Interview with Jules Dassin and Melina Mercouri
BROADCAST: Feb. 21, 1968 | DURATION: 00:00:01
Jules Dassin and Melina Mercouri discuss Greece. Includes an interview with Irene Papas. Includes an interview with Nikos Gounaris. Includes Greek song sung by Melina Mercouri. Includes song ["Kamos"] by the composer [Dirocus]. Includes the song "Women of Souli." Includes song "Mitros and Mirina."
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Studs Terkel This morning, a change in schedule; we'd planned to play the last half hour or so, the conversation with James Cameron, the British correspondent whose autobiography, "Point of Departure," is now available here in America under the aegis of McGraw Hill. We'll continue the conversation with Mr. Cameron early next week. I thought this morning should be all Greece 'cause just the other day, a conversation with Melina Mercouri, the actress, the singer, was passing through town, and so much of this morning's show will be a conversation with Mercouri and with her husband, the director, the actor, Jules Dassin. In addition I thought since the program was all Greek we should have the voice, too of the late, very beloved Athenian [Trugo?], Nikos Gounaris, with one of his songs dedicated to his city, Athens. He was in Chicago some six, seven years ago, and also the voice of Irene Pappas, the actress, telling her interpretation of Antigone as she would interpret the Greek heroine today. Also perhaps some other song, songs of Mikis Theodorakis, particularly one called "Grief," and thus a program this morning, subject, "Greece." [Greek music, the song known in English as "Never on Sunday.] We listen to the song that has been played on so many jukeboxes, in so many homes, and a very delightful movie, of course, and now musical with obviously a very remarkable actress, performer, I guess audiences like her because she's so full of life, Melina Mercouri, of course. Now visiting Chicago for a wholly different reason, obviously thinking about her homeland of Greece itself, and its current agony, and I suppose when you hear this song, and you've heard it a million times, Miss Mercouri, seated here with her husband, the excellent director Jules Dassin, we think of "He Who Must Die," as well as other films, too, but this can enter the conversation reflecting on this Monday morning. There was a reception for both these artists yesterday. You hear the song "Never on Sunday," it's familiar, but you were saying a moment ago that when you were a small girl, other songs came to your mind.
Melina Mercouri The two men that has influenced my life was my grandfather and Jules Dassin. So it's one song that my grandfather teach me when I was four years old, and the first words were from a great Greek poet, Solomos, and he wrote the national hymn of the Greeks, and the first tune was this: [She sings Greek song.]
Studs Terkel As, as you're talking now, Miss Mercouri, you're reflecting obviously, this song that you just sang, has tremendous impact on you, you were a little girl, I know this will lead to other themes to today, your memories -- Where, where was your home, was it in Athens or a smaller town?
Melina Mercouri I was born in Athens. My grandfather was a very loved man in Athens. He was mayor in Athens for many, many years. So I considered not my home that it was in one street, but Athens, all Athens was my home. It was not a very big city at the time. Every -- We knew each other, we loved each other. My house was a very open house, like in "Never on Sunday." I talked to Julie about my home and then he wrote the same scene in the film "Never on Sunday." Many people came in that house. The doors were never locked. The table was never small. He was a politician, my grandfather, but in the old days, politician mean "father of the people." So I -- When I was a little girl I saw thousands of thousands people every day. They came there. They believed that it was their home and it was their home. We had no money but doesn't matter in Greece at that time. Money was not so important. I am never cured from that. Even now, I don't understand what money means. The table was for everybody that he came, and perhaps we had not even meat, but we had bread and my father gave the bread to everybody. It was a beautiful, beautiful commune, community.
Studs Terkel There was something else here, wasn't there? You spoke of the fact that it was an open house. This means too, there was all kinds of talk going on, too, wasn't there? All kinds of discussion.
Melina Mercouri Oh, yes, the discussion was the major thing in my home. It was like in the ancient Greek, Greek, Greece, the "agora." It is a tradition in Greece and that is the most beautiful thing. In Greece, we lose time. If, like here, you said you lose time. We make conversations and when the junta came, the thing that frightens me more and the thing that I despise more is that they don't leave the people to talk and a silent Greek is, I think, the most unhappy person in all of the world.
