Κυριακή, 7 Μαρτίου 2021

Giorgios Vitalis, Sculptor

 

 

Giorgios Vitalis                                               ΓΙΩΡΓΙΟΣ  ΒΙΤΑΛΗΣ                           

Born 1838                                                       Died1901

 

 


Giorgios Vitalis was one of Greece’s great 19th century sculptors in an era when marble was king and neoclassicism flourished. His works became famous for their attention to even the smallest detail. In that respect, he was a perfectionist.  He has only one work in the First Cemetery of Athens: the mausoleum of George Averoff.  It is very grand and hard to miss as you enter the gates of the cemetery. Even so, it may not completely represent his aesthetic because it was completed after his death. His career is an interesting one and one that illustrates the frustrations that sculptors underwent in showing their works and, in a competitive market, being true to their own artistic impulses.



 

Averoff’s mausoleum in the First Cemetery

His Life

Giorgιos was born in Ysternia on the island of Tinos in 1838 just a few years after the birth of the Greek nation. He was the son of a building contractor and, after graduating from high school began to work alongside his father in Smyrna on the Asia Minor coast.  The population there was predominantly Greek and still under Ottoman control.

At 19, he realized that he wanted something more. Without informing his father, he travelled to Athens and, at the age of 19, enrolled in its Polytechnical School.  To make ends meet, he worked in the marble studio of his cousin and fellow Tinian, Giorgios Fytalis, who was a professor of Sculpture at the Athens School of Arts.

Giorgios graduated in 1862 and had worked for Fytalis for seven long years until a new opportunity arose. He was offered a scholarship sponsored by Queen Amalia. With the support of her father-in-law and famous Philhellene King Ludwig I of Bavaria, Vitalis was able to study at the Academy in Munich under the tutelage of Professor Max Von Windmann who was king Ludwig’s favourite sculptor.

 

 



 


A Von Windmann statue of Schiller

Giorgios married the daughter of a Bavarian doctor and the family tried to persuade him to stay in Munich.   He was offered a position at the prestigious Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, but he wanted to return to Greece.

He settled in Syros, where he established his marble workshop and would remain for the next 30 years. Ermoupoli, Syros’capital, was a wonderful choice for an ambitious sculptor. In those years it was a bustling maritime and commercial centre and its inhabitants had deep enough pockets to realize their marble fantasies! Syros is still a wonderful place to visit for a flavour of what 19th century Greek art was all about.  From 1870-1882 and again in 1895-98, Syros had a dynamic mayor in the person of Dimitrios Vafiadakis who was instrumental in getting the fabulous city hall built by Ernst Ziller and in encouraging works of sculpture to decorate the town’s many squares and churches. 

 

 


The main square of Ermoupolis, backed by Ziller’s masterpiece and tiled in marble, was called by one enthusiast an outdoor ballroom. On the left is a Vitalis dais or bandstand dedicated to the Muses.

Of course, Vitalis was not just a local island phenomenon. His works soon became popular and won many prizes at exhibitions. His sculptures of Greek heroes such as Opheus, Paris, Theseas, Oedipus, or Hector, decorated the royal palace in Athens, and the homes of wealthy and influential collectors such as Stefanos Skouloudis. Even Sofia, the sister and hostess of Prime Minister Harilaos Trikoupis owned a Vitalis.  Depictions of ancient Greeks in the classical style were very much in vogue at the time and something of a Vitalis speciality although he could create works of modern heroes, if commissioned - as his statue of William Gladstone proves.

The Problem of Exhibiting Works in Greece

It was all very well to chisel away in one’s workshop, but marble statues were an expensive commodity in a small, competitive market and the problem of how to exhibit their works in a way that would attract Greek (and hopefully international) attention was a pressing problem. Greek sculptors did not want their marble careers to be only about monuments in cemeteries. (Ironically, the fact that they were a great part of their work in places like the First Cemetery in Athens has left us a legacy we appreciate very much!). There were competitive exhibitions in centres like Paris and Rome but in Greece – nothing!

Nothing, that is until one of Greece’s great benefactors, Evangelos Zappas, decided to relight the ancient Olympic torch and financed several of what we might now call previews of the international Olympics held in 1896 in Athens. Zappas sponsored these ‘pre-Olympic Games’ beginning in 1859 well before there was any suitable venue or international interest. There was no Olympic stadium back then, The first athletic events were held in Klafthmonas Square (then King Ludwig Square) in the centre of Athens. What was important about this Olympic effort to sculptors like Vitalis was that in these revived  ‘games’,  art became a competitive category. It was a very Greek thing to do.

