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Olympia Dukakis

Olympia Dukakis

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Also Known As: Died:
Born: June 20, 1931 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Lowell, Massachusetts, USA Profession: actor, theater administrator, drama teacher, physical therapist

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Having long established herself as a respected stage actress and veteran performer in dozens of film and television projects, Olympia Dukakis achieved overnight stardom at the tender age of 56 with her Oscar-winning portrayal in "Moonstruck" (1987). Originally intending to become a physical therapist, Dukakis turned to acting with work on and off-Broadway in productions such as "The Aspern Papers" and "A Man's a Man." Never the ingénue, Dukakis quickly found herself portraying young mothers in films that included "John and Mary" (1969) and "Made for Each Other" (1971). The pattern continued with features like "The Wanderers" (1979) and "The Idolmaker" (1980) until "Moonstruck" placed her at the top of the casting agent's wish list. A slew of roles in high-profile feature films followed, including turns in "Working Girl" (1988), "Look Who's Talking" (1989) and "Steel Magnolias" (1989). Occasional starring roles also presented themselves, as with the comedy-drama "The Cemetery Club" (1993). On television she essayed the character of Mrs. Madrigal in "Armistead Maupin's 'Tales of the City'" (PBS, 1993) and its two sequel miniseries, and achieved true pop culture status when she voiced Grandpa Simpson's...

Having long established herself as a respected stage actress and veteran performer in dozens of film and television projects, Olympia Dukakis achieved overnight stardom at the tender age of 56 with her Oscar-winning portrayal in "Moonstruck" (1987). Originally intending to become a physical therapist, Dukakis turned to acting with work on and off-Broadway in productions such as "The Aspern Papers" and "A Man's a Man." Never the ingénue, Dukakis quickly found herself portraying young mothers in films that included "John and Mary" (1969) and "Made for Each Other" (1971). The pattern continued with features like "The Wanderers" (1979) and "The Idolmaker" (1980) until "Moonstruck" placed her at the top of the casting agent's wish list. A slew of roles in high-profile feature films followed, including turns in "Working Girl" (1988), "Look Who's Talking" (1989) and "Steel Magnolias" (1989). Occasional starring roles also presented themselves, as with the comedy-drama "The Cemetery Club" (1993). On television she essayed the character of Mrs. Madrigal in "Armistead Maupin's 'Tales of the City'" (PBS, 1993) and its two sequel miniseries, and achieved true pop culture status when she voiced Grandpa Simpson's love interest in a 2002 episode of "The Simpsons" (Fox, 1989- ). Living proof that one was never too old to reinvent oneself, the scene-stealing actress continued to delight audiences in a variety of mediums for over four decades.

The child of Greek immigrants, Olympia was born on June 20, 1931 in Lowell, MA to Alexandra and Constantine S. Dukakis. Although her immediate family was small, consisting only of her parents, herself, and a brother, Apollo, her extended family included future Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis, who would run for President of the United States in 1988. As a youngster, Dukakis was encouraged by her father to perform with his amateur theater group, although her focus was on physical rehabilitation studies upon entering college at Boston University's Sargent College, from which he earned her BA in 1953. However, her parents were, above all, pragmatists, and when Dukakis announced that she was abandoning a potentially well-paying career as a physical therapist for the unpredictable life of an actress, they were less than thrilled. Undeterred, she picked up an MFA in Acting from B.U. in 1957 and went on to become a founding member of the Charles Playhouse in Boston for a period before its eventual closure. Dukakis next made the move to New York City, where she made her off-Broadway debut in a production of "The Breaking Wall" in 1960.

Possessed of a New England work ethic and unassailable talent, Dukakis began a fruitful affiliation with the Williamstown Theatre Festival in 1961, followed by her debut on Broadway in "The Aspern Papers" the following year. While none of the work would necessarily be considered "star-making" the young actress was gaining notice, with her television debut on the first season of the medical drama "The Doctors and the Nurses" (CBS, 1962-65), and an Obie Award win for Distinguished Performance in a 1963 production of "A Man's a Man." Dukakis made her feature film debut in Robert Rossen's "Lilith" (1964), in which the versatile performer was cast as a patient in a mental institution. It was also around this time that she began teaching acting at New York University, in addition to founding The Whole Theater Company in Montclair, NJ. Dukakis would remain active in both roles over the next two decades. As more feature film work came her way, Dukakis began what would become a lengthy career portraying mothers, such as that of Dustin Hoffman in the romantic drama "John and Mary" (1969) and Joseph Bologna in the cult comedy "Made for Each Other" (1971).

Still known more for her lauded work on the stage than on the big or small screen, Dukakis continued to pick up small, often uncredited roles in projects that included the psychological thriller "Sisters" (1973), directed by Brian De Palma, and "Death Wish" (1974), starring Charles Bronson as a pacifist-turned-vigilante. Having already made several series guest appearances, she made her TV movie debut as a member of a close-knit Greek family in the failed television pilot "Nicky's World" (CBS, 1974). In what was becoming a career staple, Dukakis played more mothers in a pair of period pieces including the comedy-drama "The Wanderers" (1979), starring Ken Wahl, then in the 1950s pop music melodrama "The Idolmaker" (1980), opposite Ray Sharkey. Never far from her theatrical roots, Dukakis returned to the stage when famed director Mike Nichols hired her to co-star as an elderly woman with a penchant for literally chewing the scenery in the Broadway mounting of the comedy "Social Security" in 1986. It was that performance that caught the attention of filmmaker Norman Jewison who cast her in the hit romantic comedy "Moonstruck" (1987), starring Cher and Nicholas Cage. For her complex role as the mother of the lovelorn Loretta (Cher) and wife of philandering husband Cosmo (Vincent Gardenia), Dukakis won both an Oscar and a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress.

Suddenly, the 56-year-old actress was an "overnight success," and Dukakis' film career shifted into high gear with an impressive streak that included roles as a personnel director opposite Melanie Griffith in Mike Nichol's "Working Girl" (1988), as Kirstie Alley's mom in "Look Who's Talking" (1989), and as Jack Lemmon's humorless wife in "Dad" (1989). On a roll, that same year she joined an impressive female ensemble cast as Shirley MacLaine's friendly rival in the tear-jerking dramedy "Steel Magnolias" (1989). Other notable roles included that of an aging actress desirous of a comeback in "The Last Act is a Solo" (A&E, 1991), for which she won a CableACE Award, as well as the mother of actor-singer Frank Sinatra in the miniseries "Sinatra" (CBS, 1992). Also on television, Dukakis played the eccentric landlady with a secret, Mrs. Madrigal, in the adaptation of "Armistead Maupin's 'Tales of the City'" (PBS, 1993). That same year, she had a rare lead in "The Cemetery Club" (1993), a comedy drama co-starring Ellen Burstyn and Diane Ladd as three women who all lose their husbands within a short period of time. She was busier than ever two years later, taking on roles as varied as the proud mother of a pre-operative transsexual son in "Jeffrey" (1995), to a member of the Greek chorus in Woody Allen's "Mighty Aphrodite" (1995), to the disapproving high school principal in "Mr. Holland's Opus" (1995).

Dukakis reprised her earlier role on cable in the miniseries sequel, "Armistead Maupin's 'More Tales of the City'" (Showtime, 1998), and for a third time in "Armistead Maupin's 'Further Tales of the City'" (Showtime, 2001). She later appeared with Parker Posey in writer-director Thom Fitzgerald's mystery drama "The Event" (2003) and with fellow cinematic "grand dames" Lynn Redgrave and Diane Ladd in the psychological thriller "Charlie's War" (2003). Dukakis appeared briefly as bookish adventurer Noah Wyle's mother in the TV adventure "The Librarian: Quest for the Spear" (TNT, 2004), as Peter Falk's wife in the Paul Reiser comedy "The Thing about My Folks" (2005), and as a missionary in South Africa in the HIV drama "3 Needles" (2005). The following year she reprised her earlier role in "The Librarian: Return to King Solomon's Mines" (TNT, 2006), which had become a successful TV movie franchise for the cable network. Continuing to work steadily well into her seventies, Dukakis appeared with Meg Ryan and Kristen Stewart in actor-writer Jon Kasdan's directorial debut "In the Land of Women" (2007), in addition to numerous other film projects. On television, she took on guest turn roles on the noir comedy series "Bored to Death" (HBO, 2009- ) in 2010, followed by a 2011 appearance on the long-running police procedural "Law & Order" Special Victims Unit" (NBC, 1999- ).

