on his life and achievements
Louis Nizer’s tribute to Skouras
“Tradition has it that we stress a man’s achievements in his life’s work. It is that on which he has concentrated most of his time and aspirations. All the rest is supposed to be his personal life which can give him no public satisfaction, and is therefore on a minor plane so far as the world is concerned. Uniquely, I believe, Spyros reversed this order of importance or, at least, he equalized them, and since he was preeminent in both, this may provide the clue to his real greatness.
It is not necessary to dwell on his remarkable business career. It is inscribed in the history of the motion picture industry. How many names, if any, will glow above his? Like a giant, he bestrode three generations of its evolution. He was a pioneer beginning in the humblest role, a builder, and finally, leader and statesman of a world wide enterprise, whose artistic, industrial and American influence was greater than many nations cast.
When the technological revolution of television brought disaster to the motion picture industry, he, the old pioneer, was the youngest man on the scene, infusing his courage and foresight into a disheartened industry. Virtually alone, he forced it to adopt a new wide screen technique and more expansive productions, with which the small home box could not compete. This was a daring and herculean feat, because it meant that a bankrupt industry had to raise and invest hundreds of millions of dollars to transform itself into a new art form which would be competitive. Almost everybody said it was impossible to achieve. Doubts and discouragement pervaded the scene. It was not even certain that the new invention would work well, or that it would entice public acceptance. But Spyros, by personal strength of character, lifted the industry to a new and higher plateau of international success.
This was only one in a long list of his business achievements. Biographies of him, and many chapters in histories of the industry will have to be written if this universal art form is to be understood. For perhaps more than even Ford, Harriman, or Carnegie in their industries, he was the formulator and inspirational driving force of the development of the motion picture enterprise throughout the world.
Since the motion picture is our country’s greatest ambassador, Spyros became ambassador plenipotentiary, and it was natural that he should meet with presidents, princes and dictators of other nations. He charmed them all, even though he quarreled with some, like Khrus[h]chev. No private citizen contributed more to America’s prestige in the international scene than Spyros, the immigrant boy who came penniless to the country he loved.
His dedication to the industry which he had reared and nourished, persisted to his last days. Only a week before I left for Europe, he brought to my office a priest who was deeply concerned with the content of recent pictures, but appreciated the rating system which tried to protect children. Spyros and I tried to persuade him that motion pictures did not create the loosened moral standards, but only reflected them, and that[,] short of destructive censorship, the industry was trying to meet its responsibility towards the youth of the nation. We discussed Supreme Court rulings, their definition of obscenity, and the complex problems resulting from the collision of freedom of expression and the standards of the community. Spyros was brilliant. I shared his view that aside from any moral considerations, daring pictures had shrunk our audience from 100 million to 17 million people a week. He foresaw a shift to romanticism and universal family appeal. I believe again his vision was right.
When he applied his waning energies to the shipping industry, he relied on Spyros Jr. to carry on the family tradition, and he was more proud of his achievements, because they were independent and imaginative, than if he had been responsible for them. In maintaining the American tradition of a merchant marine, he was motivated again by profound patriotism as well as business motives. How sad it was that the enterprise suffered temporary frustration from labor resistance to new techniques which were in everyone’s ultimate interest, if only the vision which projected the venture, could be shared by all.
I have only touched on one side of the triangle of Spyros’ qualities. Transcending his business brilliance was his humanity. In a world in which the gap between science and humanism is the dilemma of our age, and threatens to cremate the human race; a gap which is responsible for international unrest, drugs, crime, and amoral standards and ethics, Spyros, more than any other man I know, was the symbol of man’s nobility of spirit. He was the leader of every humanitarian cause which was presented to him. Of course, as it became known that “no” was not in his vocabulary when a worthy project needed help, he was flooded with entreaties. He accepted them all. Chairmanship did not confer honor upon him. He lent his prestige to the title. Nor did he stipulate, like others of us, that because he was inundated, his service would be limited. On the contrary, he understood fully that money was the fuel which ran charitable engines, and he went about vigorously raising funds. Somehow he found the time, energy, and will to do the impossible in heading several drives at one time. His sincerity and goodness shamed even exhausted givers into new beneficences.
He illustrated by conduct the universality of humanism. Of course he devoted himself to Greek causes, at one time saving the starving people from which he derived his greatness. But was there any cause, Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, Negro, medical or social, which enlisted less of his sympathy? None. He led them all, demonstrating by lack of discrimination, the true humanistic spirit which is color blind and sect blind. He was nothing short of magnificent in living a life of kindness toward others. One may say that no religious leader of the many religions in the world, exceeded him in purity of heart and conduct. This was sensed by all who came in contact with him. Only this can explain the profound admiration which everyone had for him. It was deep, sincere and complete. It was reciprocal acknowledgement that in the biblical sense here was truly a good man.