Melina Mercouri No, they are laughing only very secretly about the jokes that they are doing because the Greeks [can kill?] with their ridiculous -- They have a great humor and they are making many jokes about those -- For colonels of --
Studs Terkel You know, we can let this be free, be flowing and I hope also that Jules Dassin will enter this conversation, too, because I'm sure "He Who Must" [sic] -- the idea of Kazantzakis must enter this picture, too. And I first -- I saw you in other film but the first time I saw you and -- Collaborate
Studs Terkel And Julie? Collaborate was in that overwhelming experience I had in seeing "He Who Must Die," and isn't it funny, that film that deals with freedom, too, of another time, is so directly connected with today, isn't it, Mr. Dassin?
Jules Dassin Yes, it certainly wouldn't be permitted today. You know, every year in Crete there is a memorial meeting held to the memory of Kazantzakis, who is a great poet and who sang of liberty, but since the junta came, no memorials for Kazantzakis, and Melina singing to Solomos, Solomos singing the national anthem, Mr. Solomos would be handcuffed and jailed today. So when you talk to me of "He Who Must Die," which was a happy time of our life, working this lovely little village in Crete with all the Cretans acting in it, every one of them if they were taking part in such an expression today would be in jail. So I can't think happily back at it, I just put in terms of today and today it would be impossible.
Studs Terkel Let this be freely flowing, back and forth, thinking of your childhood again, you spoke of your father, you spoke of this open house, and someone said the other day, a Chicago Greek visited Greece recently, says he asked for a Theodorakis song, that is a nonpolitical song, one he wrote, "We do not play songs of the enemy of the state."
Melina Mercouri Technically!
Melina Mercouri It's impossible to touch him or either in the telephone or somebody to go at his home because he will be arrested if he's talking to Theodorakis. They will put him or in the jail or they would put him, they will send him Gyaros, that is the island of the, of the prisoners.
Studs Terkel This is, this is something very interesting. Here again, you speak of something wholly unnatural, certainly to someone like Melina Mercouri, you represent a certain spirit, obvious -- Us in America, you represent the spirit of ebullience, of a certain joy, that obviously is, I suppose, absent at this moment. Go ahead.
Melina Mercouri Oh, listen to me, I am very, I am a very sad woman, but I am not a pessimistic woman. For many years now, all over the world, when we made "Never on Sunday," they consider my husband and me as the ambassadors for the Greek tourism in Greece. Yesterday I had the opportunity to talk to the Greek radio here, and one of the questions that made me very painful and very angry was, "Are -- Is Mr. Dassin a Communist?" It was a terrible question. For now 10 years, Mr. Dassin was considered as the man that brought the biggest tourists in Greece and that he has made the modern Greece well-known, that he has written a love letter for Greece, that he has written "Illya," that that was the joy of life, of freedom, of witness, witty? And all over the world, I came to Chicago five years ago when I promoted another film that Jules Dassin made in Greece, "Phaedra," and all those Greeks and all those Greek radios that they ask me today about if my husband or me, we are Communist, they were in our feets, they scream that we were the ambassadors of Greece, that they are grateful to us, why they didn't ask at that time if we are Communist or not? Why all the embassies all over the world, in New York, in Washington, all over America they came to the airport with flowers and and said, "You are, you are the joy of Greece, you represent the modern Greece." And another thing, that made me very, was very funny is because this radio station called himself, "Always at Sunday," they have still even the title to my husband.
Melina Mercouri Yes, but devils made cliches, too and we know the results of those cliches is not permitted anymore because one man or one woman says that democracy must come to a country that that has been the cradle of democracy to be accused, to be accused that she makes that to promote her career. What career? I was not a woman without a job. I came here, we had the triumph with "Illya Darling," what career? And to accuse a man like Dassin, that he has given his life for Greece. He has given three big films for Greece. He has gave work to the people, to the poor people in Greece, to call him a Communist.
Studs Terkel You know, I think that, Miss Mercouri, enlightened people listening to you will say they wish you wouldn't, you know, torture yourself with these irrelevancies. I know, I realize it's very relevant, the horror that is implied in all these stupid questions. But the fact's quite clear that Melina Mercouri could have had it quite easy had she says "This is no business of mine," as many an actor, actress say, "Politics is none of my business." And you could have been, of course, naturally praised by everybody on all sides, except the poor people of Greece, asking, "Where's Melina?" But you chose the harder way. If we come to the question to ask you and Dassin, beginnings yourself. How come, how come you're this way? How come you do the unsafe thing rather than the safe thing?
