Anyone can have their own Greek-American film festival. Naturally, it will take some time to locate these films. And not every film I am about to identify is readily available or cheap, but as you will find, the vast majority are relatively inexpensive. The real trick is to know which films exist and which include Greek-American actors as featured performers. I should quickly add that documentaries on Greek-America are as available as any work of cinematic fiction. Television programs dating from the very moment of the debut of this medium in the United States are also available for home viewing. Hard working Greek-American actors have appeared on television since its very inception. As ever experienced shopper knows once you have identified which item you wish to buy the next step is to wait for a sale.
Various surveys and reference books exist so that anyone wishing to see a Greek-American themed film, documentary or see the performance of a specific Greek-American actor can do so without too much difficulty.
The Greek-American image in American Cinema project initiated by Dan Georgakas and encouraged by Vassilis Lambropoulos surveys dozens of Hollywood films that present a Greek or Greek-American character or theme. The idea for this survey came out of an article Georgakas wrote for Cineaste magazine in which he “noted that European ethnic images (not just Greeks) were largely absent in Hollywood films. The only exception to that rule is the Irish.”
Georgakas and his band of colleagues’ ultimate goal was to come up with as complete a survey of films as possible where they identified “how Greek Americans are depicted in American films. I wanted to see if any thematic emerge that involve sex, chronology, foreign affairs, and the like. I commenced the project without any preconceived notions of what these themes might be.” No other previous bibliography similar to this effort had ever been conducted. You can see this project’s ultimate findings at the following website: lsa.umich.edu.
The Lost History of Greek American Documentary Film, based on a series of articles I wrote in 2007 on Greek-American documentaries can be found on the Preservation of American Hellenic History website (pahh.com). This survey included every documentary I could locate at the time. I am happy to say this report, which was as detailed as I could make it at the time, is now dated.
For those who have their own favorite Greek-American actors, a truly astonishing reference work is Total Television: A Comprehensive Guide to Programming from 1948 to the Present (1991; with a Revised Edition, 1996) by Alex McNeil. There is an index providing an alphabetical listing of actor’s names. Every individual television show McNeil could locate for any given actor, say Alexander Scourby, Nick Dennis, Olympia Dukakis, and Telly Savalas, among others, are cited. By knowing the individual episode and program’s name one can easily place an order for any program their wish. McNeil was something of a pioneer but today there are several such reference books.
Now there are specialty sites for ordering films such as amazon.com and oldies.com which I have found very useful in locating even the most obscure Greek-American films. Given the current cultural and commercial trends searching the Internet for the titles of specific films is another avenue to systematically explore.
I have been seeking out and ordering Greek-American films for some time and I thought about writing this account when I finally managed to locate a VHS copy of The Dick Powell Theatre episode entitled “Price of Tomatoes” (Season 1, Episode 17) first aired on January 16, 1962. Peter Falk plays the main character of Dimitri Fresco, a Greek American, who must deliver a truck load of tomatoes to market or lose his family produce business. Along the way he meets a pregnant hitch-hiker played by Inger Stevens and his troubles soon begin. I recall seeing this episode as an extremely young boy because I was especially shocked (hey, I was ten years old) that Falk’s character, after just managing to drive his truck over a damaged bridge, kissed a small icon of the Virgin Mary hanging from his rearview mirror while telling her something to the effect that she was beautiful. In 1962, Falk won an Emmy Award for his performance in this episode.
Now I must confess that recent developments in technology have escaped me. I have seen various films in their entirety on my computer via the Internet. My brother and one of my godbrothers has been trying for some time to get me to view films for free and for pay on the Internet. But I have only experimented with this new manner of viewing old films and television programs. Undoubtedly one of the reasons, if not the primary factor, in my being able to buy VHS and DVD copies of old films and TV shows (at extremely reduced prices) is because with the advent of Blu-ray and Internet viewing these older forms are now nearly obsolete. At a local bookstore I am able to buy VHS tapes (many never been played) for $.50 each. That these very same VHS tapes used to be $20.00 a piece shows how quickly technology devalues well-made products.
Many more frugal readers among you may also be aware that your local neighborhood libraries are also prime sources for films. Again, those who frequent public libraries may be saying, that they can simply order through the Inter-library Loan System copies of any film they wish. In this way, they are obviously able to view a film without having to purchase a copy. However, the current economic situation has forced many libraries around the country to eliminate their participation in this exchange system. Still, it is an avenue worth investigating.
Let me just cite a few examples of Greek-American films and television episodes I have found over time. Keeping in mind that there are many, many others I am simply citing these to illustrate which films and programs a haphazard collector has managed to locate over time.
One of my all-time favorites TV episodes is Telly Savalas in the Combat! program entitled Vendetta. First aired on September 22, 1964, this episode, as we learn on the back of my VHS copy showcases events: “When it appears Lt. Hanley and his men are about to be overrun by attacking Germans, they are miraculously saved by a squadron of fast moving jeeps with mounted machine guns. The squadron of jeeps is commanded by a Greek Colonel named Kapsalis (Savalas), a gung-ho, no-holds-barred soldier fighting a personal vendetta against the Germans. He orders Lt. Hanley and his men to join him and they attack a heavily-guarded German depot.”
Aside from Savalas singing the Greek National Anthem as his jeep assails the Nazi forces we also see one of the largest (if not the largest) gathering of Greek-American character actors ever gathered into one TV episode: John Aniston, Athan Karras, Peter Bravos, and George Michaelides.
While I have so far restricted my survey here to Greek-American films on occasion I have even purchased Greek films. The recent The Eternal Return of Antonis directed by Elina Psikou was available in the printed sales circulator of Oldies.com and given the price I ordered a DVD copy. Films such as Down to the Sea (1936) and Beneath the 12-Mile Reef (1953) both set in Tarpon Springs, FL or the television series My Big Fat Greek Life can be found on sale for less than six dollars.
I recently located brand new DVD copies of, A Dream of Kings and The Greek Tycoon, both featuring Anthony Quinn as the central Greek character, for just a few dollars each. Several films I managed to find at thrift shops for a dollar or less each were Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ (DVD), a VHS copy of the Twilight Zone episode Living Doll with Telly Savalas playing the lead and Pat and Mike (1952) starring Spencer Tracey and Katherine Hepburn that also features a cameo of Babe Zaharias. Now be aware that not every film I watch turns out to be a winner.
In January 1938, Humphrey Bogart starred in the Swing Your Lady. Aside from Bogart the supporting cast includes some the most prominent actors of the day such as Frank McHugh, Nat Pendleton, Penny Singleton, Allen Jenkins and even a walk on part by Ronald Reagan. With Bogart playing wrestling promoter Ed Hatch we find him arranging matches for his wrestler Joe Skopapoulos. Based on a stage play the film includes hillbilly music scenes and a mindless plot. What could have been a film about the real life of wrestlers in the 1930s is nothing but a waste of time.
As with all things important cinematographic history lies in the eye of the beholder. Now as any dedicated American consumer can tell you hunting for sales will always save you money. Just as ignoring sales will always tend to cost you money, in the end. Still, in the end, nothing is stopping you from exploring the full range of characters, stereotypes, actors and films that showcase Greeks and Greek life in the United States. Quite literally anyone who can but afford to buy them can see virtually any such film ever made. All you need do is search and you will find in one format or another any and all of the Greek-American films and actors ever released.