By Bryce Coleman

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Outliving Emily (2014)
2.
 Big Driver (2014)
3.
 Whiskey School (2007)
4.
6.
 Day on Fire (2006)
7.
 Away From Her (2006)
9.
10.
 Librarian: Quest for the Spear, The (2004) Margie Carsen
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

1957:
Founding member of the Charles Street Playhouse, Boston, Massachusetts
1960:
Off-Broadway debut, "The Breaking Wall"
1961:
Began affiliation with the Williamstown Theatre Festival
1962:
Broadway debut, "The Aspern Papers"
1964:
Feature film debut in "Lilith"
1964:
Appeared in Gregory Markopoulos's experimental film "Twice a Man"
:
Taught acting at New York University
:
Founding member and artistic director of The Whole Theater Company, Montclair, New Jersey
1974:
TV-movie debut in "Nicky's World"
:
Returned to NYU to teach acting
:
Appeared regularly on the NBC daytime drama "Search for Tomorrow"
1987:
Breakthrough film role, Rose Castorini, in Norman Jewison's "Moonstruck"
1989:
Had featured role in the ensemble of "Steel Magnolias"
1989:
First played Kirstie Alley's mother in "Look Who's Talking"; reprised part in two sequels
1991:
Portrayed an aging actress desperate for a comeback in "The Last Act Is a Solo" (A&E)
1991:
Received first Emmy nomination for her supporting performance as the alcoholic mother of a mentally-challenged woman who has won the lottery in "Luck Day" (ABC)
1992:
Cast as matriarch Dolly Sinatra in the CBS miniseries "Sinatra"
1993:
Had rare lead as a Jewish widow in "The Cemetery Club"
1994:
Portrayed Anna Madrigal, the landlady with a penchant for growing marijuana, in "Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City" (PBS)
1995:
Made cameo appearance as the mother of a transsexual in "Jeffrey"
1995:
Appeared on stage as "Hecuba" in a translation by Timberlake Wertenbaker
1995:
Played the tough principal who mentors Richard Dreyfuss' music teacher in "Mr. Holland's Opus"
1996:
Returned to the NYC stages in the off-Broadway production of "The Hope Zone"
1997:
Appeared as Jennifer Aniston's mother in "Picture Perfect"
1998:
Undertook the role of Queen Lear in a distaff retelling of Shakespeare's classic in the stage production "The Lear Project"
1998:
Reprised Anna Madrigal in the Showtime sequel "Armistead Maupin's More Tales of the City"; received Emmy nomination
1999:
Offered a potent cameo in the CBS miniseries "Joan of Arc"; netted third Emmy nomination
1999:
Made London stage debut in one-person show "Rose", a drama about a Holocaust survivor written by Martin Sherman; opened on Broadway in spring 2000
2000:
Co-starred with Judi Dench in "The Last of the Blonde Bombshells" (HBO), playing an alcoholic saxophone player
2001:
Had leading role in Timberlake Wertenbaker's stage play "Credible Witness" in London
2001:
Reprised Anna Madrigal in "Armistead Maupin's Further Tales of the City" (Showtime)
2002:
Co-starred with Janet McTeer and Brenda Fricker in "Innocence," directed by Kristian Levering
2004:
Cast in the CBS comedy "Center of the Universe" opposite John Goodman and Ed Asner
2005:
Cast in "The Thing About My Folks" penned by and co-starring Paul Reiser
2006:
Co-starred in "3 Needles," one of three short stories about the global HIV pandemic, directed by Thom Fitzgerald
2007:
Co-starred with Adam Brody and Meg Ryan in Jonathan Kasdan's directorial debut "In the Land of Women"
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Sargent College, Boston University: Boston , Massachusetts - 1953
Boston University: Boston , Massachusetts - 1957

Notes

In college, Dukakis was the New England fencing champion.

She received an honorary doctorate from Boston University in 2000.

"People have this fantasy of Greeks smashing plates and dancing. They really are much more introspective, a very nose-to-the-grindstone people." --Dukakis in Premiere, February 1988.

On her role in "Moonstruck", Dukakis was quoted in TheaterWeek (January 1-7, 1996): "I had no idea what that role would end up meaning to me. All I knew was that it was a good part, good money, and good people to work with."

"I don't turn down a lot of film work, either. I like to work, so I decided that just because projects came that didn't fulfill all my criteria, that didn't necessarily mean I shouldn't do them. When that kind of work is coming my way, I figure I shouldn't question it too much." --Dukakis in TheaterWeek, January 1-7, 1996.

Companions close complete companion listing

husband:
Louis Zorich. Actor. Married on December 5, 1962.

Family close complete family listing

father:
Constantine Dukakis. Manager. Greek immigrant.
mother:
Alexandra Dukakis. Greek immigrant.
brother:
Apollo Dukakis. Actor.
cousin:
Michael Dukakis. Politician. Former governor of Massachusetts and former candidate for the US Presidency.
daughter:
Christina Zorich. Actor.
son:
Peter Zorich. Co-founded a line of food products called "Famous Fixins".
son:
Stefan Zorich.
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

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