Jules Dassin You know, I question your question. I don't think it's a safe thing at all to allow fascism. I think it's very unsafe. I think, I think the safe thing is to keep the democratic idea alive.
Studs Terkel I meant it ironically, of course. I meant it ironically, you know, how come she has put herself out on a limb, let's say, with certain forces. I want to go back to childhood again is what I mean. What Greek -- You spoke of your father, you spoke of certain memories.
Melina Mercouri I spoke about the tradition of my family. My family was always a political family that was very respectable in Greece. My grandfather was in jail for many years and he was even -- Not threatened his life, he was condemned because of King Constantine, that is, number one King Constantine. He was in jail in Crete and in, it was, he was condemned in the death. So my family suffered all the time about injustice but in the same way it was a family that was very respectable. They didn't dare never to say that they were thieves, that they made the politics to win money or to be interfered with dirty works. My father in England, he was very sick. He came for a major operation and I am very proud of him. He died like a man without being in bed until the last minute his last breath, he said, "Democracy." So.
Melina Mercouri "Democratia," we have invented that word. And if we have invented that word we will not sell it to anybody else. I am chauvinist for that. So I believe that I am more than 20 years old, I am a woman with responsibilities. I believe that my peoples are suffering very much and I didn't slept for one month. I was very unhappy and I said, "No. I must speak out. I must speak out." And one day they came to make an interview about "Illya Darling" that they played at that time at Broadway and I have take this opportunity to speak about what happens to Greece. They were very interested about my point of view and like they considered me like the ambassadier -- Ambassadrice of the tourism in Greece. They asked me, "Miss Mercouri, what are you saying today? It will be a great festival in Athens and for the junta. You believe that the artist must play this summer in Greece? You believe that the American tourist must go to Greece?" And I said, "For 10 years I gave my life to convince the people to come to Greece, to convince the artists to come to Greece, to write about Greece." And that is the proven. [Marcella Shar? Marcel LaShar?], the author of France ["France"?], came to Greece because of me. Jacques [Duvall?] came to Greece because of me. [Roussain?] came to Greece because of me. Dassin came to Greece because of me. Know that he didn't wanted to come, but we made the film "He Who" -- The first international film that was ever made in Greece was, "He Who Must Die."
Jules Dassin The first, yes. It was the first which was made -- And this is interesting. The Greek cinema at the time was very young, just forming. They really had no crack crews. I mention this to show you the skill and the quickness of the Greek people, and we organized the first crew. There were a lot of love, but it was amateur.
Jules Dassin Of course it does. But they really didn't know. You should see that crew today. It's called, "My Crew." They compare with any French, Roman or Hollywood crew. They're marvelous, they're quick, they're bright, they're inventive. And that was happening to the Greek people. They just found a new kind of freedom. They had fought so hard to have a democratic election and they had it and they were moving ahead and this junta cut that down.
Melina Mercouri We had the intention and Dassin had the intention to make a great film now, and it's very ironical. He wanted to make the golden age of Pericles in Greece to speak about the first democracy in Greece. It was a very, very big-budget film. It will bring to Greece 10 or 15 million dollars. We had the intention to make a great studio in Greece with American money and we were very proud to make an industry of films in Greece. That was cut down. So how they dare to speak about me to be anti-Greek, that drives me crazy. They say so many lies. They are trying to make up the people traitors. They they are trying to make the people brained wash.
Studs Terkel Brain-washed.
Jules Dassin He is. He literally is. Euripides, Aeschylus, Sophocles are censored, 'cause these men spoke freedom and the junta censors, before any performance, go through the play with a microscope, with a -- Not microscope, magnifying glass, and wherever there's a reference to freedom or liberty or dignity of man, it is ripped out because they know the audiences that come use it as a pretext to express themselves. There is great applause at the word "freedom," so they're cut.
