26 January 2020

Stathis Giallelis

Stathis Giallelis (1941) is a Greek actor, who won brief international renown in the early 1960s as the star of Elia Kazan's immigrant epic America America (1963). He appears in nearly every scene of the 174-minute film and his "towering performance" brought him the Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year – Actor, as well as a nomination for Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama. However, he appeared in front of the camera only seven more times and retired from the cinema in 1983. The colourful Spanish cards in this post are a reminder of what a promising and popular international star Giallellis once was.

Stathis Giallelis
Spanish postcard by Archivo Bermejo, no. C-187, 1964. Photo: Warner Bros. Photo: Stathis Giallelis in America America (Elia Kazan, 1963).

Stathis Giallelis
Spanish postcard by Toro de Bronche, no. 233. Photo: Warner Bros. Photo: Stathis Giallelis in America America (Elia Kazan, 1963).

Searching for verisimilitude

Stathis Giallelis or in Greek Στάθης Γιαλελής was born in 1941. The date of his birth is generally accepted as correct, according to Wikipedia, although two sources indicate 1939 as the year. All listings agree that he was born in Greece, but none specify the location.

The medium-height, slightly built Giallelis was twenty-one years old in mid-1962, upon Elia Kazan's arrival in Greece to meet the future star of his long-planned cinematic representation of his uncle's life in 1890s Anatolia and the eventual fulfilment of his determined dream of immigrating to the United States.

Kazan wanted an unknown actor in whom the audience would see the character rather than the familiar face. In his autobiography, 'Elia Kazan: A Life', the director describes the details of his search for "a ferret, not a lion", someone who, like his uncle, did not always behave honourably, but had "my boy's single redeeming quality, devotion to his father and family".

Kazan first tried to find his leading actor in England and, subsequently, in France, where a likely candidate was found, tested and rejected as "too handsome" and "lacking desperation" (although the actor was never named, circumstantial evidence points to Alain Delon).

Even the Actors Studio proved deficient in providing the ideal aspirant. Finally, as he described it, "I did the obvious, went to Athens, and in the office a film director found an apprentice sweeping the floor so he could be near production work". This was the office of Greek producer/director Daniel Bourla, according to Kazan at Wikipedia.

However, in a 2017 interview with Alicia Malone, Giallellis remembered differently: "My grandmother’s school in Greece was actually where Elia Kazan found me. He would often say that he found me in a producer’s office sweeping the floor. He used to change the story a lot. He’d say, “The older you get the more the story changes.” He and I remained friends until the very end. In fact, the last few years of life, he was a recluse but we still managed to see each other every once in a while."

Stathis Giallelis was severely limited in both acting experience and knowledge of English. The only son in a family with four daughters, he nevertheless impressed Kazan with his sincerity and deeply felt reminiscences of his Communist father's martyrdom in the aftermath of the Communist–centrist/rightist struggle in the Greek Civil War.

Kazan continued to insist over the following decades that had the central role been played by a contemporary actor of the calibre of Marlon Brando or Warren Beatty (both of whom became stars under Kazan's direction) or one of the 1970s stars such as Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino or Robert De Niro, the project would have lacked verisimilitude, even while enjoying much greater financial success. He compared Giallelis' performance to that of the protagonist in the Neorealist classic Ladri di biciclette/The Bicycle Thief (Vittorio De Sica, 1948).

Stathis Giallelis
Spanish card. Photo: Warner Bros. Photo: Stathis Giallelis in America America (Elia Kazan, 1963).

Stathis Giallelis
Spanish postcard by CyA, no. 53. Photo: Warner Bros. Photo: Stathis Giallelis in America America (Elia Kazan, 1963).

Putting fire and spirit into the role

Stathis Giallelis perfected his English-language skills as he spent nearly 18 months preparing for and filming his role, and the result was evident in the critical notices. The New York Times' Bosley Crowther, in his 1963 review of the film, noted that "Greek lad Stathis Giallelis (pronounced STAH-this-Ya-lah-LEASE) is incredibly good as the determined hero, putting fire and spirit into the role". Other critics called his performance "mesmerizing", "heartbreaking" and "unforgettable".

