The Girl With Melancholy Eyes
By CHRISTOPHER XENOPOULOS JANUS
Once after the war we also met at the Harvard Club on 44th Street where with Spyros Skouras we discussed the possible purchase of the Liberty Ships which were being sold, if I remember correctly, for as little as $5,000 per ship. The only problem was that you had to be an U.S. citizen to be eligible to purchase the ships. Somehow, Onassis managed to buy a good number of ships and made a tremendous profit. This resulted in some problems with the U.S. Attorney's office which later, however, were settled legally and amicably.
I also remember a meeting in Athens where Valerie Valentine had planned one of our annual cultural symposiums and a reception at the U.S. Embassy. Onassis had not received an invitation to the Embassy reception (I don't believe they knew he was in Athens at the time), but since he and his close associate, Costas Gratso, wanted to go and had business to discuss with Phillips Talbot, our Ambassador at the time, Valerie took Onassis as her escort and a good time was had by all.
As I look back on the various meetings with Onassis and they all were pleasurable, generous and instructive, each meeting seemed to bring out special aspects of Onassis's character. All in all, he was a good, honorable man who did a lot for Greece and I believe helped Greeks in America to be looked upon as more than just restaurant owners. He brought a bit of glamour to Greeks and some unfortunate notoriety-but was one of the most astute businessmen I’ve ever met.
Our meeting at the 21 Club was to discuss the Churchill movie. I was helping to negotiate the project with Paramount Pictures and I thought we had a deal except for one item. Onassis insisted he should be given the final word on the money that would be spent on advertising the film. He called the advertising item in a movie budget "the loose cannon." From personal experience I knew exactly what he meant since many movie companies with their "creative accounting" methods simply put profit from a film into some form of advertising and promotion and therefore not necessarily show a profit. Paramount would not agree and the deal fell through. The film was produced some years later by another company but without Onassis's participation.
Our meeting in El Morocco was mostly for pleasure, except brought along Huntington Hartford. The A&P heir, who wanted to meet Onassis for two reasons: first, he thought he might interest Onassis in investing in the casino project on Paradise Island in Nassau (Hartford had already invested over $10 Million) and the second reason for the meeting was a very surprising and almost ridiculous reason, though Hartford was very serious. After a few cocktails, Hartford said to Onassis, "Sir. I have a big favor to ask: my wife Diane is in Reno getting a divorce. Diana is very impressed with people who have money and since you have more money than me, maybe she will listen to you. Would you call her and try to persuade her not to divorce me?"
Onassis, without blinking an eye said: "Of course, let's get her on the phone."
We went up to the second floor where the phones were and sure enough Hartford got Diana on the phone, introduced Onassis and they talked for about 10 minutes. I don't know what Onassis told her, but her answer was this: "Ari, if Hunt were as nice a man as you seem to be, I wouldn't be in Reno." Hartford left us after the phone call. Onassis's only comment was "I sympathize with your friend, but what a strange thing to ask me to do."
Onassis died in Paris in 1975 from myasthenia gravis, a neurological disease and never lived to share in the happiest event in his daughter Christina's life-the birth of Athina in 1985. I met Christina only once after her father's death. We had tea at the Palm Court at the Plaza Hotel. She was sad and depressed not only for her father's death but lamented that the one she wanted in her life (in fact, what all women want, she said) was love and that had passed her by: not only with her parents, but in her marriages.
Christina's fourth husband was the wealthy French playboy, Thierry Roussel. Almost from the beginning it was a stormy marriage. Compounded by the fact that her husband had a serious, long-standing affair with the Swedish model, Marianne "Gaby" Landage. But as Christina confided to a close friend: "One great thing came out of our marriage. The most important thing that has happened to me, is the birth of my daughter. And I've named her Athina, the Greek goddess of wisdom, for she's going to need much wisdom and much luck to find happiness in her life ahead."
Athina, now 15 years old and the paparazzi and the press are already trailing her: One of the best, honest and in-depth articles about Athina is by Kathy Pasero, senior editor of Biography Magazine. She describes Athina as a solemn-faced dark-haired young girl who bears a striking resemblance to her late unfortunate mother and who in less than three years will inherit an estimated $600 million estate including villas, Greek islands, a fleet of ships (including some of the Liberty ships) skyscrapers and an immense collection of art and jewelry.
How this immense wealth will affect Athina nobody really knows but the newly reformed lothario Thierry Roussel seems committed to raising Athina with solid family values, despite the fact that Athina has had two bodyguards most of her life and is driven around in a bullet-proof armored Mercedes. But she is required to help around the house, weed the garden, do her school work and keep her grades up (she is an A student). She must also personally donate a favorite toy and part of her allowance to the poor. She is also responsible for grooming and caring for her horse Arto who is one of the main interests in her life. Eventually she says she wants to live on and run a horse farm. As she grows older and assumes responsibility for her great wealth, her advisors are confident she will develop even higher aspirations.
What is most lacking in this picture of Athina is though she speaks fluent Swedish, French and English, she reportedly knows little Greek. Roussel is now being sued by the Greek business executives administering the Onassis estate claiming her father is depriving her of her Greek heritage; the other allegation is that Roussel has been squandering Athina's multimillion dollar allowance.
Caught in the middle of all this business, Athina doesn't seem to have much enthusiasm for being Greek. But still, Greeks here and abroad seem smitten with Athina. During her 1998 visit to Athens (her first)) crowds gathered to greet her. They chanted "Kukla"-Christina's pet name for her daughter. And the press called her the "golden girl with melancholy eyes."