Studs Terkel Now we come to something wholly new, don't we? I see this is a very unusual attitude from Melina Mercouri, whom we picture, I say, as the essence of the joy of life in her, and we find a different Mercouri this morning because of --
Jules Dassin Reasons. You know, joy of life implies energy, and that same energy Melina is directing against them and for the resurrection of freedom in Greece. And they feel it and they will do everything to try to silence her, but no go. There is too much joy of life.
Melina Mercouri They are four hungry officers that they are hungry of power and that's all they were. Unknown people? And they will stay unknown because that will not last forever and the history will forget them very quickly.
Studs Terkel What's much more important than these forgettable men, obviously, though this is a trying period for Greek people, obviously, took the artists, took the -- Everybody but yourself. Memories that you don't forget -- We could return to this 'cause to me, the memories you have as a young girl in Athens are terribly important, I think, 'cause this is what Greeks remember, too, their own certain memory of a land they lived in. You spoke of your father, you spoke of your uncle, you spoke of --
Melina Mercouri I wanted to speak about the Greek people and about this country that is the most beautiful country in the world. I want to tell you that the Greeks are brave, the Greeks have humor. The Greeks know how to love. The Greeks know how to cry. The Greeks know how to die with a song. The Greeks are not afraid about death. The Greeks believe in Christ and Christ in somebody that belongs to them because it is in their conversations all the time. I want to speak about Eastern in Greece. That is one of the most beautiful religious --
Studs Terkel Easter.
Melina Mercouri The Good Friday, when Christ is dead, all over Greece is like has lost his brother or his father or somebody that he loves more than anything in the world. Christ become very immediate to us and when Saturday night at 12 o'clock, at midnight, all the churches are ring the bells and is the resurrection. Believe me, everybody kiss each other. Everybody's like a brother and sister in the very, very profound way. And believe me, it will, it will be the resurrection of the Greek people.
Studs Terkel Easter will come again. Seeing this matter of Christ if we just perhaps a few more phrases, I know you want to rest and you've got to head back to New York soon. Just the idea of Christ being personal not something distant, Christ in every man, in a way this is "He Who Must Die" again, we return, in other words, your art, you and Mr. Dassin, your art and your life are connected, you can't separate the two.
Jules Dassin What Melina, when Melina tells you about Easter, you may or may not be a practicing religionist, but you are so taken by the image of Christ as seen in Greece, as felt by Greece. There is such a presence, there's such as in the film, Christ is within the man, within the carpenter, with the local bar keeper and the spirit, as Melina says, is "I lost my brother, I lost my father," and the marvelous thing is when those bells ring out the Easter Sunday resurrection, there is a kind of cheering as like you just see somebody scored a 99-yard touchdown in the football game here. It's real. He is back to them. He has meaning to them, and he is a revolutionary as well as a god. The Greek priest carried a gun in 1820 and then they shot at the enemy, that Byron wrote about. It's real, it's alive, and you cannot keep these people down. You can't commit them to slavery.
Studs Terkel May I ask you a question, Mr. Dassin, you as an American. I think of you as Homer, a figure in "Never on Sunday," what attracted you to Greece? It was Greece that drew you. What was it to you, from another land?
Jules Dassin The country is most beautiful. Everything, every cliche you hear about the light is true. But, and this is a crime, this is the terrible crime of today but, that this military regime has committed, they are trying to crush what was most attractive in the Greek, a demand that life be rich, that it be gay, that there be communication and song. You know, Greece is very poor, it's a poor country, it's an arid country, but there's a richness in spirit. There is a reaching out for what is amusing in life, what is colorful in life, what is musical and melodic in life, what is exciting. They say, "Life should be fun. Life should be rich. Life should be creative," and that these bastards are crushing, you see.
Studs Terkel So we come back again to perhaps the artist who most represents the spirit that Jules Dassin spoke about, though as you say it's in all Greek people, so we return to you. May I just suggest to the audience that you will be returning to Chicago for the big event at Auditorium Theatre, I should get this.
Melina Mercouri And I am sure I have confidence in my Greek people from Chicago. I know that they say to them lies, they say to them that I don't love them, that I don't fight for them. I am sure that those lies will go away like a dirty that must go away, and they will come to see me and I will sing for them songs that they will adore, and that they will sing with me and they will be happy and we will laugh together and we will cry for our brothers. They are stealing Greece, and that they are in the prisons and they are starving and they need us and we will be with them.
