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Irene Papas

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Irene Papas
Irene Papas 1956.jpg
Papas in 1956
Irene Lelekou

(1926-09-03) 3 September 1926 (age 94)
Years active1948–2003

Irene Papas (or Pappas) (Greek: Ειρήνη Παππά, romanizedEiríni Pappá [iˈrini paˈpa], born according to most sources on 3 September 1926)[1][2][3] is a Greek actress and singer who has starred in over 70 films in a career spanning more than 50 years. She gained international recognition through such films as The Guns of Navarone and Zorba the Greek. She was a powerful protagonist in films including The Trojan Women and Iphigenia. She played the title roles in Antigone (1961) and Electra (1962).

Papas won Best Actress awards in 1961 at the Berlin International Film Festival for Antigone and in 1971 from the National Board of Review for The Trojan Women. Her career awards include the Golden Arrow Award in 1993 at Hamptons International Film Festival, and the Golden Lion Award in 2009 at the Venice Biennale.


Early life[edit]

Papas was born as Irini Lelekou (Ειρήνη Λελέκου) in the village of Chiliomodi, outside Corinth, Greece. Her mother, Eleni Prevezanou (Ελένη Πρεβεζάνου), was a schoolteacher, and her father, Stavros Lelekos (Σταύρος Λελέκος), taught classical drama at the Sofikós school in Corinth. She was educated at the Royal School of Dramatic Art in Athens, taking classes in dance and singing.[4] In 1947 she married the film director Alkis Papas; they divorced in 1951.[5][6]


Papas began her acting career in variety and traditional theatre, in plays by Ibsen, Shakespeare, and classical Greek tragedy, before moving into film in 1951.[4] Later in her career, she took the title role in Medea in a 1973 production of Euripides's play. Reviewing the production in The New York Times, Clive Barnes described her as a "very fine, controlled Medea", smouldering with a "carefully dampened passion", constantly fierce.[7] Walter Kerr also praised Papas's Medea; both Barnes and Kerr saw in her portrayal what Barnes called "her unrelenting determination and unwavering desire for justice".[8] Albert Bermel considered Papas's rendering of Medea as a sympathetic woman a triumph of acting.[8]



Papas was discovered by Elia Kazan in Greece, where she achieved widespread fame.[4][9] Her first film work was a small part in Nikos Tsiforos's 1948 Fallen Angels (Greek, "Hamenoi angeloi").[10] She began to attract attention, however, with her role in Frixos Iliasis's 1952 film Dead City (Greek, "Nekri Politeia"). The film was shown at the Cannes Film Festival, where Papas was welcomed by the international press, and photographed spending time with the wealthy Aga Khan. The publicity launched her as a film star, leading to larger roles in the 1954 films Attila and Theodora, Slave Empress; many other films followed, both in Greece and internationally.[6][9][11]

Papas in a publicity still for The Trojan Women (1971)

She was a leading figure in cinematic transcriptions of ancient tragedy, playing the title roles in George Tzavellas's Antigone (1961) and Michael Cacoyannis's Electra (1962), where her portrayal of the "doomed heroine" is described as "outstanding". She portrayed Helen in Cacoyannis's The Trojan Women (1971) opposite Katharine Hepburn, and Clytemnestra in his Iphigenia (1977).[6][9][12]


Papas debuted in American film with a bit part in the B-movie The Man from Cairo (1953); her next American film was a much larger role as Jocasta Constantine, alongside James Cagney, in the Western Tribute to a Bad Man (1956).[13] She then starred in films such as The Guns of Navarone (1961) and Cacoyannis's Zorba the Greek (1964), set to Mikis Theodorakis's music. She played leading roles in critically acclaimed films such as Z (1969), where her political activist's widow has been called "indelible".[14] She appeared as Catherine of Aragon in Anne of the Thousand Days, opposite Richard Burton and Geneviève Bujold in 1969. In 1976, she starred in Mohammad, Messenger of God about the origin of Islam. In 1982, she appeared in Lion of the Desert, together with Anthony Quinn, Oliver Reed, Rod Steiger, and John Gielgud. One of her last film appearances was in Captain Corelli's Mandolin in 2001.[4][15]

Film star[edit]

The Enciclopedia Italiana describes Papas as a typical Mediterranean beauty, with a lovely voice both in singing and acting, greatly talented and with an adventurous spirit.[4]

In the view of film critic Philip Kemp,[6]

From the opening shot of Michael Cacoyannis's Electra, as the proud, implacable face emerges from encroaching shadows, it becomes impossible to imagine anyone else as Euripides's heroine. Erect, immutably dignified, dark eyes burning fiercely beneath heavy black brows, Irene Papas visibly embodies the sublimity of classical Greece, tragic yet serene.[6]

