Upon hearing of Greeks and Oscars, the first name that comes to one’s mind is the name of famous Greek actress Katina Paxinou. In 1943, Paxinou was the first Greek to have brought home a little golden statuette for her outstanding performance in the film For Whom the Bell Tolls. Apart from Paxinou, who received the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, several other Greek artists have walked down the red carpet. Others came out winners, while others remained nominees. Let’s take a glimpse through Oscar history and reveal some of the Greeks who took part.
Greek-American Elia Kazan (Ilias Kazantzoglou) was nominated five times for Best Director, while actually receiving the award twice (1948, 1954). For Greeks he is still considered to be the most important Greek director to have received an Academy Award. For Americans though, Kazan’s turning point in his career was his testimony before the McCarthy Committee on Un-American Activities during the 1952 “Hollywood Blacklist,” as he presented evidence associating several of his colleagues with communism.
Cypriot director Michael Cacoyannis also received three nominations for his film Zorba the Greek (1964), based on the same novel by famous Greek author Nikos Kazantzakis, but lost in all three categories. Greek-French director Costa Gavras seemed to have more luck, managing to win the Academy Award for Best Writing for his film Missing (1982).
In 2004, Alexander Payne, who also made it on this year’s Oscars shortlist, won his first Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for his film Sideways, followed in 2011 by a second Academy Award for The Descendants.
On the other hand, the number of Greek actors or actresses that have made it on the shortlists for performances in Leading Roles is rather meager. Apart from Melina Mercouri, who received a nomination for her performance in Never on Sunday in 1960 (but eventually lost the award to Elizabeth Taylor), one could claim that the nomination of Hugh Jackman for Les Misérables (2012) is also part Greek, since the actor’s great-grandfather was of Greek origin.
However, there were two Greek actors who were awarded for Best Supporting Actor or Actress along with Paxinou; they are George Chakiris, awarded for West Side Story (1962) and Greek-American Olympia Dukakis for Moonstruck (1987).
The musical heritage of Greece is great and this is also something backed by the Academy Awards. Manos Hatzidakis won the Academy Award for Best Original Song for his song “Never on Sunday,” while Vangelis won the 1981 Academy Award for Best Original Score for the music he compiled in the film Chariots of Fire.
The category of Best Costume Design also features some Greek elements, as Greek-American Theoni V. Aldredge received the Academy Award for her costumes in the film The Great Gatsby (1974), while also being nominated for Never on Sunday and Phaedra (1962).
Finally, in the category of Best Animated Feature Greek-Australian George Miller won the Academy Award in 2007 for his animation film Happy Feet, thus giving the film some Greek “Zorba” spirit.
The Greeks associated with this historic ceremony doesn’t end here, as the 2014 Academy Awards shortlists also feature some Greek names. Until the ceremony taking place this Sunday, March 2, we will have to wait patiently and wish the best of luck to all the Greek nominees.