities. The role of Cleopatra played by the white actress Angelina Jolie has been criticized by the African-Americans who opine that the role should have gone to a black heroine while the Greeks think that Cleopatra was a Greek. No classical literature in any language exists without mention of Greek mythology. Many famous Greek films have been made in Hollywood, a few of them relate to: Homer, the Trojan Wars, Aeneas, Hercules, Perseus, Pygmalion, Orpheus, Ursus, and many other demigods and goddesses.