Kemp described Papas as an awe-inspiring presence, which paradoxically limited her career. He admired her roles in Cacoyannis's films, including the defiant Helen of Troy in The Trojan Women; the vengeful, grief-stricken Clytemnestra in Iphigenia; and "memorably"[6][9] as the cool but sensual widow in Zorba the Greek.[9] David Thomson, in his Biographical Dictionary of Film, called Papas's manner in Iphigenia "blatant declaiming".[16]

The film critic Roger Ebert observed that there were many "pretty girls" in cinema "but not many women", and called Papas a great actress. Ebert noted her uphill struggle, her height limiting the leading men she could play alongside, her accent limiting the roles she could take, and that "her unusual beauty is not the sort that superstar actresses like to compete with."[17] Ordinary actors, he suggested, had trouble sharing the screen with Papas. All the same, her presence in many well-known movies, wrote Ebert, inspired "something of a cult".[17]

The scholar of Greek Gerasimus Katsan calls her the most recognizable and best-known Greek film star, with "range, power, and subtlety", stating that her work made her a kind of national hero. She acted strong women with "beauty and sensuality, but also fierce independence and spirit".[18]


In 1968, Papas released a solo album of songs by Mikis Theodorakis.

In 1969, the RCA label released Papas' vinyl LP, Songs of Theodorakis (INTS 1033). This has 11 folk songs sung in Greek, conducted by Harry Lemonopoulos and produced by Andy Wiswell, with sleeve notes in English by Michael Cacoyannis. It was released on CD in 2005 (FM 1680).[19] Papas knew Mikis Theodorakis from working with him on Zorba the Greek[9] as early as 1964.

In 1972, she appeared on the album 666 by the Greek rock group Aphrodite's Child on the track "∞" (infinity). She chants "I was, I am, I am to come" repeatedly and wildly over a percussive backing, causing controversy with her "graphic orgasm".[20][21]

In 1979, Polydor released her solo album of eight Greek folk songs entitled Odes, with electronic music performed (and partly composed) by Vangelis Papathanassiou.[22] The lyrics were co-written by Arianna Stassinopoulos.[23] They collaborated again in 1986 for Rapsodies, an electronic rendition of seven Byzantine liturgy hymns, also on Polydor.[24]


Papas was a member of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE), and in 1967 called for a "cultural boycott" against the "Fourth Reich", meaning the military government of Greece at that time.[25] Her opposition to the regime sent her, and other artists such as Theodorakis whose songs she sang, into exile when the military junta came to power in Greece in 1967; she moved to Italy.[6][26][27]

Personal life[edit]

In 1954 she met the actor Marlon Brando and they had a long and "secret love affair".[28] She married the film producer Jose Kohn in 1957; that marriage was later annulled.[5] She is the aunt of the film director Manousos Manousakis and the actor Aias Manthopoulos.[29]

In 2003 she served on the board of directors of the Anna-Marie Foundation, a fund which provided assistance to people in rural areas of Greece.[30] In 2018 it was announced that she had been suffering from Alzheimer's for five years.[31]

Awards and honours[edit]

She has received the honours of Commander of the Order of the Phoenix in Greece, Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres in France, and Commander of the Civil Order of Alfonso X, the Wise in Spain.[38]

In 2017, it was announced that the National Theatre of Greece's drama school was to be relocated to a new "Irene Papas - Athens School" on Agiou Konstantinou Street in Athens from 2018.[39]





