Julius "Jules" Dassin (18 December 1911 31 March 2008), was an American film director, with Jewish Russian origins. He was a subject of the Hollywood blacklist in the McCarthy era, and subsequently moved to France, where he revived his career.
One of eight children of Berthe Vogel and Samuel Dassin, a Russian-Jewish barber in Middletown, Connecticut, Dassin grew up in Harlem and went to Morris High School in the Bronx. He joined the Communist Party USA in the 1930s and left it after the Hitler Stalin Pact in 1939. He started as a Yiddish actor with the ARTEF (Yiddish Proletarian Theater) company in New York. He collaborated on a film with Jack Skurnick that was incomplete because of Skurnick's early death.
In 1933 he married Beatrice Launer, with whom he had three children. In May 1955 he met Melina Mercouri at the Cannes Film Festival. At about the same time, he discovered the literary works of Nikos Kazantzakis. These two elements created a bond with Greece. He divorced Launer in 1962 and married Mercouri in 1966. The couple had to leave Greece after the colonels' coup in 1967. In 1970, they were accused of having financed an attempt to overthrow the dictatorship, but the charges were quickly dropped. Dassin and Mercouri lived in New York City during the 1970s; then, when the general's dictatorship in Greece fell in 1974, they returned to Greece and lived out their lives there. While Mercouri became involved with politics and won a parliamentary seat, Dassin stayed with movie-making in Europe but found time in the U.S. to make another movie, the racial drama Up Tight!, which would be his last American film.
Dassin quickly became better known for his noir films Brute Force, The Naked City, and Thieves' Highway in the 1940s, which helped him to become "one of the leading American filmmakers of the postwar era."
Dassin's most influential film was Rififi, an early work in the "heist film" genre. It inspired later heist films, such as Ocean's Eleven and Mission: Impossible. Another piece it inspired was Dassin's own heist film Topkapi, filmed in France and Istanbul, Turkey with Melina Mercouri and Oscar winner Peter Ustinov.
Dassin said Darryl F. Zanuck in 1948 called him into his office to inform him he would be blacklisted, but he still had enough time to make a movie for Fox. Dassin was blacklisted in Hollywood during the production of Night and the City in 1950. He was not allowed on the studio property to edit or oversee the musical score for the film. He also had trouble finding work abroad, as U.S. distribution companies would threaten not to distribute any European film with blacklisted participants. In 1952, after Dassin had been out of work for two years, actress Bette Davis hired him to direct her in the Broadway revue Two's Company. The show closed early, however, and Dassin left for Europe. Dassin did not work as a film director again until Rififi in 1955 (a French production). Most of Dassin's films in the decades following the blacklist are European productions. His prolific later career in Europe and the affiliation with Greece through his second wife, combined with a common pronunciation of his surname as "Da-SAN" in Europe, as opposed to "DASS-in" in the United States led to an assumption that he was Greek or French.
Jules Dassin was married twice:
- B atrice Launer, a New York born, Jewish American violinist (aka Beatrice Launer-Dassin; 1913 2005), a graduate of the Juilliard School of Music. They married in 1933 and divorced in 1962. Their children were Joseph Ira Dassin (1938 80), a popular French singer in the 1970s; songwriter Richelle "Rickie" Dassin (born 1940); and actress singer Julie Dassin (born 1944; also known as Julie D.).
Melina Mercouri, Greek actress and former wife of Panos Harokopos; they married in 1966 and remained married until Mercouri's death in 1994.
Affiliation with Greece
He was considered a major Philhellene to the point of Greek officials describing him as a "first generation Greek." Along with his last wife Melina Mercouri, he opposed the Greek military junta. A major supporter of the return of the Elgin Marbles to Athens, for which he established the Melina Mercouri Institution in her memory, he missed the opening ceremony of the New Acropolis Museum by only a few months owing to his death at the age of 96. He died from complications from a case of flu; he is survived by his two daughters and his grandchildren.
Upon his death, the Greek prime minister, Costas Karamanlis, released a statement: "Greece mourns the loss of a rare human being, a significant artist and true friend. His passion, his relentless creative energy, his fighting spirit and his nobility will remain unforgettable."
Awards and honors
For his 1956 film Rififi, Dassin earned the Best Director award at the Cannes Film Festival. His 1960 film Never on Sunday earned the music Academy Award (Manos Hadjidakis,(Greek: ), Ta Paidia tou Peiraia), and the Cannes Film Festival best actress award (Melina Mercouri). In 1982, he was a member of the jury at the 34th Berlin International Film Festival.
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