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Literature

Greeks in Hollywood Highlights the Silent Film Era

November 20, 2023

For those of us who grew up watching the film credits to see if any Greeks were involved in the production, it is fascinating to learn that the history of Greeks in the film industry goes back basically to its very beginnings. The long and rich history of cinema in Greece goes back at least to the early 20th century, and Golfo, based on the well-known traditional love story, presented in 1911, is considered to be Greece’s first feature film.

In the United States, Greek immigrants began arriving in larger numbers at about the same time that the movie business was in its early days. New York City, for example, was the site of the world’s first commercial motion-picture exhibition in 1894. As movie production began to move out west to Hollywood, enterprising Greeks also made their way into the business. Silent films, which were not really silent, they were often accompanied by music performed live on a piano or organ, sometimes with an orchestra, and later with synchronized recorded sound, soon drew many Greeks, immigrants and Greek-Americans, working in various aspects of production and distribution, in front of the camera and behind the scenes.

Greeks in Hollywood in the Silent Movie Era by Fondas Ladis and Nikos Theodosiou is a fascinating book and a great resource for all those interested in the silent cinema. In the book’s prologue, Ladis recounts how the book came to be and acknowledges the contributions of those who helped along the process from idea to publication. Among those mentioned and whom Ladis thanks are the late Dan Georgakas, well-known author, activist, and longtime contributor to The National Herald, for his “useful comments and suggestions,” and poet Nicholas Alexiou, Professor of Sociology and Director of the Hellenic American Project at Queens College.

Part One of the book is titled ‘The Case of Thanasis Lyberis’ and follows the journey of Lyberis, a Greek immigrant from the village of Vasilitsi in Messinia, to Hollywood in the 1920s. With an impressive array of photos, the book brings the history of this time period to life.

Part Two highlights the Greeks in Hollywood during the silent era, including pioneer actors, theater owners, and producers. Theodosiou makes the case for a Greek barber in New Jersey as the “first Greek movie actor” as he was filmed cutting his customers hair in1894 by William K. Dickson, Thomas Edison’s assistant, using an early movie camera called a kinetograph. The 45-second film, titled ‘The Barber Shop’ was shown around the world, but the Greek barber’s name was not recorded for posterity. This section of the book also includes fascinating details about the lives of some of the less well-known Greek actors who were working in Hollywood from the early years of cinema as well as the enterprising theater owners, many of them going into the business along with their brothers, and producers such as Anthony J. Xydias, a Tinos native, who immigrated to the U.S. and eventually became a prolific producer in the 1920s.

Part Three features ‘The Life of Alexander Pantages’ by Theodosiou, based on the fifth chapter of his book Migrant Cinema, published in 2003 by Neaniko Plano Publications, chronicling the life and work of Andros-native Alexandos Pantazis, who became more widely known as Alexander Pantages. A vaudeville impresario and early motion picture producer, Pantages also created a large theater chain and at the peak of his business, owned or operated 84 theaters across the United States and Canada.

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