  1. ^ Tsolka, Alexandra (15 February 2018). "Ειρήνη Παππά: Η γυναίκα – Ελλάδα (Irini Pappas: The woman - Greece)" (in Greek). Archived from the original on 4 June 2018. Retrieved 18 June 2020. Είναι 3 Σεπτεμβρίου 1926. (It is 3 September 1926)
  2. ^ "Ειρήνη Παππά (Irene Pappas)". FinosFilm. Archived from the original on 16 June 2018. Retrieved 18 June 2020. Γεννήθηκε: 03 Σεπτεμβρίου 1926 ("Born: 3 September 1926")
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h "Ειρήνη Παππά – Αυτή είναι η τελευταία Ελληνίδα θεά! (Irini Pappas - This is the last Greek goddess!)" (in Greek). 3 September 2018. Retrieved 18 June 2020. "γεννήθηκε στο Χιλιομόδι Κορινθίας στις 3 Σεπτεμβρίου 1926" ("born at Chiliomodi, Corinth on 3 September 1926")
  4. ^ a b c d e "PAPAS, Irene, nata Lelekou". Enciclopedia Italiana - V Appendice (1994). Retrieved 27 August 2018.
  5. ^ a b "Irene Papas Biography". Film Reference. Retrieved 8 September 2018.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Kemp, Philip (2000). "Papas, Irene". In Pendergast, Tom; Pendergast, Sara (eds.). International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. St. James Press. pp. 948–949. ISBN 978-1-55862-452-8. OCLC 44818539.
  7. ^ Barnes, Clive (18 January 1973). "Stage: Circle Presents New 'Medea'". The New York Times. Retrieved 27 February 2017.
  8. ^ a b Hartigan, Karelisa (1995). Greek Tragedy on the American Stage: Ancient Drama in the Commercial Theater, 1882-1994. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 53–55. ISBN 978-0-313-29283-5.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as "Papas, Irene". Retrieved 27 February 2017.
  10. ^ "Irene Papas". Cinemagraphe. Retrieved 1 March 2017.
  11. ^ "ΒΙΟΓΡΑΦΊΕΣ ΘΈΑΤΡΟ - ΚΙΝΗΜΑΤΟΓΡΆΦΟΣ Ειρήνη Παπά" [Theatre - Cinema Biography Irene Papas] (in Greek). Sansimera. Retrieved 1 July 2020.
  12. ^ "Electra / Elektra". The Sydney Greek Film Festival 2006. Retrieved 8 September 2018.
  13. ^ Katsan, Gerasimus (2016). "The Hollywood Films of Irene Papas". The Journal of Modern Hellenism. 32: 31–43.
  14. ^ Monaco, James (1991). The Encyclopedia of Film. Perigee Books. p. 414. ISBN 978-0-399-51604-7.
  15. ^ a b Elley, Derek (24 April 2001). "Review: 'Captain Corelli's Mandolin'". Variety. Retrieved 27 February 2017.
  16. ^ Thomson, David (2010). The New Biographical Dictionary Of Film (5th ed.). Little, Brown. p. 304. ISBN 978-0-7481-0850-3.
  17. ^ a b Ebert, Roger (13 July 1969). "Interview with Irene Papas". Retrieved 27 February 2017.
  18. ^ Katsan, Gerasimus (2016). "The Hollywood Films of Irene Papas". Journal of Modern History. 32: 31–43.
  19. ^ "Irene Pappas Sings Mikis Theodorakis". FM Records. Retrieved 7 January 2019.
  20. ^ Dome, Malcolm (27 January 2015). "Malcolm Dome looks back on the impact of Aphrodite's Child's mythic prog masterpiece". Retrieved 27 February 2017. The band's label, Mercury, were certainly left bemused. In fact, they were so horrified by the scope and challenge of the double album that they initially refused to release it. In particular, Papas' graphic orgasm during Infinity struck the wrong chord with them. Eventually, the company relented and agreed to put it out on their Vertigo imprint.
  21. ^ a b Henshaw, Laurie (19 August 1972). "The Greeks have a word for it". Melody Maker. Retrieved 27 February 2017.
  22. ^ Trunk, Jonny. "Vangelis & Irene Papas - Odoes [sic]". Record Collector magazine. Retrieved 26 June 2020.
  23. ^ "Vangelis and Irene Papas lyrics - Odes lyrics (English translation)". Lyrics of Music by Vangelis. Retrieved 26 June 2020. (Greek) Lyrics: Irene Papas and Arianna Stassinopoulos.
  24. ^ Trunk, Jonny (November 2007). "Vangelis & Irene Papas - Rapsodies". Record Collector magazine. Retrieved 26 June 2020.
  25. ^ "Irene Pappas Asks Boycott Of Greece's 'Fourth Reich'". The New York Times. 20 July 1967. Retrieved 27 February 2017.
  26. ^ "Irene Papas | Das Porträt" (in German). Neues Deutschland | Sozialistische Tageszeitung. 1 November 2001. Retrieved 8 September 2018.
  27. ^ Loutzaki, Irene (2001). "Folk Dance in Political Rhythms". Yearbook for Traditional Music. 33: 127–137. JSTOR 1519637.
  28. ^ Williams, Steven (7 July 2004). "Irene Papas Comes Forward About A Love Affair With The Late Marlon Brando". Contact Music. Retrieved 10 September 2018.