 

 

 


 

       

One of the 1875 medals mentioning Zappas on one side and showing King George I on the other

Ancient Greeks may have chosen their jurors by lot, but almost everything else was settled by a contest – and not just athletics. Drama, singing, and poetry had all been included. There was even a kissing contest in some games - among men only, of course. (1)  So Zappas’ revival of art categories with prizes of gold, silver and bronze medals had a real pedigree.

 

Greek sculptors rushed to enter the contests held in the ‘Olympics’ in 1856, 1860, 1870, 1875, and 1888 and in other contests tendered by cultural organizations of one sort or another. They presented either completed works or models of projected work to be examined and judged by the perceived experts of the time. In 1870, Vitalis won the Silver Medal and in 1875, the  Bronze in the Olympic contests of those years.


 

This Statue of Theseus, created in 1868, was shown at the ‘Olympics’ of 1870 and now graces the area outside of the metro (electrico) in Plateia Thissio.

 

 

Of course, it is easier to determine who is best in a foot race or a boxing match than with art where judges cannot help bringing in their own points of view and in this period, austere classicism was the prevailing taste, so it is not surprising that sculptors who dared to be modern, or even embellish the classical ideal, believed that their work was not being judged on its merits or – worse - that the ‘fix’ was in because the pool of experts judging these things was small and usually traditionalist.  If an artist felt slighted, he could appeal to the court of public opinion – newspapers during this period were more than happy to enter the cultural arena, especially if a potential scandal was in the making.  

This was the climate for all sculptors of the era.

 

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ermoupolis

 

In 1880, Vitalis created an impressive monument for Ermoupolis.  By that time, he was already a master craftsman. Vitalis had first presented the city with a small model of the work after having consulted his friend Ernst Ziller (2), the architect of Syros’ city hall and no mean monument designer himself. The town fathers liked what they saw and Vitalis did not disappoint. Its correct title is:  the Unburied Unknown and  it commemorated the heroes who had fought and died during the fight for independence from the Ottomans.

 

 

The monument is topped by a lion (3) stretched out on a garlanded sarcophagus of Tinian marble. The lion symbolizes the bravery of the warriors who, like the lion, are now at rest. A classical female figure, barefooted and scantily clad, represents Ermoupolis as she kneels with her back to the viewer. There is a laurel branch in her left hand, meant to crown the victors. With her raised right hand she completes the epitaph of the heroes who had come to Ermoupolis and died anonymously in battle. The text ends by saying that the monument had been placed at public expense by ‘we, the inhabitants, of Ermoupolis’.

 



According to those who know (4) the monument is a blend of pure classicism (the female figure) with 19th century neoclassical highlights (the lion atop the sarcophagus and other decorative features) that were popular at the time. The female figure is beautifully done.

 

As an interesting aside, the monument was first placed high on Dilis Ηill  (one of the two in Ermoupolis) in front of the Agios Anastasis Church, but it became a target for stone throwing local children. So in 1888, it was moved to its present location in front of the Agios Nikolaos Church closer to the town centre and where it was easier to keep an eye on errant youngsters! While you are there, go inside the church because Vitalis created the impressive iconostasis of this church dedicated to Ermoupolis’ patron saint, and designed that elaborate Bishop’s chair as well:


 

 

 The Statue of William Gladstone


In 1883 the senate of the Greek Academy decided to sponsor a statue of English Prime Minister William Gladstone. Gladstone was chosen because he had proved himself invaluable obtaining Thessaly for Greece in 1881. The tender for submissions was specific as relates to size and material (marble of course), but expression, the stance, and the mode of dress were left up to the sculptor. Vitalis wasn’t taking any chances. He created three models for the committee to judge. Dimitris Filippotis, another well known sculptor
who had often been sidelined by the traditional art world because he refused to follow the strict rules of neoclassicism, also entered a model of Gladstone for consideration. After the usual deliberations, Vitalis was named the winner.  However, many claimed that the Filippotis’ model was by far the best. When the British ambassador had seen it, he had exclaimed, That’s Gladstone!  The press was there to add fuel to the fire and reported that when the ambassador discovered that Filippotis’ model had been rejected, he broke his cane in anger. Filippotis demanded that his model be exhibited so it could be compared easily to Vitalis’. The debate became so heated that Prime Minister Tricoupis himself felt compelled to go and view the two models.

