Daily photographs by HANS VON RITTERN, with humorous, artistic and social commentary on life in the big city.

Posts tagged “George Bernard Shaw

MONDAYS ON MEMORY LANE: THE GREEK EARTH MOTHER – MELINA MERCOURI

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THE GREEK EARTH MOTHER ~ MELINA MERCOURI: In honor of Greek Independence Day yesterday Καλημέρα CALIMERA!

For those of you too young to know who Melina Mercouri was, below is the Random House dictionary definition of ‘earth mother’ = that would befit Melina.

earth’ moth`er
n. 1. the earth conceived of as the female principle of fertility and the source of all life.

2. a female spirit or deity serving as a symbol of life or fertility.

3. a sensuous, maternal woman.

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In 1960 Melina Mercouri had become an international sensation. Her Greek  film classic ”Never On Sunday” was a tremendous world wide success.  The lp record of the musical score by Manos Hadjidakos played constantly in our house – I was raised on it and it played in every public establishment you went, there was a craze for everything Greek. “Never On Sunday” became the single most successful foreign film at the time. Melina played ‘Ilya’ a feisty Greek streetwalker with a heart of gold. Not until 1970 was I even allowed to see the film because for those times it was considered to risqué for television and mom wouldn’t allow me to see it in the movies. I was captivated. I had never seen such an earthy woman. The confidence, the walk, the mannerisms and above all – that voice! “Never On Sunday” is based on ‘Pygmalion’ by George Bernard Shaw later to become “My Fair Lady” starring Audrey Hepburn – the streetwalker then changed to the more befitting flower girl for American tastes.

melina soundtrackhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wQht_oEDKTc

Jules Dassin, Melina’s husband in real life, directed the film as well as starred in the title role of the American tourist Homer, who is determined to transform Ilya into a refined lady of culture. Melina’s Ilya, not able to bear sadness, doesn’t believe in the classic Greek tragedies. She loves going to the theatre to see the tragedies but in retelling the stories later to her ‘clients’ and friends at the local bar, she twists them from her perspective so that they all end happily with the line, “and they all went to the seashore!”

NEVER-ON-SUNDAY

In person Melina’s voice was smokey and gravely (mostly by nature but also partially due to her chain smoking). Her tossed blonde hair was like a mane. She moved like a sensual tribal dancer. Her laugh was absolutely unmistakable – uproarious, uncontrolled, deeply from the gut.  Endless enthusiasm, filled with a passion for the arts and life. A fiercely independent Greek destined to become Greece’s member of parliament in 1977 and Greece’s first Minister of Culture in 1981!

MELINA B-Whttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mA-4b_hEfKo

In the fim clip as she is being carried off the man laughingly says “…and they all went to the seashore!”

On Saturday, October 21, 1972 we met. My mother Ursula worked at the time for Clifford Day Mallory of Mystic Seaport, Connecticut. The Mallory family happened to have founded Mystic, Connecticut. Mom was personal assistant to Mr. Mallory who was in the shipping brokerage business, which means, they brokered empty cargo ships to the highest oil company bidder for them to be used to transport their oil to the port of choice. Mr. Mallory had a business deal with Jules Dassin while Melina was in town for her failed musical version of “Lysistrata” . . . so all our  lives converged.

This divine earth mother had come to Broadway in the Greek comedic play ‘Lysistrata’  by Aristophanes written in 411BC!  It ironically deals with the story in which the women of Greece withhold sexual favors from the men until they men agree to stop going to war. A sexual political farce. Melina was born to play the part. The show previewed on October 20, 1972 – the night the above seated dressing room photo was taken. My first and ever lasting impression of her was how she pronounced my name. ‘Hrchrchanzz’. Being Greek, she could not say a soft letter “H”, but out came this throaty ‘Hrchrchanzz’. A hard “H” purred from her lips. Sitting there in her dressing room in her off white cashmere pants (she loved cashmere) and her deep purple silken blouse, blowing billows of cigarette smoke into the air.

