Obituary: Melina Mercouri

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The Independent Online
YOUR obituary of Melina Mercouri (by Gilbert Adair, 7 March) seems less than fair to a fine stage and screen actress, ending as it does with 'it is surely not by chance that she never worked for any other director (than her husband, Jules Dassin) of real stature'. The partnership before and after marriage made an incomparable duo, writes Peter Cotes. They were never so good apart as they were together. Shrewd, as well as talented and loving, they constantly stipulated that their marriage be consummated on film as well as in life.

At an early stage of that joint career, Dassin was directing an actress already distinguished in the theatre long before her screen performance in Never on Sunday made her into a film-star. The film director Joseph Losey, a friend of Dassin's - at the time in London - brought his friend around to our house shortly after seeing in the West End a revival of mine of Strindberg's The Father. Joe became such an admirer of Wilfred Lawson in the title-role that, after seeing the production over a dozen times, he was seized with an obsession to set up a film - one that would retain Lawson, dispense with the talented Beatrix Lehmann as The Wife and make a modest-budget film of the play, with Lawson repeating his triumph as The Captain opposite Mercouri's The Wife, Laura.

Alas for the best-laid plans: Losey would direct Lawson, Dassin would co-adapt with Losey and produce and perpetuate his professional association with Mercouri (to whom he was not yet married). As director of such films as Rififi and Naked City, Dassin was a bankable proposition even if Losey (at that time) wasn't. But it was the Englishman, not either of the two Americans, who proved the stumbling block. Lawson on his own, as co-star with a then stage star Greek actress, in Strindberg of all writers, proved too much for any insurers of films in those days; Willie, despite his previous engagements featuring in both Pygmalion and Pastor Hall on film, was not 'bankable', even if Mercouri had been.