Vitalis won.  

 

One of the conditions was that the winner had to travel to London to study the subject in person, so Vitalis set off to London for a three month period before showing the committee his final work. For many years after Gladstone was turned into marble, his statue was not officially unveiled or placed - for reasons I cannot discover. It may have been financial because no one had considered the cost of the pedestal. Poor Gladstone! Many years passed before the statue was actually placed in the garden of the University of Athens where it stands today. Still, Gladstone does have the singular honour of being the only foreigner to grace the forecourt of the University buildings.

 

 


William at last!

He is posed as a rhetorician in contemporary dress, turning slightly as he speaks with one hand raised. At his feet are two tomes of Homer – he was quite a Homeric scholar. I love that left foot just ready to stride into thin air. It is a touch I have noticed on many statues of the period and it never fails to please. The work is an interesting blend of a classical pose mixed with realism.

It’s a pretty good likeness too:

 

 




 

Problems with contests for works continued all through the era. In 1888, when  the Byron Club announced they were in the market for a bust of Byron, the official deadline was apparently stretched to allow Vitalis more time to send his model over from Syros. The press and other contestants immediately cried foul and the committee was compelled to hold another contest.

Vitalis still won.


 

Byron’s bust with a nicely windswept scarf but immaculate coiffure



The Statues of George Averoff

Vitalis spent the last 2 years of his life in the city of Alexandria in Egypt. There was still a large Greek population in that city and his mission was to complete two statues of Greece’s great benefactor Giorgios Averoff, a man who had done so much for both cities. He did complete the statue intended for Alexandria’s Tositsas School. (Tositsas, another of Greece’s benefactors, is buried in the First). It is imposing in a style we have come to expect from Vitalis and very reminiscent of the Gladstone statue he had completed years before for the Athens Academy.


 

Seated at the base of the statue are two female figures, The one on the right represented the Spirit Education and the one of the Left, Benevolence or Kindness.

He died before he could realize the statue of Averoff made for the Athens First Cemetery the base of which was intended to house the bones of the great man when they were brought back from Alexandria. His sculpture was realized by his son Ioannis and by sculptor Dimitrios Filippotis, his old rival for the statue of Gladstone.


 

 

The Dais in the Main Square of Ermoupolis

This dais or bandstand was inaugurated in 1907, well after the sculptor’s death. This highlights another aspect of sculpture as an art form.  Sculptors made models of their work in plaster or wax to show collectors or institutions. Sometimes they made several, and it was rare for an artist to chisel him or herself the work, especially if large. Marble sculpture was a collaborative art. Every marble workshop had technicians for this although the master might take a hand in fine details.

(See http://athensfirstcemeteryinenglish.blogspot.com/2017/01/the-sculptors-studio.html)

Therefore, it was perfectly possible that any sculptor’s work could be created and exhibited after his or her death.  The models for famous works have often been almost prized as much as the final product and many are shown in museums in Greece.

 

 


 The Dias: apparently because of wells underneath the structure, it is a perfect echo chamber...

 

 

 


As seen in an old postcard

The bandstand, with its ten lampposts, is decorated by bas reliefs of Apollo  and the nine muses, a lovely blend of form and function. The city’s orchestra uses it regularly.

 

 


One of the muses: Melpomene, the muse of Tragedy

 

 

Other Works of Vitalis

In the Ermoupolis Cemetery:

Because he was a resident of Ermoupolis, its cemetery benefitted from his work more than Athens. This is an excellent example of his aesthetic. All the motifs shown were popular for funeral monuments at the time. This cemetery should be on your itinerary if you visit Syros.

 


 

 

In Messolonghi:


 

The statue of Byron which has been placed over his buried heart. The face is vitually identical to the bust of Byron shown earlier. Quite often a sculptor might make a bust of his larger work and sell it or display it separately  

 

 

Footnotes

 

(1) A kissing contest was held annually in Megara to honour their hero Diocles.

(2) Ziller had designed the tomb of Heinrich Schliemann in the First Cemetery of Athens, among others.

