Actress. Perhaps her country's leading performer over a generation, she used her entertainment fame for entre into the political arena. Born Maria Amalia Mercouri to wealth and high position, she attended Athens' National Theatre Drama School and made her 1945 professional debut in the title lead of Eugene O'Neill's "Mourning Becomes Electra". Over the next few years she refined her art at her city's principal venues and in 1949 had her first major hit as the tragic Blanche DuBois from Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire". Melina lived in Paris from 1951 to 1953 gaining further experience then returned home where she added Shakespeare to her repertoire. Making her silver screen bow with 1955's "Stella", she earned high marks for "He Who Must Die" (1957) and 1959's "The Law", along the way developing a partnership that was both personal and professional with director Jules Dassin despite the fact that she was still married to wealthy landowner Philip Harokopos. Melina's best known film was to be Dassin's 1960 "Never on Sunday", the work garnering her a Best Actress Award at Cannes as well as Oscar and BAFTA nominations. Thru the next decade she was to receive Golden Globe nominations for "Phaedra" (1962), 1964's "Topoki", and the 1970 "Promise at Dawn" while being seen on stage in such diverse works as Williams' "Sweet Bird of Youth", Kurt Weill's "The Threepenny Opera", and the ancient Greek plays "Oresteia" and "Medea"; Melina was even a sometimes singer, cutting a number of sides in both Greek and French. Though raised in a political family Melina's personal involvement with government did not begin until a military junta took over Greece in 1967 and while her early actions were limited to campaigning and protesting she was eventually to be elected to Parliament in 1977. Her final movie was 1978's "A Dream of Passion" and in 1981 she was appointed Minister of Culture, a position she was to hold until 1989. During her tenure she fought for the return of the Parthenon Marbles, also known as the Elgin Marbles, sculptures acquired by Thomas Bruce, 7th. Earl of Elgin, during his time as British Ambassador in the early 1800s. The British government bought the artifacts in 1816 and despite the efforts of Melina and other Greek officials over the years they remain in the British Museum. Though she failed to regain the Elgin Marbles she did have success establishing the European Capital of Culture within the European Union and was able to improve the organization of Greek museums and archeological sites. Last seen onstage as Clytemnestra in a 1992 production of "Plyades", Melina was reappointed Minister of Culture in 1993 and was serving at the time of her death from lung cancer. Much of her legacy of films and recordings has been preserved.
Bio by: Bob Hufford
1911–2008 (m. 1966)