Greeks and Greek-inspired films have been a part of the Academy Awards since the beginning of show business.
Vaudeville impresario and theater owner Alexander Pantages was one of the first Hollywood moguls and in the 1940s, the Skouras brothers– led by Spiros, were household names in Hollywood. Numerous people from the film industry– both above and below the line, on camera and off, have played vital roles in film. Dozens of Greeks and Greek inspired films have won big at the Academy Awards’ almost one century run. Here are our Top 10 favorite Greek-inspired moments.
10) Elia Kazan famously stated that “a director doesn’t make a picture, a whole lot of people do” in his acceptance speech for the Best Director Academy Award for On the Waterfront, one of the most important films of the 20th century.
9) Lauren Bacall presents Theoni Vachlioti Aldredge with the Oscar for Costume Design for The Great Gatsby at the 47th Academy Awards in 1975. The Thessaloniki-born stage and screen costume designer was one of the most decorated and honored designers of the 20th century, winning three Tony Awards and 11 Tony nominations.
8) George Chakiris is honored with the Academy Award for his performance as Bernardo, the leader of the Sharks gang, in West Side Story in 1962. The son of Greek immigrants was a well known dancer and actor and often shared his Greek heritage through song and dance, like in this clip dancing the Syrtaki on BBC with Nana Mouskouri.
7) Manos Hadzidakis’ theme song from the hit Greek film starring Melina Mercouri “Never on Sunday” won Best Song at the 1960 Academy Awards. The film, about a happy hooker who worked every day of the week— except Sundays— was a bit controversial at the time, but managed to win the hearts and minds of America and the world.
#6) Believed to be the first Greek to win an Oscar, Katina Paxinou wins the golden statuette for her Supporting Actress role in For Whom the Bells Toll. In the photo, from the 1943 Academy Awards: Oscar winners Paul Lukas, Jennifer Jones, Katina Paxinou, and Charles Coburn.
5) Following one of the most illustrious careers in Hollywood and some of the most groundbreaking films of the entire 20th Century, Elia Kazan was given an Honorary Oscar for his remarkable body of work. Not without controversy, many in Hollywood protested the Greek immigrant’s participation in the the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1952 at the time of the Hollywood communists were being targeted.
#4) The story of an Anatolian Greek immigrant to the United States was one of the most talked about films of the year in 1963-64. “America America” which was directed, produced and written by Elia Kazan, from his own book of the same name. Kazan won Best Director at the Golden Globes. At the 36th Academy Awards, the film got three nominations for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay.
3) It’s not often when you hear Greek being spoken on the Oscars but Alexander Payne did just that, telling his sweet Greek mother that he loves her at the 2012 Academy Awards when he won an Oscar for his film Descendants.
2) Kary Antholis accepts— and graciously invites Gerda Weissmann Klein— to the stage to co-accept his Oscar for Best Documentary Short Subject for ”One Survivor Remembers” in 1996 about Holocaust survivor Klein, whose life was shattered when the Nazis invaded Poland during World War II. By making the documentary, Antholis said he learned about what his own mother went through when her father, Vassilios, was killed by Nazi collaborators in Greece.
#1) Olympia Dukakis wins Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Moonstruck at the 60th Academy Awards in 1988. At the same time, her cousin Michael was running for President.