(3) It would be fun to do a study of lions and funerary monuments,  partly because of their association with Bavaria and more because of their archetypal associations, they were a favoured species for cemeteries. I always like to stop and take a look. There is an especially nice one beside the Tomb of Syngros in the First cemetery – not to mention Vitalis’ lions on the mausoleum of Averoff.

(4) My source is Dr.  Katerina Tzavelopoulos (Κατερίνας Τζαβελοπούλος)

 

 

 

Κυριακή, 14 Φεβρουαρίου 2021

Katina Paxinou

 

 

Katina Paxinou                                               ΚΑΤΙΝΑ ΠΑΧΙΝΟΥ

Born 1900                                                        Died 1973

                                        

 


Section 2, Number 63A

Katina Paxinou, articulate on and off stage, passionate about her craft, and with an uncanny ability to become the person she was bringing to life on the stage, was a phenomenon in a theatre world full of talented actors and actresses.  In her long career she had many firsts. She was the first actress to set foot on the Epidauros stage after more than two thousand years, the first star of the National Theatre of Greece to open at the Herodion in Athens and, in 1944, was the first Greek actress to win an Oscar for best supporting role in  For Whom the Bell Tolls. During the Second World War, the British air force dropped leaflets announcing her Oscar win over war torn Greece - a use of military resources that might not have appealed to every faction fighting on the ground – but one regarded as an important morale booster for the population at large. She was that famous - and would remain so until her death in 1973.  The number of roles she played over her long career is just astounding. (1) She and her partner Alexis Minotis thrived in the environment of the National Theatre of Greece and greatly contributed to its success as an institution.  


 

A publicity shot taken in Hollywood in the 40s

Her Early Life

Katina was born in Piraeus in 1900, the fourth of the seven children of wealthy Vasilis Konstantopoulos and Eleni Malandrinos.  Vasilis was a grain merchant and flour manufacturer and the family lived in a home built by famous neoclassical architect Ernst Ziller, in a neighbourhood with similarly well off neighbours.  Their economic situation allowed for nannies who could teach the children English and French and for the young Katina to attend, first the Hill School in the Plaka and later the Ursuline School on Tinos, both educational institutions famous for their contribution to Greek education.  She was a tomboy from the get go and a rebel too. Being the fourth child may have made it easier for her to escape parental oversight – that and the ability to climb down the drainpipe from her second floor bedroom to join her friends when she had been seemingly corralled for the evening. A neighbour, artist Yiannis Tsarouchis, later recalled that from their childhood days she was great fun, a natural leader, and a wonderful singer.

The educational institutions she attended were less lyrical in her praise and one requested that her family remove her because they could not manage her and she was a bad influence on the other children. Her father’s death when she was eight placed her under the control of a harassed mother who, unable to tame her high spirits, sent her to a Swiss boarding school at the age of nine with an older sister as chaperone.


 

A defiant 10 year old

 

While in Switzerland, the 11 year old Katina wanted desperately to enter the  Geneva Conservatory.  At first she was rejected because it did not accept students under 14. Refusing to take no for an answer, she dressed up in her older sister’s clothes and auditioned again, this time not mentioning her age. She succeeded in the end because it was agreed that her voice was mature for her age and an exception could be made.  There she studied piano and voice and received a Gold Medal for excellence. In spite of this, her mother was dead against her pursuing a professional singing career. Singing at a concert for charity or at neighbours’ houses was fine - but young ladies of her class did not pursue ‘careers’.

Her first stage performance was at a charity concert  in Piraeus in 1914 and then in 1915 at the Royal Theatre. On her second appearance there she was accompanied by the great composer Attik, singing his musical success I Have Seen Many Eyes (Είδα Μάτια Πολλά) still a great song.(2)  At small soirees and concerts, she was sometimes accompanied by Dimitris Mitropoulos, then a young music student in the Athens Conservatory. Their early collaborations would prove to be important for both and were the basis of a lifelong friendship.

Marriage at Seventeen

If nine seems young to be sent abroad and fourteen to debut as a singer, marriage at seventeen seems early by today’s standards as well, but marry she did - to businessman,  Ioannis Paxinos.  He was well off, and debonair, and part of a family with business interests in Romania.  Ioannis was a writer and theatre lover as well as a businessman and, unlike her mother, he had promised not to interfere with her career ambitions. (3)

By the age of 21 she had produced two children (Ethel and Ileana) and had sung the lead in an opera - Beatrice at the Municipal Theatre of Piraeus with music composed by her friend Dimitris Mitropoulos. It was an important start for both of them.