MELINA ON STAGE

”Lysistrata’ played 35 previews until it’s opening night we attended on November 13, 1972. The show was for 1972, too ahead of it’s time and the reviews (many based on personal vengeance) were very unfavorable based on Melina’s political views against the military coup of her country. Shockingly it closed after only 8 performances/one week. Closing night was October 18, 1972. Melina took the news philosophically. “Po po po! I can’t be sad, I was born Greek and will die Greek, this is telling me I am meant to concentrate even more to fight for my country.”  She continued on in the United States to publicize her 1971 book “I Was Born Greek”.  Melina was staying at the hotel Nevaro on Central Park South in the penthouse suite. While Melina’s husband Jules conducted business with mom’s boss Mr. Mallory, mom and I were sent to keep Melina company. Melina had loved the photo I had taken of her the night we met, “Po po po! It is so soft, yes?” Melina’s ‘yes’ meant ‘isn’t that so?’ The ‘softness’ comes across because she was so happy and had such belief in her new Broadway show. To please Melina and to take her mind off the show I had the photo made into a poster (black and white was all I could afford) and presented it to her in her hotel suite. “Hrchrchanzz! I think you do this to make me happy, yes?” Yes I did. Melina signed my copy of the poster which has been framed on my wall for the past 41 years.

Sometime in the 1980’s I heard from some fans of hers complimenting me on the photo. It turns out Melina had used the photo in a Greek publication of her biography – I had been published! Sadly I have never found a copy of the book or the literature. Every time I pass that vibrant proud Greek earth mother’s photo on my wall- I still feel her embrace and hear that uproarious laughter “Ah Hrchrchanzz!” She was and always will be Greece!

MELINA POSTER SIGNED

A brief bio:

 

Melina Mercouri

(Greek: ΜελίναΜερκούρη), born as Maria Amalia Mercouri (18 October 1920 – 6 March 1994) was a Greek actress, singer and politician. As an actress she made her film debut in Stella (1955) and met international success with her performances in Never on Sunday, Phaedra, Topkapi and Promise at Dawn. She won the award for Best Actress at the 1960 Cannes Film Festival, and she was also nominated for an Academy Award, three Golden Globe Awards, and two BAFTA Awards.

A political activist during the Greek military junta of 1967–1974, she became a member of the Hellenic Parliament in 1977 and the first female Minister for Culture of Greece in 1981. Mercouri was the person who, in 1983, conceived and proposed the programme of the European Capital of Culture, which has been established by the European Union since 1985.

She was a strong advocate for the return to Athens of the Parthenon Marbles, which were removed from the Parthenon, and are now displayed in the British Museum.


