Monday, July 26, 2021


Reviewed by James Karas

The Charlottetown Festival is back, albeit in a pandemic-modified format. It features three productions with emphasis on eastern Canada. The first production was Between Breaths a play by Robert Chafe about the controversial life of Dr. Jon Lien, a Newfoundlander credited with rescuing more than 500 whales trapped in fishing nets. It ran util June 19, 2021.

The second production, reviewed here, is Dear Rita, a tribute to the great Canadian singer. The next production will be Old Stock by Hannah Moscovitch, Christian Barry and Ben Caplan about Jewish refugees from Russia. It will run from August 12 to September 4, 2021.

The beautiful theatre in the Confederation Centre of the Arts can seat 1100 people but only 300 were allowed in observance of strict social distancing and other Covid related rules. The small number did not dampen the enthusiasm of the audience.

Dear Rita is appropriately subtitled as “A Musical Toast to Rita MacNeil” who the program describes as “one of the East Coast’s fiercest and most iconic songwriters.” MacNeil (1944-2013) wrote several hundred songs and produced 25 albums in a career that garnered a cartload of awards and honours, and made her hugely popular. She also led a varied and eventful life that the show alludes to without hesitation.

Lyndsay Kyte as playwright and Mike Ross as co-creator, music director and arranger have crafted a program that pays tribute to MacNeil’s wide-ranging musical contribution a well as her life. A company of eight actors, singers and musicians are tasked with presenting the program with sufficient enthusiasm and pathos as to be rewarded with a standing ovation by the reduced audience.

The four women of the cast, Michelle Bouey, Kristi Hansen, Melissa Mackenzie, and Lindsay Kyte, and four men, Sheldon Elter, and Brendan Wall with Chris Corrigan on guitar and Trevor Grant on drums, showed acting versatility, musical talent and reasonable vocal ability. The songs are sung by cast members individually and as an ensemble.

“Working Man,” a tribute to Nova Scotia coal miners “Flying on Your Own” about the strength she showed after leaving her husband, her love letter to Cape Breton “I'll see you again” and many more give a fine accounting of her varied talents in folk and country music and as references to her life.

Born in 1944 on Cape Breton Island with a cleft lip and palate, she had to suffer the worst insult that can be targeted in a small community: being “different.” She was sexually abused for years by the calloused hands of a great-uncle. She kept the abuse secret until she revealed it in her 1998 autobiography On A Personal Note.

She eventually gravitated toward Toronto more than once where she kept some menial jobs, became pregnant and had an out of wedlock daughter. She returned to Cape Breton but the desire to sing proved powerful and she left her child with her parents. Back in Toronto she got married, had a second child and even tried farming. But she could not stay away from singing and writing songs for long.

The play mentions her attempted suicide when she took a bottle of sleeping pills and her little son stood by her all night. She woke up 24 hours later and found pizza crumbs near her. Worse was to come in her battle with obesity. She reached 186 pounds and received some disgusting comments about it. The all-time low was reached during the 1993 World Series between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Blue Jays where MacNeil sang the national anthem during one game. A Philadelphia newspaper suggested that she should get a forklift to transport her to home plate among other despicable comments.

We learn that there were numerous such insults in the media, but she seemed to take them with aplomb. When a journalist asked her if she was “a dish” when she weighed 113 pounds, she retorted that she is still a dish and asked if he was no longer a dish after he lost his hair.

Rita MacNeil had a big and resonant voice and she performed powerfully and movingly. The cast, admirably directed by Mary Francis Moore, captures much of her musical and personal life and, to their great credit, entertain us and make us want to go back to the original.