  29. ^ "Cloudy Sunday". NY Sephardic Film Festival. 2016. Archived from the original on 9 March 2017. Retrieved 26 June 2020.
  30. ^ "Press Conference on the developments regarding the 'Anna-Maria' Foundation",, 28 August 2003.
  31. ^ "Irene Pappa: Her niece reveals all the truth about her state of health". Altsantiri. 9 July 2018. Retrieved 20 September 2018.
  32. ^ Sloan, Jane (2007). Reel Women: An International Directory of Contemporary Feature Films about Women. Scarecrow Press. p. 99. ISBN 978-1-4616-7082-7.
  33. ^ Tzavalas, Trifon (2012). Greek Cinema Volume 1 100 Years of Film History 1900-2000 (PDF). Hellenic University Club of Southern California. p. 196. ISBN 978-1-938385-11-7. Irene Pappas received the Best Performance Award.
  34. ^ "Awards for 1971". National Board of Review. Archived from the original on 16 March 2004. Retrieved 8 March 2017.
  35. ^ "Ferdinando Scianna - IRENE PAPAS". Magnum Photos. 1973. Retrieved 10 September 2018.
  36. ^ "Awards at Hamptons Film Festival". The New York Times. 25 October 1993. Retrieved 6 March 2018.
  37. ^ "Irene Papas Leone d' oro alla carriera". La Repubblica (in Italian). 20 February 2009. Retrieved 6 March 2018. Noi italiani la ricordiamo ancora come la bella Penelope dell' Odissea tv (anno 1969): Irene Papas la grande attrice greca, riceve alle 18 il Leone d' oro alla carriera del Festival Internazionale del Teatro della Biennale di Venezia diretto da Maurizio Scaparro dedicato al Mediterraneo che si apre oggi. L' attrice interpreterà "Medea", nell' originale di Euripide e nella riscrittura di Corrado Alvaro.
  38. ^ "Irene Papas" (in German). Who's Who. 2015. Retrieved 10 September 2018.
  39. ^ "Relocation of the Drama School to the "Irene Papas - Athens School" | National Theatre of Greece". Latsis Foundation. 2017. Retrieved 20 September 2018.
  40. ^ Papas, Irene (1968). Songs of Theodorakis (LP). RCA Victor (FPM-215 and FSP-215).
  41. ^ Papas, Irene; Vangelis (2007). Odes (CD). Polydor (06025 1720633 5),. Vocals – Irene PapasCS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  42. ^ Trunk, Jonny (November 2007). "Vangelis & Irene Papas - Rapsodies" (342). Record Collector. Archived from the original on 1 October 2016. Retrieved 27 September 2016.
  43. ^ "Irene Papas". Cinemagraphe. Retrieved 1 March 2017.
  44. ^ Bosisio, Paolo (2000). "Ho pensato a voi scrivendo Gigliola--": Teresa Franchini, un'attrice per D'Annunzio. Bulzoni. p. 298. ISBN 978-88-8319-529-7.
  45. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Lancia, Enrico; Melelli, Fabio (2005). Le straniere del nostro cinema. Gremese Editore. pp. 122–123. ISBN 978-88-8440-350-6.
  46. ^ Ρούβας, Άγγελος; Σταθακοπουλος, Χρηστος (2005). Ελληνικος κινηματογραφος: 1905-1970 (in Greek). Ελληνικα Γραμματα. p. 203. ISBN 978-960-406-777-0.
  47. ^ "Ecce Homo – I sopravvissuti". Retrieved 30 August 2018.
  48. ^ "N.P. Il Segreto (1970)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 30 August 2018.
  49. ^ "Sutjeska (Battle of Sutjeska)". Film Museum (Austria). Retrieved 1 July 2020.
  50. ^ "Un' Ombra Nell'Ombra (1979)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 30 August 2018.
  51. ^ a b Anklewicz, Larry (2000). Guide to Jewish Films on Video. KTAV Publishing. p. 2002. ISBN 978-0-88125-605-5.
  52. ^ Maltin, Leonard (2 September 2014). Leonard Maltin's 2015 Movie Guide. Penguin Publishing Group. p. 2300. ISBN 978-0-698-18361-2.
  53. ^ The Film Journal, Volume 92, Issues 1-6. Pubsun Corporation. 1989. p. 6.
  54. ^ Sloan, Jane (2007). Reel Women: An International Directory of Contemporary Feature Films about Women. Scarecrow Press. p. 138. ISBN 978-1-4616-7082-7.
  55. ^ Maltin, Leonard (2014). Leonard Maltin's 2015 Movie Guide. Penguin. p. 1058. ISBN 978-0-698-18361-2.
  56. ^ Benson, Sheila. "Movie Review : Stuck on an 'Island' With Thin Script". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 1 July 2020. The island's permanent resident is Greek-born painter Marquise (Irene Papas), fierce, opinionated, life-embracing--the quintessential Papas character.
  57. ^ "A Talking Picture". Variety. Retrieved 30 August 2018.

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