Studs Terkel What an evening that will be. Can I ask one last favor of you? Just a phrase, you opened singing that song of Solomos, perhaps you can say goodbye with that same -- Just a line or two from that song you sang, the one you remember as a small girl, the anthem?
Melina Mercouri "[Yahara?]."
Melina Mercouri [Yahara?].
Studs Terkel Thank you very much indeed. Thank you. Melina Mercouri and Jules Dassin just the other day in Chicago. She came specifically for a party to raise money for the families of the prisoners now in Greece. And may I just remind the audience of that event in which she will be returning on March 24th, the Auditorium Theatre, which obviously will be quite an emotional as well as aesthetic theatrical experience. It will be at the Auditorium March 24th and tickets won't be available 'til -- On this Friday. They will be at Ticket Central or Marshall Fields stores, at all Montgomery Ward stores, at all Crawford stores, and at the Great Expectations bookshop in Evanston, 5, 350 and 2, and Friday on they'll be available. Should be quite an event. I thought perhaps just as, you might say, the second half of the program to continue in the vein of Mercouri and Dassin. Songs, and perhaps the voices of a couple of other artists, too, since Theodorakis was mentioned, who is having his own troubles there now, in Greece. Mikis Theodorakis, who did the music of course, for -- He's known to America for having done the music for Zorba. But obviously, one of the remarkable contemporary composers in Greece. He wrote a song called, "Kaimos," "Kaimos," which means "Grief," and the singer is Grigoris Bithikotsis, I hope the Greek listeners, listening will forgive my pronunciations and apparently Bithikotsis, this young singer, was discovered by Theodorakis. He has a simple voice and is quite remarkable with a song. This, then, is Grigoris Bithikotsis and the chorus in Theodorakis' song "Kaimos" in Greece. [content removed, see catalog record] "Kaimos", "Grief," composed by Mikis Theodorakis, the lead singer was Grigoris Bithikotsis. Since the subject of Euripides and Sophocles and Aeschylus were -- The subject was introduced, talked about the difficulties these composers -- These dramatists, these playwrights, might have in Greece today. Irene Pappas is talking. Irene Pappas, the actress, whom Americans remember mostly as the widow, the ill-starred widow in the film "Zorba the Greek" but has played the role of Electra and Antigone, is describing her approach, how she would interpret the role of Antigone today.
Irene Pappas Yeah. And that was about the democracy in Athens at that time because there were the Thirty Tyrants, and Sophocles wrote that against the tyranny. So the heroine is someone that represents an idea and it's like in modern times a revolutionist, a partisan, someone that goes against a thing that is fascistic, tyrannic and all of that.
Irene Pappas Well, they use that -- I mean, Sophocles used this as -- Not as a real thing. But she goes against Creon who wants to break everything and establish his own law. So she makes that act in protest. So --
Studs Terkel You would make -- this is interesting, you would make Antigone today a young revolutionary girl fighting the establishment that is tyrannical, though whether it was Thebes 2000 years ago, could be anywhere today.