Dear Rita by Lyndsay Kyte and Mike Ross plays from June 19 to August 6, 2021, at the Confederation Centre of the Arts, 145 Richmond Street, Charlottetown, PE C1A 1J1

James Karas is the Senior Editor – Culture of The Greek Press. This review appeared initially in the newspaper

Saturday, July 10, 2021


The Greek Connection

The Life of Elias Demetracopoulos and
the Untold Story of Watergate
by James H. Barron
482 pp. Melville House Publishing, 2020
ISBN 978 1 612198266

Reviewed by James Karas

James H. Barron, like all good writers, starts The Greek Connection with a startling assertion that the 1968 presidential elections were won by Richard Nixon because of the illegal funnelling of $549,000 (almost $4 million in today’s money) from Greece. The money was given to the Greek equivalent of the CIA by the American Central Intelligence Agency as aid to Greece. Then it was probably laundered and delivered to the Nixon campaign. The disclosure of this fact may have made all the difference in the election and Hubert Humphrey may have become President instead of Tricky Dicky.
Barron is a journalist and lawyer who wanted to investigate the Greek gift to Nixon’s campaign and was advised to contact Elias Demetracopoulos. That was in 2009 and almost ten years of research and writing has resulted in The Greek Connection: The Life of Elias Demetracopoulos and The Untold Story of Watergate.

