The man who discovered Marilyn Monroe
The great man of 20th Century Fox, Spyros Skouras started as a shepherd, as he said, from a small village of Pyrgos, Ilia. He was the man who discovered Marilyn Monroe and was behind the greatest successes of the time. He grew up in the Peloponnese during the second half of the 19th century. At that time , Greek viticulturists supported their families by exporting all their annual production to Europe and Asia, filling the gap in France, whose respective crops had suffered terrible damage. At that time, Moria raisins – fresh and dried – were the main export product. More than 150,000 tons of Greek product were consumed every year at the tables of the world. It was the golden age for Greek agriculture, which did not last long. In the 1870-80s, the French, with the help of their government, began to plant healthy vines and in a few years regained the market share that Greece had gained in their absence.
Spyros Skouras was born on March 28, 1893 in Skourochori where he is located at the foot of a low hill in the region of Pyrgos, Ilia. His father was a shepherd and he was trying to support his family of ten, having a very difficult time. Little Spyros then followed him to work with his brothers trying to help the family.
In their adolescence, Karolos, Spyros and Giorgis, the three brothers, had undertaken to graze the sheep but the period was hard then. A little later the war started, so the solution was one, to leave the country and go abroad. In 1910, Karolos at the age of 21, Spyros at the age of 17 and Giorgis at the age of 14, boarded the deck of an ocean liner bound for America. This was the first wave of immigration, the Greeks had begun the search for their fortune away from poor Greece (according to statistics, in the decade 1901-1910 alone, 167,519 people -95% men- had left Greece for the US) .
Spyros Skouras’s trip with his brothers lasted almost a month. The only food they had with them was a basket full of olives and bread kneaded by their mother’s hands. “I loved the dollar, I pursued it with passion for years and years, I grew old, I got tired,” said Spyros Skouras after years, when he was now at the top of his successful course. At that time the immigrants arrived and gathered on Ellis Island, where they underwent the first medical examinations and interviews to be given the green card for the land of opportunity.
The Skoura brothers decided to move inland and arrived in St. Louis, the gateway to the American West. At that time the city was in great growth and offered opportunities in trade, construction, catering and tourism. The jobs that Spyros Skouras and his brothers went through were porters, waiters, washing dishes in restaurants and making cocktails in bars. At one point they ended up selling popcorn in a silent movie theater. “We worked for sixteen hours, for two hours we wanted to go and come to the room where we slept on top of each other. Hard years, but I wish I could live them again, because I was young. Ah, if it were youth twice! ” he had said in an interview with journalist D. Lymperopoulos.
In 5 years, with bloody savings, they had managed to raise $ 3,500 and bought a room, which they named “Olympia”. The versatile Spyros suggested that a small orchestra be installed at the base of the big screen, which will accompany the events on the sail with live music. The audience responded with enthusiasm and so crowds were there every night enjoying the combination of film and music. Their success brought a lot of money to the brothers as it was a pioneer for the era of silent cinema. During his first great success, he also met his life partner, Sarah Broulia, to be precise, he met her again since she was his classmate from the night school he attended. “We were tied like vines” Spyros would describe his relationship with his brothers. “We bent, but we did not break. We went forward without fear. We got one room after another. Between the two great wars we managed to get hundreds of cinemas. We bought all the halls in St. Louis and reached 600 in the southern states! Naturally, with so many rooms, we now chose the movies. We created our own film production company. We once realized that we were now considered giants of cinema. “Warner, Meyer, Zanuk,” he had said characteristically.
Spyros’s mind and ambitions did not stop there, he always wanted something more, a room that would be the ultimate luxury was always in his mind. In 1926, his opportunity was presented, it was the period after the First World War and the “Ambassador” made his appearance, an investment of 5.5 million dollars! It was a complex of rooms in an imposing luxury building, which aroused the admiration of even the most skeptical. The Skoura brothers had realized their common dream which due to the monopoly attack did not last long after three years later it became the big financial Crash in 1929.
The Warner Bros. brothers, the leader of the famous entertainment industry, bought the halls. of the Greeks who were unable to maintain. For the next three years they found them without their own businesses but to run 500 rooms of the Hungarian giant Fox-West Coast.
Shortly afterwards, television made its appearance and began to enter the homes of Americans, clearly threatening the position of cinema. During that time, Spyros Skouras, wanting to find the most ideal solutions, proposed a merger of Fox with 20th Century. In 1935, now in control of the game, he suggested to his brothers to buy the 20th, after they accepted, he went to the Bank and proposed the merger of the two companies, so that Fox would not go bankrupt. The next day he found him the winner since after the merger he was the main major shareholder of the company under the title “20th Century Fox”.
In parallel with his great work, Spyros Skouras created his own family with Sara, they had four children and gave them double names. Spyros Solon (1923), Diana Athanasia (1925), Dionysia Colin (1926) and Plato Alexandros (1930). An unfortunate baby, Daphne Dolores, was born in 1924 and died shortly afterwards, this was the first difficulty the Skoura family faced. The next big nail came in 1950, when Dionysia Colin died in an accident at the age of 24, falling into the void from the 4th floor of the Fox West Coast Theater building that belonged to her uncle Karolos Skouras.
Last December, Dionysia Skoura was injured in the arm by a police bullet during a wild chase from a police car on Boston Post, where she was driving at 80 miles per hour. After her arrest, she received first aid.
Spyros Skouras never spoke about his daughter’s suicide, he mourned her loss by going through a period of depression in isolation. The capacity of his character did not allow him to remain in grief and a little later he returned to his duties and his great love for cinema.
The oxymoron with Spyros Skouras was that although he lacked education and the ability to speak English well, he always managed to win with his mind and his innovative ideas. A typical attack for Skouras was that of Bob Hope “Spyros has been here for twenty years and still speaks English as if he is going to come next week!” had said about the big producer.
During the period of the threatening invasion of television in the daily life of the Americans, the ingenious Skouras launched CinemaScope, a format of wide-screen cinematic projection, it was his way to bring the audience back to the theaters. The first film shown in this new environment “The Hiton” (1953), directed by Henry Koster, starring Richard Burton and Jane Simmons. This was the kiss of life in the cinema where she gave two Oscars to its actors.
“Who is that girl;” Norma Jean conquers the cinema as Marilyn
Two years before this great success, Spyros Skouras was at a presentation party of the 20th film producers, there he noticed a girl who had caught the eyes of the world. By asking the required questions he learned that the beautiful woman was the model Norma Jean, a relationship of the famous baseball player Joe Di Maggio. His spontaneous move was to meet her directly with the thought since it is so popular here, respectively it will be done in the cinema. They sat at the table together and it did not take long to convince her to become the new face of American cinema.
That night Marilyn Monroe was “born” and Spyros was baptized for the muse of “papa Spyros”. Marilyn was not a great actress, she does not “say it”, the movie circles said, she was even accused of moodiness, inconsistency, but also for her bad way of shooting. But what the producer was interested in was its impact on the public and the sales of the films. Spyros Skouras created the absolute Star, discovered her and created an artist who is still talked about today. Between 1951 and 1952, Marilyn’s name appeared in the titles of seven 20th Century Fox films!
His action and the big contacts
The contacts and the action of the great Greek producer were not limited to the cinema, his involvement with persons of the church and politics, the army and the secret services, was for many suspicious and definitely impressive. As a strong figure in the Greek lobby, he warmly supported the Greek-American politician of the Republican Party, Spyros Agniou, who was first elected governor of Maryland and then vice president of the Nixon government, a position from which he resigned and resigned.
He generously funded the Archdiocese and the Patriarchate, and earlier – in the midst of the Cold War – had deep friendships with both US President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, whom he later ousted. They met in 1957 on an official visit of the Soviet Union to the USA and one of their rhymes was as follows:
Skouras: Comrade, I was a shepherd and see where I got to. I have thousands of employees, each with their own car. And my movies are seen by millions of people all over the world.
Khrushchev: I too was the son of a miner and now govern 350 million people with free housing, education and hospital.
The two men formed strong bonds of friendship even though they did not speak the same language, typical of the Kazan attack, commenting on the contact between the two men:
In Los Angeles, Skouras, for the sake of the official couple, asks the girls who danced Kan Khan in a movie, to represent the scene. After the dance, Khrushchev stands up and applauds. The snapshot of the Soviet leader passionately applauding the dancers from the front row of the audience is published by the entire press. The American, of course. Not the Soviet.
Spyros Skouras had said about Khrushchev “Nikitas. He looks like me and I look like him. I happened to come to the dollars and he happened to join the Party. He was hardworking and cunning like me and that’s where he got to. For ten years he was the big boss in the Kremlin. Who; The son of the musician. He was born in a shelter made of bricks “.
The fiasco of Cleopatra
in 1958, 20th Century Fox was a giant in the cinema space until the producer Walter Wangerhad dreamed of a colorful transfer of Cleopatra’s life to the cinema and so he proposed to Skouras to work on the concept under the roof of 20th, with the tried-and-tested Ruben Mamulyan and Elizabeth Taylor in the title role. Although the budget of the film was huge from the beginning, Skouras accepted the challenge.
Taylor received a million dollars for her role, and from day one, at Pinewood Studios outside London, where filming had begun, she had brought in her own hairdressers and stylists, forcing studio professionals to stop filming. . On the third day of filming, Taylor had to appear outdoors with her torso wide open and so she fell ill with fever and later pneumonia. Filming was halted and the budget soared. Some problems with the screenwriter but also with experts who wanted to take advantage of Skouras’ need, the amount of 3 million dollars was added.
In all this there was a change of protagonists and in their place were hired instead of extremely fat salaries, Richard Burton and Rex Harrison, “Cleopatra” was going from bad to worse, the shooting was transferred to Rome and the studios of Cinecittà. New sets were set up there with new expenses obviously. In all, filming has begun, but Taylor and Burton fall madly in love with each other, break up their marriages and cause a scandal, so great that they did not even appear at the premiere of the film, five years later in New York.
The final cost of the film reached $ 44 million, all in 1963, which is now $ 300 million. The film fortunately covered its expenses and gave profits but Skouras’s position in the company was no longer the same. Its shareholders felt exposed so his forced resignation came.
Skouras’s steel will and stubbornness did not let him rest, so a little later he entered the shipping industry buying ships. “I am a Greek myself. I have to leave a dowry to my children,” he said with his characteristic accent. At the age of 78, he quietly passed away from a heart attack. His family received hundreds of telegrams from all over the world. His name has been written in most success stories as an example of devotion and entrepreneurial genius while many universities still study his history. His name was identified with the brilliance and progress of the 7th art.