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Melina Mercouri (1920-1994)
Μελίνα Μερκούρη (name in native language)
Country: Greece
Born: 18 October 1920
Died: 6 March 1994

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Melina (the diminutive of her two names Amalia - Maria) Mercouri was born in Athens on 18 October 1920. A little after she had completed her secondary education, she was admitted to the National Theatre"s Drama School after reciting a poem by Karyotakis. She studied with the great teacher Dimitris Rondiris and graduated in 1944. She joined the National Theatre and interpreted small parts on the central stage and on the Piraeus stage. In 1945 she played the part of Electra in Eugene O" Neil"s Mourning becomes Electra.

Her first big success in the theatre was the role of Blanche Dubois in Tennessee William"s A Streetcar Named Desire, staged by Karolos Koun"s Art Theatre in 1949. During 1949 - 1950, she worked with the Art Theatre in plays by Aldus Huxley, Arthur Miller, Philip Jordan, Andre Roussin.
She then appeared in Paris, in boulevard plays by Jacques Deval and Marcel Achard and she also met Jean Cocteau, Jean-Paul Sartre, Colette, Francoise Sagan.

In 1953 she received the Marika Kotopouli prize. After 1955 she returns to Greece and stars at the Kotopouli-Rex theatre in many of the plays of the classical repertoire, like Shakespeare"s Macbeth and Anouilh"s L"Alouette. In the "50s she joins the theatre actor"s trade union movement.

Melina Mercouri started her cinema career in 1955 with the film Stella, directed by Michalis Cacoyannis. The film received special praise at the Cannes Film Festival in 1956. In Cannes she meets the American filmmaker Jules Dassin with whom she would share her life and career. The next year she begins to appear as leading actress in many Jules Dassin"s movies such as Never on Sunday, Phaedra, Topkapi. In 1960 she received the best actress prize in Cannes for Never on Sunday. The film also won five Oscar nominations.

During 1956 - 1967, she continued her stage career with a brilliant performance in Tennessee William"s The sweet bird of youth in 1960 at the Art Theatre under the direction of Karolos Koun. Melina Mercouri has starred in about 60 plays in Athens and in 19 movies by renowned directors.

Melina Mercouri was able to combine the magic of the performing arts with the realism of politics. She was very actively involved in many aspects of social and political life, first during the struggle against the dictatorship (`67-`74) and later, in 1977 as a Member of Parliament and, finally, from 1981 to 1989 and from 1993 until her death as Minister of Culture. Alongside her political action and party membership, she started working on a TV program called Dialogues, on social issues.

Amongst her wide-ranging activities at the Ministry of Culture Melina Mercouri:

- Started the campaign for the return of the Parthenon Marbles presently in the British Museum.
- She gave priority to the protection of Greece"s recent architectural heritage.
- One of her greatest achievements as Minister of Culture was the establishment of the institution of the Cultural Capitals of Europe, with Athens being chosen as the first capital in 1985.
- She established annual literary prizes.
- She supported the idea of a cooperation between Eastern Europe and the European Union and tried to open up the borders despite the strong reservations of her European partners.
- She supported and promoted Greek cinema

Melina Mercouri died on 6 March 1994 at New York"s Memorial Hospital and her funeral was held, with Prime Minister"s honors, on 10 March 1994. But more important to Melina Mercouri was that the love she had for the Greek people was returned to her and that her memory is revered and cherished by all.

Phaedra (1962)
Never on Sunday (1960)
Stella (1955)
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