Less visible was the third side of the triangle of his personality. This was an overflowing love. It had many dimensions. His sweetness and interest even in strangers was one phase of it. One couldn’t introduce him to anyone without his asking that the name be repeated, and then commenting on its significance, as revealing the great heritage from which it stemmed. This sincere interest in the individual even on casual meeting, pierced the shell of indifference which envelopes us all. He generated instant warmth in contact with human beings. There were none too insignificant for the flow of his sentiment towards them. And no one was so important that he was awed into shedding the human approach due to all.”
Louis Nizer to Saroula Skouras, September 30, 1971.
“WHEREAS, Spyros P. Skouras came to America as a young man and, with his two brothers, forged a triumphant career in motion pictures that stands as a crown to his energy, talents, ingenuity and vision; and
WHEREAS, Spyros Skouras, at a moment in history when this industry was lagging introduced innovations, particularly including CinemaScope, that revived the fortunes, the prestige, the artistry and the stature of the film; and
WHEREAS, Spyros Skouras, led by his compassionate heart and his strong sense of justice, captained many causes for the benefit of America and for the welfare and relief of his fellow men, in peace and war; and
WHEREAS, as a member of this Board from May 7, 1942 until March 31, 1969, and as an Honorary Member from the latter date until his death on August 16, 1971, Spyros Skouras made enduring contributions to this Board, to the member company he represented on the Board, and to the medium of the motion picture which he held in lifelong devotion;
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that this Board testify by this resolution to its deep sense of loss and express to Mrs. Skouras and the family the Board’s sympathy and condolence on the passing of an admired and respected colleague; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that a copy of this resolution be presented to Mrs. Skouras as a measure of our esteem for her and in memory of an associate we miss so much.”
Motion Picture Association of America resolution, September 16, 1971.
“THE LOS ANGELES CITY COUNCIL EXTENDS ITS DEEPEST SYMPATHY TO YOU IN THE PASSING OF YOUR BELOVED HUSBAND / SPYROS P. SKOURAS / IN TRIBUTE AND RESPECT TO HIS MEMORY ALL MEMBERS STOOD IN REVERENCE AS THE COUNCIL ADJOURNED ITS MEETING OF AUGUST 17, 1971.”
“Pat and I were shocked and deeply saddened to learn of Spyros’ death yesterday, and I want you to know that you and your family are in our thoughts and prayers during this most difficult, sorrowful time. We shall never forget the unfailing support and abiding loyalty which Spyros gave so willingly and completely to us, and we grieve with you in this tragic loss.
In the months and years ahead, I hope you will find some measure of comfort and solace in having shared such a full and joyous life with this truly fine man who meant so much to all of us privileged to count him as our friend.”
Richard Nixon to Saroula Skouras, August 17, 1971.
“HIS CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE AMERICAN THEATER AND TO HIS FELLOW MEN WILL BE A LASTING MEMORIAL TO HIM AND I AM PROUD TO HAVE BEEN COUNTED AMONG HIS FRIENDS.”
John Edgar Hoover to Saroula Skouras, August 17, 1971.
“What a fine man he was and his name will certainly live on in the annals of history of the Motion Picture Industry. Those of us who had the pleasure of knowing him have lost a really true friend.”
Louis, Lord Mountbatten to Saroula Skouras, September 3, 1971.
“Lee and I were saddened by the loss of Spyros, a truly dynamic and warm friend.
Over the years we were pleased and proud of our closeness, and we fully recognize what a void his absence is going to be in your life, as well as your children’s.”
Walter Annenberg to Saroula Skouras, August 26, 1971.
“I AM SHOCKED BY THE PASSING OF SPYROS ... WE WERE TOGETHER FOR OVER THIRTY FIVE Y[E]ARS AND WHILE WE DID NOT ALWAYS AGREE WE ALWAYS HAD GREAT AFFECTION FOR EACH OTHER[.] I AM HERE IN EUROPE AND CANNOT SERVE AS END [?] PALL BEARER BUT WOULD BE PROUD BEING HONORARY PALL BEARER ... THE WORLD HAS LOST A GREAT MAN[.]”
Darryl Zanuck to Saroula Skouras, August 18, 1971.
“BOTH MRS BROWN[’]S AND MY HEART IS BROKEN BECAUSE OF THE NEWS OF OUR DEAR BELOVED FRIEND AND COLLEAGUE SPYROS[.] HE WAS AN INFLUENCE IN ALL OUR LIVES AND I LOVED HIM LIKE A FATHER[.]”