 

The Municipal Theatre advertised this as a miracle in three acts, - with an orchestra of sixty instruments!


 

Katina at 20 as Beatrice

After such a triumph, having to accompany her husband to Romania for his business interests must have caused a few pangs of regret.  In 1922, she was again focusing on her career and travelled to Vienna where she fell under the spell of the music of Richard Wagner and its possibilities for her voice.

Early promises notwithstanding, by 1923 the marriage was not working and the couple divorced.  Katina left her children in her husband’s care and went abroad, this time to Berlin. Her mother refused to help economically, so she struggled during this period, often visited by her friend Dimitris Mitropoulos who was working with the Berlin State Opera at the time.

 


Katina (on the right) in 1926. She is with actress Eleni Papadaki. Was it a sign of things to come?

Her future as a Wagnerian singer seemed assured. How could she have known then that her life would be turned upside the evening she met actor Alexis Minotis in the dressing room of Marika Kotopouli?

Alexis Minotis and a Small Digression


 

Alexis, born in Crete in 1900, a bad student but an avid reader, was not at all happy about the secure accountancy career his parents had planned for him at the Bank of Athens. He quit after one year. Sure of what he did not want, but less sure of what he did, he found himself answering a local add placed by the Athenian Viaki-Iatridou-Nezer Acting Troupe in 1922. They needed extras for their Cretan production of Oedipus Tyrannus (Oedipus Rex).  Alexis applied, liked what he saw, and joined the troupe. In the grand tradition of such stories, he got a chance for bigger roles when an actor became ill.  

This sort of apprenticeship undergone by Alexis was the only way into the acting profession in the 1920s. The state’s effort to start a Theatre School under the aegis of the Royal Theatre had failed after a lot of fanfare and high hopes. It had been under the direct patronage of King George I and had opened its doors in 1901 on Agiou Constantinou Street in an elegant building purpose built by the great Ernst Ziller and financed by the wealthy benefactor Efstathios Rallis.


 

Ziller’s building on Agiou Constaninou Street.

It had lasted only until 1908 when severe economic problems caused it to close its doors. Athenians preferred reviews, satires and farces – at least when it came to paying for their entertainment. That had left the field open to entrepreneur-actors with troupes like that of Marika Kotopouli.

Marika was a human dynamo and she somehow managed to maintain a theatre in Athens, keep the flame of good drama alive, and still stay solvent. To succeed economically, they had to travel to wherever there was a Greek audience to be had.  It was a risky business and each troupe member had to learn many parts in case a play that did not please a local audience could be ditched for one that did, and to help out in any capacity required by the situation. It was a wonderful opportunity to learn the craft but required budding actors with nerve, versatility, and a strong constitution: all those short whistle stops and cheap rooms and food their budgets could afford!

 


Marika Kotopouli

 

Alexis was lucky enough to join Kotopouli’s troupe in 1925 and did very well. He travelled a great deal and got parts in Shakespeare’s Hamlet in Athens and Sophocles’ Antigone presented at the Herodion among others. (4)   

The Meeting

In 1828, Katina had come to Marika’s dressing room and Alexis was there.  He would later say:

Her strong individuality really struck me and I wanted to meet her again. This first meeting was very important. ...Katina had gone to Berlin to become a Wagnerian singer. In discussions we had, I tried to persuade her that Greek mythology was of a higher order – all to persuade her that leaving singing and that acting in ancient Greek drama was a higher calling.

 She was equally impressed, and his advice had immediate effect. She abandoned her studies, not even returning to Berlin to pick up her belongings. Almost overnight, she had found her soul mate, acting partner, and a whole new career.  Her first stage appearance occurred almost immediately in Henry Bataille’s The Naked Woman. She was 28 years old.

Alexis and Katina visited America with Kotopouli’s troupe in 1931.  Greeks living in New York, Chicago, Boston, Cleveland, were hungry for Greek theatre too and the company was welcomed everywhere. (5)  Katina’s letters home were full of the wonders of New York. She stayed in a six dollar a night hotel in Times Square whereas Marika, was ensconced at the Ambassador.  These were early days and Katina didn’t care; a room with its own bath and 10 dollars a day spending money was luxury enough! The troop returned to Greece without Marika, so Alexis and Katina briefly joined the troupe of veteran actor Amilios Veakis.

Who knows what might have happened next had the Greek National Theatre not opened its doors in Ziller’s fabulous building on Agiou Constantinou Street after a hiatus of 24 years?  There, they would find their spiritual and professional home.

The National Theatre of Greece

The National Theatre was founded in 1930 by an act of parliament signed by education minister Georgios Papandreau.  Ioannis Griparis became the first general manager, and Fotis Politis the first director. They were excellent choices.  It was a reprise, really, of the Royal Theatre - and no accident that an education minister was involved. The aim was to create a permanent troupe of actors who could, through their productions (both ancient and modern), educate their own citizenry and promote Greek culture abroad. The Theatre Drama School would assure a continuous flow of talent. To ensure the quality and continuity of stage productions, there would be a permanent set designer and costumer, something the Royal Theatre had lacked. Luckily Kleovoulos Klonis (Κλεόβουλος Κλώνης) and costumer, Antonis Fokas (Αντώνης Φωκάς) filled these posts brilliantly for many, many years.

The National might have become cliquish and inbred and, no doubt was at times, but the problem was mostly avoided because there was such a huge well of talent in Greece to draw from in the 30s:  writers like Spiros Melas, Grigorios Xenopoulos, and Costis Palamas , musicians like, Dimitris Mitropoulos, and artists like Nikos Hatzikyriakos – Ghikas were invited to participate. The Greek cultural world was small enough that the greats knew each other and shared a common cultural goal.

The theatre opened its doors On  March 19, 1932 with two productions:   Aeschylusʼ  Agamemnon and Sublime Dream by Grigorios Xenopoulos.  In the ancient drama Katina played Clytemnestra and Alexis, the herald.

 


Reviews praised her using her maiden name.  Her mother made it clear that this particular Constantopoulou was no relation of hers. From that point on, Katina used the name Paxinou.

1932-1941

Katina and Alexis dominated the National Theatre during the 30s although, ironically, neither had benefitted from the formal training the Theatre now offered. Katina had no acting training at all and rose to stardom through her musical training and her innate dramatic flair. I suspect that she was simply a natural born diva.  There is no doubt that their bond as a couple enabled them to succeed. She excelled in playing dynamic women in unusual situations whether it was as Phaedra, Clytemnestra, Electra,  or Abby (Desire Under the Elms)  Mrs Alving in Ibsens’ Ghosts, or Gertrude in Hamlet. Her range was tremendous and she was equally comfortable in Comedies such as Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan.  If well received, the same productions were presented again and again. Katina had a lot to offer. She translated Eugene O’Neill into Greek and, in a production of Oedipus Tyrranus , played Jocasta and wrote the music. It was a wonderful decade for Katina, marred only by the tragic death at 16 of her eldest daughter Ethel in 1934.

Electra

 

Perhaps her most famous role in ancient drama, the play premiered in the Herodion in Athens in October of 1936 and was a critical triumph. The nuances of her presentation: her voice, its range, her movements, her timing, all held audiences in thrall. One enthusiastic critic wrote : your voice fractures rocks (Η φωνή σας ραγίζει πέτρες) (6) The literal translation into English completely misses the meaning: “fracturing rocks” was the highest praise! On a personal level it a triumph as well; her mother finally accepted her daughter’s career choice. 


 

Electra was presented often over the next few years, the most memorable being Epidavros in 1939. It was an historic moment and the beginning of a tradition that continues to this day. She was one of the first to step on that stage in an ancient tragedy in over 2,000 years.

 


Rehearsal at Epidavros in 1939

In the same year, the troupe travelled to London and Berlin and, in a bizarre precursor of things to come, the cast took a triumphant curtain call with bouquets wrapped in swastikas at their feet.


 

Katina in the centre, Alexis to the right

Oblivious to the coming war, Katina went to Paris on a visit and the opening of hostilities found her there. She managed to return to Greece after many frightening delays.

Marriage, America and an Oscar

She and Alexis had married quietly in Athens in March of 1940 and then she left for England to play in a British production of Ibsen’s Ghosts. The war caught up with her again and, only after help in high places and the harrowing experience of being torpedoed at sea, was she finally able to reach America in the spring of 1941. There, she would spend the war years and begin an entirely new phase of her career, this time in cinema.

