Working from his beautiful neoclassical villa in the historic Kerameikos, Athens is Fondas Ladis. Surrounded by towers of leafy archives, testament to his lifelong obsession for magnifying the passions and adventures of the Greeks through stories, he is a poet, writer, publisher, and journalist. From an early age, Fondas Ladis was distinguished in writing poems, verses, lyrics, books, and theatre scripts.
He won a scholarship to the freethinking Hatzidaki School, from which numerous writers and artists of note emerged. Ladis collaborated with the greatest of Greek contemporary composers and musicians, Loizou, Dalaras, Theodorakis, Mikroutsikos, Dimitriades. In 1994, he established Mnimes (Memories), a society and publishing company to obtain and promote via technology, previously unpublished material of Modern Greek History and Cultural Heritage. Specifically, the aim is to create a state-of-the-art archive that any researcher can access.
Amongst the many stories that Ladis has been drawn to are those of dozens of Greek expats who made their mark during the turbulent era of American silent movies. Ladis first learned of the Greeks in Hollywood from Thanasis Lyberis of Vasilitsi, Messinia. Lyberis who had carefully tucked away large black and white photos in a weathered photo album for over sixty years gave an interview in 1985 to the Greek magazine Tachydromos. Part of the interview was subsequently included in the album A Bit of Greece Everywhere: The epic of Greek Immigration in Pictures [Όπου Γη Ελλάδα – Το έπος της μετανάστευσης σε εικόνες], Mnimes Publishing 1997.
Initially, Hollywood was a small town in the foothills. The Californian climate was good for making movies. Lyberis went to the Hollywood Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) in 1915. You could eat, sleep, and do odd jobs.
“From there they picked some of us who liked exercising. I worked out. I started in the beginning as a stuntman”, he said.
Lyberis worked in Hollywood in its infancy and was a conduit, a self-appointed cousin for Greek actors, producers, theatre owners and others in movie related occupations. Silent movies could have Greek actors in them as an accent was not a problem. He became a jack of all trades and was at times an actor, set designer and a stage manager of a Greek theatre company in California. Included in Lyberis’ account were Greek actors including Dimitris Mitsouras who worked in 32 productions, the great producer Anthony Xydias who was active from 1906 to 1935 and Alexander Pantages who developed a list of famed movie theatres. There was also the maker of monsters, Jack Pierce aka Janus Piccoulas, who designed Boris Karloff’s makeup for Frankenstein.
In Hollywood Lyberis met, just to name a few, Einstein, Schweitzer, Bernard Shaw, Disney, and Dimitri Mitropoulos. Douglas Fairbanks Sr, Valentino and Chaplin were amongst his co-stars. Lyberis’ photographs, paper clippings and other genuine documents are signed by friends and associates in the Hollywood film business. His stories, pictures and much more are in the book, Greeks in Hollywood in the Silent Movie Era, Fondas Ladis – Nikos Theodosiou, Mnimes Publishing 2020.
Niki Sperou is an artist and writer interested in Greek culture, socially engaged practice and the nexus of art and science. She lives and works in Adelaide.