David Brown to Saroula Skouras, August 17, 1971.
“... your beloved Spyros, who gave so much of himself, not only to the motion picture industry, but to so many worthwhile projects which will live on as a tribute to his memory.
We served as Trustees of the Thomas Alva Edison Foundation together so I am fully aware of his outstanding ability and humanitarian contributions.”
Mary Pickford to Saroula Skouras, August 18, 1971.
“During the years I worked for your husband, he was a generous boss and an inspiring leader. I owe much to him and have not forgotten.”
Gregory Peck to Saroula Skouras, August 19, 1971.
“This Winter I played in London and was wondering when my ‘Greek uncle’ would arrive. He saw everything I did before. Spyros was such a dear and sweet human being , he was so good to me, I am forever grateful.”
Ingrid Bergman to Saroula Skouras, September 6, 1971.
“A GRAND MAN HAS PASSED AWAY TODAY. HE WAS LOVED BY EVERYONE LIKEWISE RESPECTED AND ADORED BY GREEKS, ADMIRED AND CHERISHED BY AMERICANS. WITH HIM A[N] ERA PASSED AWAY WHICH ENCOMPASSED THE IDEALS OF AMERICAN DEMOCRACY AND SUCCESS. THE AMERICAN STORY WAS NEVER TOLD ANY BETTER THAN BY SPYROS P SKOURAS[.]”
G. P. Livanos to Spyros Skouras, Jr, August 18, 1971.
“SPYROS SKOURAS WILL REMAIN IN OUR MEMORY AS AN UNENDING SOURCE OF GOODNESS AND LOVE[.]”
Peter and Dolla Nomikos to the Skouras Family, August 18, 1971.
“Louis and I shared many fond memories of Spyros and we were proud to call him our friend.”
Loucille Armstrong to Saroula Skouras, August 1971.
“Trees have been planted in Israel in loving memory of: SPYROS P. SKOURAS by SHERMAN HOLLANDER on the land of the Jewish National Fund”
· honored as “pioneer of the year” (Waldorf-Astoria, New York)
· Visiting his hometown in Greece, May 1945
· Touring the Greek countryside (I), May 1945
· Touring the Greek countryside (II), May 1945
· Greek War Relief Association, 1946 (SPS, Athenagoras at 0:18)
· Receives honorary law degree from Boston University, March 1948
· Campaigning for aid to Europe’s children, New York, May 1948
· With CinemaScope inventor Henri Chretien, Nice, February 1953
· Introducing CinemaScope in London, July 1953
· Greeting Chretien at the premiere of The Robe, New York, September 1953
· Presenting Marilyn Monroe to King Paul of Greece, Hollywood, November 1953
· Receiving ITOA award, New York, January 1954
· With President Eisenhower and Greek prime minister Karamanlis, Washington, D.C., November 1956
· Boy on a Dolphin premiere, New York, 1957 (at 0:42)
· With his wife at the premiere of A Farewell to Arms, New York, December 1957
· With his wife at the premiere of The Young Lions, New York, April 1958
· With his wife at the premiere of The Barbarian and the Geisha, New York, October 1958
· With Lord Mountbatten, Hollywood, November 1958
· With his wife at the premiere of The Inn of the 6th Happiness, London, November 1958
· At the premiere of The Diary of Anne Frank, New York, March 1959 (at 0:52, 4:13, 4:30)
· Receiving award from the US Secretary of the Army, Washingont, D.C., April 1959
· At the British Cinematograph Exhibitors’ Association conference, Brighton, May 1959
· At the premiere of the Imbal Dance Theatre of Israel, Los Angeles, August 1959
· Confronting Krushchev, Hollywood, September 1959 (at 0:38)
· Confronting Krushchev (with commentary)
· With his wife at the premiere of The Best of Everything, New York, October 1959
· Attending the Royal Naval Film Corporation dinner, Portsmouth, September 1959
· With his wife at the fund raiser for an International Cultural Centre for Youth in the young State of Israel, New York, November 1959
· With his wife at the premiere of Bismarck, London, February 1960
· With his wife at the premiere of The Story of Ruth, New York, June 1960
· Attending the Kinematograph Renters’ Society dinner in honor of Prince Philip, Pinewood Studios, London, November 1960
· With Greek prime minister Karamanlis and Archbishop Iakovos, New York, April 1961
· At the premiere of The Longest Day, New York, October 1962
· Arriving at Athens airport, 25 May 1967
1953, January 16:
(“we travelled 72,000 miles over a period of 69 days”)
1953, July 20:
(the LIFE magazine story that brought him worldwide fame)
1957, July 10: