On February 17, 2009, the broadcast of analog television will be terminated in the United States. At this cusp of media technological we can still discover the participation of Greeks in the production and creation of this soon-to-be pass*eacute; media form. While Greeks and persons of Greek descent have always worked in television as writers, directors, producers, technicians and on-air journalists we will focus here strictly on actors as well as individual feature programs and entire series that have self-consciously offered Greek American characterizations and/or subject matter.
Drawing upon published sources of all sorts a short survey history of each individual Greek American actor or performer who has appeared on television can be readily offered.
So, complex/extensive have been the careers of Greek actors and so frequent have been the programs dealing with Greek American characters I can only hope to offer a select survey of the documented material on each individual. Those interested in a particular actor or group of actors can certainly find the full career of each performer.
Undoubtedly, there will be actors and/or programs that I have missed. What follows is a roughly chronological presentation of actors in their first credited roles along with extremely brief surveys comments on their overall careers.
If you wish you can even watch some of these Greek American actors and the performances identified in this series. VHS and DVD re-releases of any number of even the earliest television programs are still readily available. You can order many of the television programs mentioned in this series through the inter-library loan service at your local neighborhood library. Or you can buy individual discs from one of these old programs DVD released series. Scattered through this series is the information to ordering specific actors and specific episodes.
I was pleasantly surprised to learn that according to available documentation Nick Dennis is the first Greek actor to appear on American television. I remember watching episodes of Ben Casey (ABC 1961-1967) with my immigrant grandparents just so we could see Nick Dennis. As one might imagine with Dennis playing the reoccurring character of Nick Kanavaras, the hospital orderly with the heavy accent he was literally the only clearly Greek immigrant on American television. As a member of the viewing audience I can still recall when Nick Dennis, as Kanavaras, became confused, missed his lines and then ever so gracefully adlibbed his way off the screen.
Aside from my own memories Nick Dennis*#8217; career as an actor included memorable stage and movie roles as well as thirty years on television. Dennis was born in Thessaly on April 26, 1904 and at some point immigrated to the United States. With a stage and film career beginning in 1947 Dennis*#8217; first television performance was on the Hands of Murder (DUM 1949-1951) program on the *#8216;Man Who Refused to Die*#8217; episode in 1949. I can not be more exact in dating this episode since much about the DuMont Television Network and its incredible roster of programs has yet to be fully researched out of existing primary documents. Many readers will be surprised to learn that the DuMont Television Network even existed. Still between 1946 and 1956 DuMont was the fourth American broadcasting television company in the nation.*nbsp;*nbsp;*nbsp;*nbsp;
Nick Dennis active with theatre work in New York and Hollywood films did not appear on television again until the October 22, 1953 episode of *#8216;The Witness*#8217; on the Four Star Playhouse program. Among Dennis*#8217; performances over a thirty year career he appeared on Cavalcade of America, The Adventures of Jim Bowie, Have Gun-Will Travel, Passport to Danger, Alcoa Theatre, Johnny Staccato, Lawman, The Rebel, Ben Casey, I Spy, The Danny Thomas Hour, Ironside, Columbo, and Kojak. It was on Kojak that Dennis held the reappearing role of Uncle Constantine.
Nick Dennis died in Los Angeles on November 14 1980.
Viewing Nick Dennis*#8217; work as an actor is very easy. Compact disk re-releases of classic television programs such as Have Gun-Will Travel, Johnny Staccato, Ben Casey, I Spy, Columbo, or Kojak can be readily ordered from your local bookstore chain or off the Internet. Actually many of these programs can also be found in your neighborhood library as well. If you wish to purchase a DVD my advice is first find out which specific episode (on a program you always liked anyway) features Dennis as one of the actors. The clerk at the bookstore can help you with this task. Then, just order one DVD disk at a time of your preferred program with Dennis*#8217; episode otherwise you must order the entire boxed set of the specific TV series in question.
Alexander Scourby was the second Greek American actor to appear on American television in what we call today a made-for-television-movie. First aired on June 15, 1950, *#8216;With These Hands*#8217; was a film about the Triangle Fire of 1913, in which Scourby played the doctor. Unlike corporation controlled television of today this movie was produced by the International Ladies Garment Workers Union which aside from focusing on the 1913 tragedy also compared working conditions between the 1910s and the 1950s.