It is a riveting book that has a full-blown and well-deserved biography of Demetracopoulos but it contains much more than that. It gives an astonishing glimpse intο American policy towards Greece in the latter part of the 20th century and a portrait of corruption, lies, vilification, skulduggery and pernicious conduct on a scale that I can only describe as jaw-dropping.
It contains a fairly detailed history of Greece from the 1930’s onwards and especially during the regime of the military junta (1967 to 1974). Demetracopoulos spent much of his professional life in the U.S. and there are details of American politics notably about America’s relations with Greece and, of course, “the Greek connection” to the Watergate scandal.
Demetracopoulos is not exactly a household name in the United States and I am not sure how well he is known in Greece. Born in Athens in 1929, he achieved distinctions early in his life. He joined a small resistance group and became the youngest person to be imprisoned and brutalized by the occupying Nazis in 1943 at the age 14. He may well have been executed but through family connections he was declared mentally ill, transferred to a psychiatric hospital and survived. But a record of his “mental illness” remained.
After the end of the Greek Civil War, Demetracopoulos received medals and commendations for his heroism and more importantly a job as a diplomatic correspondent at Kathimerini, perhaps the best newspaper in Greece, and was assigned to cover the omnipresent Americans in Athens. His life as a journalist began in earnest. 
His focus on the American embassy which was practically running the country made enemies quickly. He was good at what he was doing and Ambassador John Peurifoy and CIA Chief of the Athens Station Thomas Karamessines pressed him to become a CIA informer. On his first visit to the U.S., he was pressured to do the same. He refused opening the door for retaliation.
Demetracopoulos displayed his amazing talent for getting interviews with highly placed politicians and ranking officers. His articles were well publicised and he seemed to know more than the embassy. The Ambassador was displeased and he began a campaign to neutralize Demetracopoulos by suggesting that his Washington interviews were “fabricated.” The embassy put out word that his war record was phoney and that he was an impostor. They disputed the presentation of awards for his war services and began the vicious campaign that was to follow Demetracopoulos throughout his life. The evidence or lack of it meant nothing; corrections and denials meant little and the lies and fabrications were simply rehashed with shameless regularity. He had the American Embassy in Greece, the State Department, the White House and the CIA pursuing him doggedly with grotesque lies. At times they did little harm; at other times they cost him jobs and did real harm.
But Demetracopoulos had friends as well. Senators, Congressmen, and other highly placed officials were on his side. As an example, he tried desperately to get a visa to go to Greece to see his dying father. The junta apparently stalled but made plans to abduct and assassinate him. Senator Ted Kennedy got wind of the plot and advised Demetracopoulos not to go.
The focal point of the book is Demetracopoulos’s career in the U.S., where he arrived in 1967, following his escape from the Greek dictators.  He became a relentless enemy of the Greek dictatorship and the most unyielding and effective advocate for the return of democracy in Greece. He had dedicated enemies who tried to destroy him and committed friends who helped him.
He lobbied for the cessation of American arms to Greece and met with limited success. He thought he could rely on Vice President Spiro Agnew for support. In November 1967 he met with the then governor of Maryland to enlist his support against the junta in general and the sale of arms to Greece in particular.  Agnew told him that he could not publicly oppose the junta for “political reasons” but that he would remain neutral. He did not and became an ardent supporter of the dictators.
The treatment that Demetracopoulos got from Americans of Greek descent is simply astounding. Not only did the Greek American leaders support the junta, but they also did all they could to malign him. Sam Nakis, the Supreme President of the American-Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA) called Demetracopoulos a “self-proclaimed expatriate . . . whose profession of idealistic motivation is extremely suspect.” Nakis left AHEPA AND became vice chairman of Democrats for Nixon. John Rousakis, the Democratic mayor of Savannah called him “an obscure Greek communist journalist”. Greek newspapers across the country supported the colonels and maligned Demetracopoulos. 
Enter Tom Pappas, an astute businessman and loyal conservative Republican, viewed as a generous philanthropist and supporter of Greek Americans. According to Barron, Pappas was judged by others as “a manipulative, ruthless, and cunning operator, a braggart, robber baron, an amoral or immoral power-hungry narcissist.” He brought Coca-Cola to Greece as well as Esso which became Esso-Pappas. “I had to bribe four governments in five years to get the [Esso-Pappas] deal going” he bragged. He was a supporter and friend of Nixon and of the Greek colonels.
The scenario that Barron paints is that the Nixon campaign needed money in cash in $1000 denominations. The source would be the American CIA giving the money to the Greek CIA which would then give it to Pappas’s charitable foundation which would funnel the cash to the Nixon campaign. The facilitator was Tom Pappas. The sum of $549,000 in large denominations was too much even for the Central Bank of Greece and it had to be divided in three tranches for delivery. It was and the cash was delivered by Pappas to the Nixon campaign. The evidence of American money being laundered and recycled through the CIA into the Nixon campaign is convincing if circumstantial.
Demetracopoulos made the crucial decision not to pass the story to other journalists or Senators and Congressmen. He decided to give the story to President Lyndon Johnson in the expectation that he would make further and urgent enquiries and make sure that story came out. Johnson declined to do anything. Demetracopoulos had made a fatal miscalculation in not publishing the story himself and passing it on to other outlets.
Barron asserts that disclosure of the transfer of funds from Greece to the Nixon campaign via Tom Pappas may have been a decisive factor in the election and in the very tight race of 1968 there was a probability that Hubert Humphrey would have been elected. He was not. Demetracopoulos continued his lobbying as did relentless and even more exaggerated efforts to smear his reputation and find evidence that he was a Communist, someone in the pay of other countries and whatever the imagination could devise and despicable conduct by individuals and government agencies perpetrate.
On Sunday June 17, 1972, the infamous Watergate break-in in the Democratic National Committee occurred and eventually set in motion proceedings that resulted in numerous convictions and the forced resignation of Nixon. The Republicans using threats and other nefarious practices were able to prevent the break-in from becoming an issue in the November elections and Nixon was re-elected. Demetracopoulos cooperated with George McGovern’s campaign and got a promise of help for Greece but it was to no avail.
The investigation into the break-in continued after the election and Nixon made great efforts to protect his good friend Tom Pappas from any criminal liability. But Nixon’s cronies needed a million dollars in cash for the burglars and raising it was very difficult. The circumstantial evidence is that they could rely on Tom Pappas.
Tom Pappas escaped from any prosecution. All attempts to destroy Demetracopoulos failed, but they were partly successful. He was eventually vindicated and remains the greatest adversary of the junta outside of Greece and the greatest advocate for the restoration of democracy during the dictatorship.
Barron’s book shows meticulous research on every page and reads like a thriller even for events that one is familiar with. Demetracopoulos died in 2016 and Barron’s biography is a fitting monument to him.