Director, Writer, Source Material
( b. Dec 18, 1911 Middletown, Connecticut, USA - d. Mar 31, 2008 Athens, GREECE ) Male
Jules Dassin was an American director, screenwriter and actor who found success making movies in Europe after he was blacklisted in the United States because of his earlier ties to the Communist Party.
Mr. Dassin is most widely remembered for films he made after he fled Hollywood in the 1950s, including “Never on Sunday” (1960), with the Greek actress Melina Mercouri, whom he later married; “Topkapi” (1964), with Ms. Mercouri, Peter Ustinov and Maximilian Schell; and the 1954 French thriller “Rififi.”
He was born in Middletown on Dec. 18, 1911, one of eight children of Samuel Dassin, an immigrant barber from Russia, and the former Berthe Vogel. Shortly after Jules was born, his father moved the family to Harlem. Jules attended Morris High School in the Bronx.
He joined the Communist Party in 1930s, but left the party in 1939, disillusioned after the Soviet Union signed a nonaggression pact with Hitler.
In the mid-1930s, Mr. Dassin studied drama in Europe before returning to New York, where he made his debut as an actor in the Yiddish Theater. He also wrote radio scripts.
Mr. Dassin’s first marriage, to Beatrice Launer, from 1933 to 1962, ended in divorce. They had three children: Joseph, a popular French singer who died in 1980, Richelle and Julie Dassin, an actress.
He went to Hollywood shortly before World War II erupted in Europe and was hired as an apprentice to the directors Alfred Hitchcock and Garson Kanin. Soon he was directing films for MGM, including “Reunion in France”, “Brute Force”, “The Naked City”, “Thieves’ Highway”, and “Night and the City”, a film shot in London starring Richard Widmark as a shady but naïve wrestling promoter and Francis L. Sullivan as a predatory nightclub owner. Some critics called it Mr. Dassin’s masterpiece.
The producer Darryl F. Zanuck had assigned the film to Mr. Dassin just as Mr. Dassin was to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee. He never did testify, but testimony by the directors Edward Dmytryk and Frank Tuttle, who recalled Mr. Dassin’s Communist Party membership in the 1930s, was damning enough to sink his career.
Mr. Dassin left the United States for France in 1953 because, he said, he was “unemployable” in Hollywood. In Paris, unable to speak much more than restaurant French when he arrived, he encountered hard times and remained largely unemployed for five years. In need of money, he agreed to direct “Rififi,” a low-budget production about a jewelry heist. Mr. Dassin also acted in the movie, under the name Perlo Vita, playing an Italian safe expert. He won a best-director award for the film at the 1955 Cannes Film Festival.
By the time he wrote and directed “Never on Sunday,” a comedy about a good-hearted prostitute (Ms. Mercouri), the anti-Communist witch hunt in the United States had been discredited, and he had been accepted again. Mr. Dassin also had a role in the movie, as a bookish American from Middletown, Conn., who tries to reform the prostitute. His directing and screenwriting were nominated for Academy Awards.
Many of his later movies starred Ms. Mercouri, including “He Who Must Die” (1957) and “La Legge” (1959), a noirish melodrama with Gina Lollobrigida, Marcello Mastroianni and Yves Montand. Ms. Mercouri became Mr. Dassin’s second wife in 1966, two years after he directed her in “Topkapi”.
Mr. Dassin ended his directing career in his late 60s on a disheartened note, when his film “Circle of Two” (1980) — about an aging artist (Richard Burton) who is infatuated with a teenage student (Tatum O’Neal) — did poorly at the box office. Mr. Dassin never made another film.
In 1967, Mr. Dassin directed the Broadway musical comedy “Illya Darling,” based on “Never on Sunday,” for which Ms. Mercouri was nominated for a Tony Award.
The same year, Ms. Mercouri, an ardent anti-Facist, lost her Greek citizenship for engaging in what Greece’s rightist government called “anti-national activities.” In 1970, Mr. Dassin