Alexander Scourby was born in Brooklyn to Greek immigrant parents Constantine Nicholas and Betsy (Patsakos) on November 13, 1913. Constantine Scourby was a successful restaurateur and baker. The Scourby children also included two daughters Lula, Mary and another son Nicholas. Alexander Scourby attended various schools in Brooklyn before graduating high school in 1931. Scourby entered West Virginia University at Morgantown with the intent of pursuing a career in journalism. In February 1932, Constantine Scourby died and Alexander left university to help his family. Few could have imagined that this move back to Brooklyn would lead young Alexander into circumstances that would make him an actor and narrator of international standing.
In quick succession, or so it seems when reading the documented stage, film, radio and narration work Alexander Scourby was to become involved in (within less than a month after his return home) it is really hard to believe one individual accomplished all this work within a 24-hour day.
While many Greek-Americans will undoubtedly recall Alexander Scourby*#8217;s landmark recording of the entire King James Version of the Bible (which has been released in numerous editions) as the creative highpoint of his entire career I can do more than mention this unquestioned achievement here.*nbsp;
The persona Scourby projected of a distinguished cultured gentleman and his undeniable success in theatre, radio and as a narrator of international standing has worked against a balanced review of his considerable television work.
I was extremely surprised to read in the 1965 Current Biography, *#8216;Alexander Scourby,*#8217; entry this odd observation, *#8220;As a television actor, Scourby has had major roles in dramas, presented on such notable programs as Playhouse 90, Circle Theatre, and Studio One. He has refused to tie himself down to a series, because, as he explained, *#8220;it*#8217;s hard to do good things that way.*#8221; He has, however, accepted occasional parts in Daniel Boone, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Defenders, an other set-format dramatic shows.*#8221; I don*#8217;t know who wrote this entry but this is simply not factually correct. True, Scourby probably worked more hour-for-hour in theatre, films and narrative work combined than he did on television but this man was an exceedingly hard working actor who did, as we will eventually learn take on a continuing role in a television series.
Alexander Scourby*#8217;s television work its due credit is well over 100 to 150 different appearances. To help Readers track down these performances on VHS and DVD re-releases of classic television programs I will give this select listing by: program name, the exact episode title, the network and the year of the broadcast: Omnibus: *#8216;The Trail of Ben Johnson,*#8217; CBS, 1952; Kraft Television Theatre: *#8216;The Barrets of Wimpole Street,*#8217; ABC 1953; Philco TV Playhouse: *#8216;Time of Delivery,*#8217; NBC, 1954; Armstrong Circle Theatre: *#8216;I Was Accused,*#8217; NBC 1955; Studio One Summer Theatre: *#8220;Emmaline,*#8217; CBS, 1956; Kaiser Aluminum Hour: *#8216;Passion for Revenge,*#8217; NBC, 1957; U.S. Steel Hour: *#8216;Give Me My Son,*#8217; CBS, 1958; Johnny Staccato: *#8216;Evil,*#8217; NBC 1959; Bonanza: *#8216;The Julia Bulette Story,*#8217; 1959; The Twilight Zone: *#8216;The Last Flight,*#8217; 1959; Alfred Hitchcock Presents: *#8216;Sybilla,*#8217; NBC 1960; The Asphalt Jungle: *#8216;the Kidnapping,*#8217; ABC, 1961; The Defenders: *#8216;The Bedside Murder,*#8217; CBS, 1962; Naked City, *#8216;The World of Darryl F. Zanuck,*#8217; NBC, 1963; The Man from U.N.C.L.E.: *#8216;The Deadly Game Affair,*#8217; NBC, 1964; Daniel Boone, *#8216;The Quietists,*#8217; NBC, 1965; Project 20: *#8216;The Law and the Prophets,*#8217; NBC, 1967; Marcus Welby, MD: *#8216;Silken Threads and Silver Hooks,*#8217; ABC, 1969; and Hollywood Television Theatre: *#8220;The Hemingway Play,*#8217; PBS, 1976. Many many other programs could be cited and much more could well be written about this talented actor*#8217;s various artistic gifts.
Alexander Scourby died in Newtown, Connecticut on February 22, 1985.
More than 80 other Greek-American actors have appeared on American TV since 1950. As this series continues we will offer something of each individual actor*#8217;s career.
Readers who wish to contact Mr. Frangos may e-mail him at email@example.com.