On this day in 2008, Elena Nathanael, the Greek film actress, passed away at the age of 61. Born in Athens, Nathanael was the daughter of a wealthy textile designer and manufacturer. Her impressively good looks got her noticed in the 1960s by producers and directors of the flourishing Greek cinema. After studying drama at the Pelos Katselis Drama School, Nathanael got her first screen part in a 1963 movie. She often played a beautiful but spoiled Athenian rich girl. In 1968, she received a best actress award at the Salonica film festival for the movie ‘Rendez-vous with a Stranger’. In the early seventies she established her screen persona (that of a free-spirited, beautiful young woman) and became something of a fashion icon. However, with the abrupt decline of Greek commercial cinema in 1973, her career came to a halt. After a seven year absence, she made a comeback of sorts with a number of straight-to-video movies, usually light comedies. Her trademark became her jet black, lustrous and waist-length hair. In the later years of her life, she lived in Evia with her partner, former Olympiacos football player Tasos Mitropoulos, where she was actively involved with wine production. She died after a lengthy battle with lung cancer and was survived by her daughter, Inka.
On this day in 1994, Melina Mercouri, the Greek actress, singer, activist and politician, died of lung cancer at the age of 73. Mercouri was raised by a politically prominent family and graduated from the Drama School of the National Theatre of Greece. Two of her most memorable parts were Blanche in a ‘Streetcar Named Desire’ and the good-hearted prostitute in the film ‘Never on Sunday’ (1960) – a role for which she was nominated for an Oscar. The actress was a passionate anti-Fascist who lost her Greek citizenship and property in 1967 for her aggressive opposition to the Junta that held power in Athens until 1974. After the collapse of the dictatorship, Mercouri returned to Greece and promptly joined Andreas Papandreou’s Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK). In 1981, PASOK won the general election and Mercouri was appointed to be Papandreou’s Minister of Culture and Sports – the first woman to hold this position. One of her major efforts was an attempt to persuade the British government to return the Parthenon Marbles to Greece. She also increased government subsidies for the arts. In 1997, three years after Mercouri passed, UNESCO created the Melina Mercouri International Prize for the Safeguarding and Management of Cultural Landscapes – the prize is awarded every two years to this day.
On this day in 1948, the Dodecanese islands officially became part of Greece again, ending Italian rule. The integration with the Greek state came after many years of struggles and sacrifices of the people of the occupied islands. The first attempt was made in the summer of 1912 when the representatives of the islands declared it the independent State of the Aegean. However, it was ultimately the defeat of the Nazis during World War II where Greece fought decisively on the side of the Allied Forces that led the way to the integration. Despite being occupied, the people of the Dodecanese maintained the Greek language, as well as the Orthodox faith and traditions of Greece throughout the years of oppression when the Italians prohibited the Greek language. In fact, when the officials from Athens arrived on Rhodes for the official unification ceremony in 1948, they had brought translators with them because they expected the people to speak only Italian. Instead, they were soon greeted in Greek by the people who were very excited about the reunification with their homeland.