March 31, 2008 / 8:32 PM / 12 years ago

Film director Dassin dies in Athens aged 96

ATHENS (Reuters) - Jules Dassin, the American who directed the film “Never on Sunday” and was married to the late Greek actress and culture minister Melina Mercouri, died in an Athens hospital after a short illness on Monday aged 96.

“Greece grieves the loss of a rare human being, an important creator and a true friend,” Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis said in a statement. “His passion, energy, fighting spirit and nobility will never be forgotten.”

Blacklisted in the United States in the 1950s, he fled to Europe, where he met the young, larger-than-life Greek actress at the Cannes film festival and never looked back.

“I was Greek even before I knew it,” Dassin was quoted as saying by Greek state TV.

Born in Connecticut on December 18 1911, Dassin began working as an actor and theatre producer before becoming assistant to film director Alfred Hitchcock in 1940.

He was hailed as a bright talent with his first films in the 1940s but his career froze in 1952, when he was named in testimony to the House of Representatives Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) as a member of Hollywood’s “communist faction”.

Blacklisted and unemployable in Hollywood, he moved to France where he supported himself by writing.

His biggest success was the 1960 film “Never on Sunday”, starring Mercouri, which he wrote and directed. It won an Oscar in 1961 for best original song and Dassin received Oscar nominations for best director and best writing, story and screenplay.

After the 1967 military coup in Greece, the couple became vocal opponents of the junta and their home in Paris the centre of the Greek diaspora’s resistance. They settled in Greece when democracy returned in 1974.

When the socialists won the 1981 elections, Mercouri was appointed culture minister and Dassin become a Greek citizen, occasionally directing for the theatre.

In his later years Dassin was active in the Greek drive to return the Elgin Marbles to Athens from the British Museum in London, a campaign led with passion by Mercouri.

“This British Museum does not understand what these marbles mean to Greece, how sacred they are,” he told Greek TV in heavily accented Greek.

He was well loved by the public and respected across the political spectrum in Greece.

“His death fills us all with deep emotion,” said socialist opposition leader George Papandreou. “He will be remembered for all his good work and struggles with Melina for his campaign for the return of the marbles, which will continue.”

Writing by Dina Kyriakidou, editing by Tim Pearce

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