America America earned three Oscar nominations for Elia Kazan (Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay), but its only win on Oscar night in 1964 was for Gene Callahan's black-and-white Art Direction. Eleven additional nominations came from other awards, including Golden Globes, which named Elia Kazan "Best Director" and Stathis Giallelis "Most Promising Male Newcomer/New Star of the Year", an award he shared with two of the remaining five nominees—Albert Finney and Robert Walker, Jr. He was also nominated for "Best Actor in a Drama", but lost to Sidney Poitier in his Oscar-winning Lilies of the Field role.

As America America received wide distribution in Europe and elsewhere in 1964-1965, Stathis Giallelis basked in the spotlight. In the months between the end of production and its December release, he completed a cameo role in the Greek art film Mikres Afrodites/Young Aphrodites (Nikos Koundouros, 1963).

Returning to Hollywood, the young actor seemed to be on the verge of a long and successful film career. Ultimately, however, in the 16-year period between 1964 and 1980, he appeared in front of the camera only seven more times in widely spaced film projects, only three of which (Cast a Giant Shadow, Blue and The Children of Sanchez) were American productions.

Giallelis' first post-America America film offer came shortly after the epic went into wide release during Christmas week of 1963. Leopoldo Torre Nilsson, Argentina's internationally best known filmmaker, whose hypocrisy- and corruption-themed films regularly received acclaim at European film festivals, invited him to star in his new project, El Ojo de la Cerradura/The Eavesdropper (Leopoldo Torre Nilsson, 1966). His co-star, and the only other non-Spanish speaker in the cast was twenty-one-year-old actress Janet Margolin who, two years earlier, had received critical praise for her co-starring role with Keir Dullea in Frank Perry's David and Lisa (1964).

Filmed in Buenos Aires, El Ojo de la Cerradura garnered encouraging notices at a number of film festivals and won the Silver Condor Best Film Award from the Argentine Film Critics Association. Two years later it received a belated release in U.S. art houses, including a September 1966 New York premiere. Despite good notices, it soon ended its run and has remained elusive.

In between he also appeared in the American produced war drama Act of Reprisal (Erricos Andreou, Robert Tronson, 1964), a love story set against the backdrop of Cyprus' struggle for independence from the British in the 1950s. The film starred Ina Balin and Jeremy Brett.

Stathis Giallelis
Spanish postcard by Archivo Bermejo, no. C-187, 1964. Photo: Warner Bros. Photo: Stathis Giallelis in America America (Elia Kazan, 1963).

Not leaving a strong impression

Stathis Giallelis' second 1966 U.S. release, Cast a Giant Shadow (Melville Shavelson, 1966) is the only title in his brief filmography structured as a major studio production. The all-star epic about a Jewish-American army officer's key leadership role in winning the battles which led to the 1948 establishment of Israel, found him fifth-billed after Kirk Douglas (as the central figure, Colonel Mickey Marcus), Senta Berger, Angie Dickinson and James Donald.

His role, as a dedicated Israeli fighter for independence, spotted him in various brief moments throughout the film, but did not leave a strong impression, according to Wikipedia. Despite its Hollywood pedigree, Cast a Giant Shadow was shot by director Melville Shavelson entirely on outdoor locations in Israel and Italy as well as studio interiors at Rome's Cinecittà studios.

Two more years would pass before Stathis Giallelis was seen in another film. Blue (Silvio Narizzano, 1968) was a well-budgeted independent Western filmed on picturesque Utah locations. Billed fourth after Terence Stamp (as "Azul" ["Blue" in Spanish]), Joanna Pettet and Karl Malden, Giallelis, as the son of Mexican bandit Ricardo Montalbán had little to show for his dramatic efforts and, with Montalban's 'Special guest' billing factored in, he actually was, again, in fifth place.

Wikipedia: "Released by Paramount, Blue was perceived by a number of critics as an anti-war allegory, specifically focusing on Vietnam. Saddled with a mostly negative response from the critics, the film was quickly out of theatres."

Some sources including IMDb credit Stathis Giallelis with a role in the Yugoslav-produced war film Rekvijem/Last Train to Berlin (Caslav Damjanovic, 1970), but his participation remains unconfirmed. The World War II heroics on display gave top billing to American Ty Hardin who at the time appeared in a number of European-made action films and Spaghetti Westerns. Rekvijem premiered in Yugoslavia in 1970 and, although it never had a U.S. release, it was later seen on television in a cut and dubbed version entitled Last Rampage.

