The US connection: Melina Mercouri and her friend Dr Andrew Horton

Andrew Horton speaks to Helen Velissaris on his life in Greece with the Junta, his friend Melina Mercouri and the script he’s writing on her life

“Of course I was familiar with protest movements in the USA against the Vietnam War, but I had never seen anything like tanks in the streets, students being arrested and tortured…”

World acclaimed screenwriter and author, Dr Andrew Horton, lived in Greece in the ’60s and ’70s and witnessed the Junta period first hand. Making the trip to teach English at Athens University in 1966, Horton had no idea what he’d be thrown into.

“I totally understood what it meant to try and survive under such a dictatorship and to somehow make an effort to protest and look forward to democracy again,” he says.

Despite the turbulent times, Dr Horton easily fell in love with Greece. Now he organizes trips to Greece for interested students at Oklahoma University, where he teaches film. In 1973, Horton became the film critic to The Athenian Magazine where he got his in with the Greek film scene. Everyone from Theodoros Angelopoulos, Mihalis Cacoyannis and Jules Dassin passed by his office constantly. But it was his friendship with the great Melina Mercouri which left a lasting mark on him.

The two met in 1974 when he was writing for the Athenian Magazine and stayed in touch until her death in 1994. He followed her life as a singer, actress and always saw her passion for activism and philanthropy in everything she put her mind to. “She was not just an actress who could sing and dance and make people laugh, but she had a passion to ‘make a difference’ with her films and in any way possible to ‘help Greeks’ in the best sense,” he says.

He remembers her humour the most, an ability to open doors for herself with a couple of laughs, all in the name of a good cause. Mercouri devoted her life to her country, even becoming Minister of Culture in the Greek Parliament. She would reach out with theatre groups, travel to villages to perform for schools and little islands. She even set up the Greek Film Centre to help budding filmmakers help make their films with financial help from the centre. Now, Horton is undertaking the role of writing a script on the life of his much-loved friend.

He hopes the project will be picked up by a talented crew to make it into a mainstream film, not just for a Greek audience but for everyone. “I want it to be a real film with a well known director and yes a well known actress and thus it has to be more than just a ‘Greek crew’ working on it and I am talking to people in Hollywood, yes, of the Greek community and Europe and we’ll see what happens,” he says. His high profile will hopefully boost the project and get it to the production stage.

Horton has penned some well known films, including Brad Pitt’s first feature film, The Dark Side of the Sun and the much awarded Something in Between (1983, Yugoslavia, dir. Srdjan Karanovic). Along with his screen writing pursuits he has written over 20 books on the industry. The push to write the script came from the kind words of his friend 10 years ago, production designer Phedon Papamichael.

“Andrew, you have to write a script about her life that can be a popular film not just a biography so the world knows about her, because you know her and you know Greece,” Papamichael said. Already under his belt, Horton has written screenplays for Renos Haralambidis and one with Lakis Lazopoulos, including a few more in the works.