Irene Pappas I try. Yeah. With the modern times and where is the truth and always trying to find a feeling that will make me talk like that because I know in our, in our village, people say, as Lorca says sometimes, "I am thirsty, I have glass splinters in my throat." He doesn't mean to say, "I have glass splinters in my throat." He says, "I have glass splinters! I'm thirsty! I want water!" You know what I mean? And then he comes out with a verse which is --
Studs Terkel Very exciting, which makes, obviously, the audience can gather, those who haven't seen her, sure many have, makes her a very terribly exciting actress, is that is. Now, you mentioned Lorca, then you --
Studs Terkel Lorca -- And thus she goes on to the subject of another martyr to tyranny, the Spanish playwright, Garcia Lorca. Thus the connection between creativity in all lands and perhaps a song might be appropriate here, sung by Fleury Papadantonakis [sic], "Women of Suli." This is a song in the folk tradition dating from the Greek revolt against the Turks in 1821 and certain of the villages were untouched in the previous centuries of Turkish occupation because of their strategic mountain position and because of the particular, the unique courage of the villagers, too, which -- And it became the centers of the revolt and Suli was one of these villagers, villages and this was the first to suffer the ferocity of the invaders. And when the village was encircled, the women of Suli took all their children to the top of the cliffs to wait for the results of the battle and when they saw that the village was on fire, and understood that all the men had had perished in battle, they took their children in their arms and with a dance of defiance while singing a song of farewell to their homes, they moved off the cliffs and thus the lyric is "Farewell, you ill-fated world, farewell sweet life, farewell to the mountain, water fountains, valleys and mountaintops, and to you, my desolate homeland, I bid farewell forever" and thus farewell to the water fountains. Fish cannot live on land, nor can flowers blossom on desert sand and [Sulioteses?], the women of Suli cannot live without freedom. Farewell to the water fountains." [content removed, see catalog record] Fleury Papadantonakis [sic] and "Women of Suli." About six years ago, there appeared in Chicago traveling, he sang throughout the world, the late Nikos Gounaris, who was a beloved singer of Athens, he wrote many Athenian songs, though he sang songs of all parts of Greece, and I remember his being in the studio, I look at the date now, and this was last rebroadcast, this is, talk about a strange coincidence. February 21st, 1962, exactly six years ago today. Nikos Gounaris was in the studio with his friend, my friend, George Buntos, who was living and was interpreting for him, too. Nikos Gounaris, I remember, looked very much like Zero Mostel as he was singing these songs with his beaming face. And he's written, he wrote a great many, he did, but mostly about his hometown, Athens, Mercouri's hometown, too. And this is a song of, he talks about, a song about, many love songs, of course, and this is one about memory of a children's song. I asked him about it and he talks about it I think with the help of George Buntos. There's a slight pause here while we have a little tape difficulties in finding the Gounaris -- We have a tape, we're looking for the spot at the moment or technology. Un momento, that's not the Greek word, but it'll work for the moment unless the gremlins are at work. Can't get Gounaris here? Well, for the moment, perhaps we'll return to Nikos Gounaris, since we're talking about songs and all aspects and Mercouri, Melina Mercouri was talking about about joy and love, why not an ancient Greek love song, one called "Omitros chi Marina", Omitros and Marina, it's a song of the shepherds of north Greece, and they are believed to have been the direct descendants of the Dorians, one of the four main tribes from which the Greek race originated. They've maintained in the hills a way of life that's remained unchanged close to 3000 years. This in the hills of north Greece, and the shepherds live in the open the summer and and when the first snow starts, they start their down-grade trek to the plains of Thessaly. They are dignified and a proud people and their women [unintelligible] do not marry outsiders. Marriages are usually arranged; perhaps changes now I imagine taking place and the wedding ceremony in the summer is very colorful and this is Mitros is married to Marina and the violins, the instruments are playing. I imagine the bouzouki would be playing, friends applaud and in a moment everyone would rise and offer a good wish, "May Mitros and Marina live in happiness and harmony and grow old gracefully." This is a record cut on location. [content removed, see catalog record] And thus from Mitros and Marina we come to at last to our friend Gounaris, the late Nikos Gounaris, and I ask him this question: Way back you were talking about your father, songs you heard when you were little, traditional songs, we talked about something called the little vest?
Nikos Gounaris [Greek.]
Nikos Gounaris [Greek.]
Studs Terkel Nikos Gounaris, one of his own songs. About a certain neighborhood in Greece that no doubt Melina Mercouri knows quite well. Perhaps as we near the end of this program, a tribute to the Greek tradition, the Greek people and the current agony, we come again to Mikis Theodorakis, to his music written for a film based upon a great book by Kazantzakis, Nikos Kazantzakis, and thus we hear: [Theme from "Zorba."]
Studs Terkel Just in listening it's a tribute to homeland and love for Melina Mercouri and Solomos' words, the anthem, this is our program for this morning, tribute to Greece and to its people. I remind you again, March 24th, the Auditorium Theatre, should be quite an experience with Melina Mercouri in town, all the proceeds will go to the families of the prisoners in Greece, and she will be singing all sorts of songs and talking all sorts of talk at the Auditorium March 24th and tickets will be available as of Friday at Ticket Central, all Marshall Field stores, all Montgomery Ward stores, all Crawford stores and at the Great Expectations bookshop in Evanston.