Alexis had his own adventures attempting to escape Greece (7) and was not able to join her until a year later. It was a nerve wracking time; neither was sure where the other was. Katina was determined to help with the war effort in any way she could and did so, including an address to the Greek nation in January of 1942 in which she offered what encouragement she could.

Her stage career was on hold because of the war so she reluctantly (at first) agreed to go to Hollywood to play the role of Pilar in Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, a role that won her the Oscar in 1944.


 

as Pilar

The American interlude was a strange time in many ways.  She had a five year contract with Paramount pictures and played in quite a few forgettable American movies (8).  She and Alexis bought a house in Hollywood and became neighbours and friends with the likes of Gregory Peck and Jean Renoir as well as other Hollywood luminaries.


 

(She only made one Greek film – in 1969)

When the war ended, her praise of Greeks fighting in the mountains and her statements that Greeks must decide their own destiny got her into difficulties. Some accused her of leftist sympathies. Katina had missed the war in Greece and the conflicts and hatred it had festered created between left and right during that period. The National Theatre had continued under a new manager during the occupation, even tailoring their productions to suit their new audience. When the Germans withdrew, many in the company were blamed for their wartime allegiances and members scrambled to make sure they were on the right side of history – no easy thing during that period.  EleniPapadaki who had been National’s greatest star during Katina’s absence was brutally murdered by left wing fanatics during the 1944 December uprising. (9)


 

Eleni Papadaki

Katina and Alexis would stay away until 1950 when invited by Georgios Theotokas to play, once again, in Ibsen’s Ghosts. It opened on November 10, 1950. At fifty, Katina Paxinou was back home.

1950-73

When she played Electra in 1952, critics groused that she was too old for the part. They had a point, but she had other roles up her sleeve including in the lead in Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba (1951 in New York and 1954 in Greece) and  Blood Wedding.  She added Medea to her already large repertoire of ancient plays during the fifties. There seemed to be no role she could not play well.


 

Medea

She was as comfortable playing modern drama and ancient roles in London or New York as she was in Athens – and as popular.

During the Military dictatorship, another test for the National Theatre, Katina  Minotis created their own troupe and staged, among many other plays, various works by Lorca (Blood Wedding), and Sean O’Casey (Juno and the Paycock) among others.  Her last appearance in theatre was Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children.

To list the roles she played throughout her life would need a weighty tome like the one published in 1997  by the Bank of Greece.

 


It is well worth finding

Her Death

Katina died after a long battle with cancer in Athens on 22 February 1973. She was survived by her daughter Ileana and beloved grandchildren as well. Alexis continued his career until his death in 1990.


 

Her funeral cortege leaving the Metropolitan church for the cemetery. And as always, the audience is clapping.

The Grave

 


Section Two, Number 63A

For a woman with such a flair and mobile face, I have to say the bust by Marios Loverdos is a bit of a disappointment

The Map

 


Footnotes

(1)   An exhaustive list of her work is given in the Paxinou/Minotis put out by the National Bank of Greece in 1997.

(2)   Youtube offers many versions of this popular song, but not Katina’s’.

(3)   Marriage was sometimes the only way out for budding actresses from a strict family. Melina Mercouri also married young for much the same reason.

(4)   Theo Angelopoulos’s film The Troupe (Ο Θίασος) is a great introduction to the life of travelling players in the  Greek provinces from the 30s to the 60s)

(5)   Greek politicians have taken a great interest in promoting the arts since the country’s formation. Marika went to the U.S. armed with a letter to the Greek ambassador from Eleftherios Venizelos himself asking that they be received well.

(6)   I first heard this phrase in the Mani when the villagers were praising the poetic chants of the Mirologistes after a funeral in Aereopolis. It enchanted me at the time- especially given the geography of the Mani!

(7)   Minotis deserves a text of his own. His wartime adventures were so exciting that a film was in the works in Hollywood to depict them. The project never got off the groun because the war ended.

(8)   I do not think Katina could ever be bad but her heavy Greek accent did put some movie critics off, especially if she was not playing a Mediterranean type. One exception to her b lust movies was Rocco and His Brothers, a real 1960 Visconti classic. Playing an Italian, of course.

(9)     Eleni Papadaki is also buried in the first and we have told her story. See http://athensfirstcemeteryinenglish.blogspot.com/2017/04/eleni-papadaki.html