MONDAYS ON MEMORY LANE – BACKSTAGE WITH AGNES MOOREHEAD

ENDORA BEWITCHED

MONDAYS ON MEMORY LANE – BACK STAGE WITH AGNES MOOREHEAD: It is Sunday,February 4th, 1973 and Agnes Moorehead, better known to mortals as Endora, was giving her last performance in the George Bernard Shaw play “Don Juan In Hell” at the old Palace Theatre in Times Square New York. I had to attend the performance since the shocking notice had been in the papers that past Friday that Sunday the 4th would be the final performance after only a total run of 24 performances.
Shocking? Yes. You see the cast included: Paul Henreid of ultra film classic “Cassablanca” and “Now Voyager”, Edward Mulhare of the TV series “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir”, Ricardo Montalban latin film star as lover and villain and of Star Trek fame. Directed by esteemed actor John Houseman. But most of all…there was Endora. From 1964 till 1972, one of my sheer pleasures was watching witty, chic, acid tongued Agnes Moorehead play Endora, mother-in-law to Darrin Stevens on the beloved TV classic series “Bewitched.”
I was still a bell-bottomed sophmore in high school and unfortunately not smart enough to secure the autographs of the entire incredible cast, my main goal was Endora/Agnes! So after the show I ran to the stage door and waited and watched for the luminaries to leave. Paul Henreid left, Edward Mulhare left and Ricardo Montalban left. Ninety minutes went by and the nervous question was – where was Agnes?!
In a panic I ran into the main entrance of the theatre to enquire if she was still in the theater (perhaps she had snuck out.) One of the ushers who still there cleaning up pleasantly said “Oh she’s still here! You want to meet her?!”
Huh? This doesn’t readily happen. These were still innocent times though. The history of celebrity security is basically divided in two. Before December 8, 1980/John Lennon’s assassination and after December 8th 1980. No one thought anything to stop this star struck kid in the platform shoes and huge bellbottoms from running to find Agnes Moorehead in that huge, huge theater. I raced down the aisle. “Wait!”, I thought, “slow down, don’t appear too eager or as if you don’t belong.” I slowed my pace but my heart beat only faster. The cavernous theater’s aisles led me to the side of the stage where a stagehand volunteered to show me to her dressing room. I was in disbelief! You know how incredible it was to be behind stage of the legendary theater where the greatest of the greats had performed? In the vaudeville days it was Ethel Barrymore, Bert Lahr, Fanny Brice, the Marx Brothers, Will Rogers and Lillian Russell. In modern times  such incredible luminaries as Judy Garland, Bette Midler’s first show, Liza Minnelli, Shirley MacLaine, Lauren Bacall, Josephine Baker, Frank Sinatra and Diana Ross. The film “Citizen Kane” premiered here on May 1, 1941 . . .and there I was. To quote  Eve Harrington in “All About Eve” ‘You can breathe it, can’t you?!’
The stagehand led me through the winding corridors to one remaining dressing room where the light was still on. “Miss Moorehead…someone here to see you.” There she was, methodically packing her blue suitcase. She came to the open door, “Yes?” as she looked at me inquisitively. “What is it dear boy?” That unmistakable voice, the mannerisms, the posture, the red hair – it was Endora saying ‘speak up!’ I was in awe. I nervously told her had wound my way backstage because I couldn’t run the risk of missing her and just to shake her hand. Her right hand had rows and rows of bracelets that clinked as she took my hand. I had brought with me a rare photo that ABC TV local stations used to focus the camera on when they went to commercial. I nervously watched as she signed it with my ink pen which didn’t take on the glossy photo (this is pre-Flair pen days) and she didn’t have another pen either, so the autograph is sort of scratched into the photo. She surprisingly asked me “Oh, Endora eh? So which was your favorite Darrin Stevens name?” “Durwood” I replied. “Mine too!” she said, “it was so easy and fun for me to say, it was the name we used the most. Is there anything else? I must pack.” I asked if I may take her picture with my little instamatic camera. She regally struck a profile pose. “Now young man, I must go.” She headed back into her dressing room and I wandered unescorted through those wonderful backstage hallways and walkways of theatrical history. Not knowing where I was going, I found myself at the edge of the stage. The lone single ghost light was standing center stage. ‘Why not?’ I thought, this would be my only chance! I peaked out from behind the curtain – no one. I took my first step. My clunky wooden platform shoes echoed on the wooden floorboards as I crossed the stage Judy Garland and all the legends had stood on. When I came to center stage, I stood there for a second and breathed – you can breathe it! I took a silent bow . . . and left.
ENDORA’S NAMES FOR DARRIN STEVENS:

Dagwood, Darwood, Durwood, Durweed, Beady eyes, Charm Boy, Dalton, Dar-Dar, Darius, Darwick, Darwin, David, Dawson, Boy, Delbert, Dennis, Denton, Derek, Derwin, Dexter, Digby, Dino, Dobbin, Dogwood, Donald, Dorian, Dulcin, Dulfin, Dum Dum, Dumbo, Dumpkin, Duncan, Featherhead, Glum-Dum, Tinker Bell, What’s his name and Low-grade mortal.