In 1974, Jules Dassin and his wife Melina Mercouri used the donated services of many top entertainment personalities to produce The Rehearsal (Jules Dassin, 1974), an angry docudrama which reconstructed the events leading to the killing of some forty students in Athens, as they protested against the heavy-handed rule of the Greek Junta.

As a Greek living abroad, Stathis Giallelis was invited to participate along with Olympia Dukakis, Mikis Theodorakis and other celebrities of varying nationalities, such as Laurence Olivier and Maximilian Schell. Socially active writers, including Lillian Hellman and former Elia Kazan compatriot Arthur Miller also took rare acting turns in the production.

Filmed in a makeshift New York studio, the film was finished only days before the Junta's fall in July, and was thus set aside without public showings. Decades later, it received a brief New York premiere in 2001.

Stathis Giallelis
Spanish postcard by Raker, no. 1139, 1965. Photo: Warner Bros. Photo: Stathis Giallelis in America America (Elia Kazan, 1963).

Stathis Giallelis in America America (1963)
Spanish postcard by Toro de Bronche, no. 234. Photo: Warner Bros. Photo: Stathis Giallelis in America America (Elia Kazan, 1963).

Exiting the life of Hollywood glam

Now able to return to his homeland, Stathis Giallelis appeared in esteemed Greek director Pantelis Voulgaris' Nineteen Eighty-Four-like allegory Happy Day (Pantelis Voulgaris, 1974), playing one of the leads in the story about imprisonment and repression in an unspecified European-style society.

Having briefly been a Hollywood star in the previous decade, he was still seen as a celebrity in his homeland, but the film, despite receiving top awards at Greek film festivals in 1976 and a showing in Canada at the 1977 Toronto Festival of Festivals, had little impact on his career.

After a passage of another two years, Giallelis appeared in his last-to-date American film, The Children of Sanchez (Hall Bartlett, 1978). This adaptation of the Oscar Lewis novel was filmed on location in Mexico and starred native-born Anthony Quinn as his country's putative everyman, Jesus Sanchez. Giallelis received yet another fifth billing, following two veteran Mexican actresses, Dolores del Río and Katy Jurado, as well as Venezuelan Lupita Ferrer who, at the time, was married to Hall Bartlett.

Wikipedia: "Gialellis's role as Roberto was relatively small and underwritten, but he did receive a couple of closeups, which showed premature aging on the 37-year-old actor's once-youthful face." Upon its Los Angeles premiere in 1978, the film received mixed to poor reviews, with the primary attention going to Chuck Mangione's lively score.

In the Italian TV miniseries, Panagulis vive/Panagoulis Lives (Giuseppe Ferrara, 1980), which examined the life and death of Greece's renowned martyred poet-politician/democracy activist Alexandros Panagoulis, the title role went to Giallelis, whose ethnicity, still-remaining international fame, and age (a year-and-a-half younger than Panagoulis) made him a natural candidate for the part. Heading a large cast, he received generally favourable reviews.

IMDb mentions one further film in which Giallellis played the leading role, the Greek production To tragoudi tis epistrofis/Homecoming Song (Yannis Smaragdis, 1983). The film was nominated for the Golden Prize at the Moscow International Film Festival.

After his years as an award-winning actor, Stathis Giallelis exited the life of Hollywood glam and went to work at the United Nations International School in Manhattan, New York, working as a child supervisor and mentor. He retired in the summer of 2008. IMDb mentions also that he married Joan Brecher in 1967.

Forgotten for many decades, America America (Elia Kazan, 1963) burst back to the big screen in 2011 at Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna and was later also presented in the US at the 2017 TCM Classic Film Festival. More than 50 years after the film had its premiere, America America still remains a stirring epic on the immigrant's role in American culture.

Trailer for America America (1963). Source: Jo Xiokas (YouTube).

German director Fatih Akin and Stathis Giallelis present America, America (1963) at the at Il Cinema Ritrovato 2011 in Bologna. Source: Cineteca Bologna (YouTube).

Sources: Ryan Williams (Movie Maker), Wikipedia and IMDb.

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