“Dollars and Dreams”: American Archaeologists on the Hunt for Greek American Money in Chicago

A still from The Aunt from Chicago (Η θεία από το Σικάγο) with the eccentric aunt (played by Georgia Vasileiadou) in the middle.

A still from The Aunt from Chicago (Η θεία από το Σικάγο) with the eccentric Greek American aunt (played by Georgia Vasileiadou) in the middle.

The Aunt from Chicago is one of the most beloved films in the history of Greek cinema. Produced in 1957, it became an instant hit and remained in demand for many decades. The movie had all the ingredients of a successful production: a great set and superior performances by the best actors of its time. As much as the film is a satire on the conservatism of the Greek family, it is also a subtle mockery of the “aunt’s” Americanization.

Proud of their successful relatives in America, but also feeling uncomfortable with their rapid assimilation by American culture, Greek intellectuals such as novelists Elias Venezis and Yorgos Theotokas tried to rationalize the loss of national identity by the Greek migrants.  If, before WW II, stories of hardship and suffering prevailed over stories of success, after the war America’s new supremacy left little room for a narrative of failure. Instead, a new transnational narrative wanted Greek migrants — with their age-old values and in light of the bravery they had demonstrated during the war — to have contributed to the building of a new America. Novelist Yorgos Theotokas in his Essay on America (Δοκίμιο για την Αμερική), in the wake of a visit to the United States in 1953, would go so far as to claim that “From now on, the American people will be—to a small, but considerable extent—descendants of Greeks also” (Laliotou 2004, p. 86). (For a thorough study of the Greek migration in America, see Ioanna Laliotou, Transatlantic Subjects: Acts of Migration and Cultures of Transnationalism between Greece and America, Chicago 2004.)

At the same time, a new kind of philhellenism would flower in America, one stemming from the nation’s “courageous stand against the invaders, the work of the Greek War Relief Association and AHEPA, the Truman Doctrine [and] the Marshall Plan. … The period after 1940 was one of soaring philhellenism” wrote Theodore Saloutos in his well-known treatise, The Greeks in the United States (1964). The new philhellenes were no longer affluent Americans who had grown up studying ancient authors in ivy league universities, but Americans of Greek origin, who most likely had not studied Plato or Aristotle, with a revived interest in the mother country and hordes of them visiting the land of their fathers and forefathers (Saloutos 1964, p. 386).

Tourist advertisements in 1948

Tourist advertisements for travel to Greece in 1948.

American archaeologists working in Greece had tried already before WW II to reach out to successful Greek Americans, such as Ery Kehaya, the founder of Standard Commercial Tobacco Company (although there is no sound evidence that Kehaya ever supported the work of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA, or the School hereafter). Contacts between the Greek American community and the School did, however, escalate during WW II, especially in the context of the Greek War Relief Association (GRWA), the board of which included a mixture of successful Greek Americans such as Spyros Skouras, Tom Pappas, and Van Nomikos, Americans of such ilk as Winthrop Aldrich, Harold S. Vanderbilt, and Samuel Goldwyn, and a naturalized American-Swedish archaeologist by the name of Oscar Broneer (1894-1992).

Oscar Broneer. ASCSA Archives, Oscar Broneer Papers

Swedish American archaeologist Oscar Broneer. Photo ASCSA Archives, Oscar Broneer Papers.

Unlike most of his American colleagues who had joined the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during the war, immigrant Broneer followed a different path by joining Greek American relief organizations. In the GWRA found a life-long friend in Spyros Skouras, who was also invited to join the board of Trustees of the American School in 1947. It seemed natural that the School and its members would seek to find common cause with such new Greek American philhellenes. Two decades later the School would also extend an invitation to the oil mogul Thomas A. Pappas (1969-1982) in the hope that its archaeological work in Greece would appeal to him. But, although both Skouras and Pappas must have facilitated the School’s work through their high-profile professional networks, neither wrote big checks for its benefit. Instead, their “Greek benefactions” aimed at the modernization of their homeland (like the “Aunt from Chicago”). When Coca-Cola was first allowed to enter the Greek market in 1968, the “Milwaukee Journal” wrote: “This ultimate confirmation of western civilization is to be brought to the land of the Acropolis by a Greek American businessman Thomas A. Pappas of Boston… The Pappas go-ahead for Coca-Cola is part of a $27 million package deal… employment will be provided for 650 trained personnel and 4,500 laborers” (October 10, 1968).

Back in the 1950s, however, Oscar Broneer, former Executive Vice-President of the GWRA,  recently hired by the University of Chicago, held high hopes that he could inspire the affluent Greek American community of that city to contribute to his new excavation at the Sanctuary of Poseidon at Isthmia, and thus steer dollars his way. (Dollars and Dreams is the title of another important Greek film of the 1950s.)  In Chicago Broneer found  a vibrant Greek community that was looking to revamp its image and establish connections to the city’s most prestigious university, as well as American intellectuals who were working in Greece. Based on his experience in the GWRA, Broneer believed that the Greek Americans were “an exceedingly generous lot, but the more progressive among them resented being treated as a minority group”; they liked to think of themselves as Americans without modification, and “they would rally to the cause better if they felt that they were part of a general program to raise funds for archaeology in Greece.” (Vogeikoff-Brogan 2008, p. 42).

Prominent members of the post-war Chicago community included businessmen John L. Manta and Andrew Kanellos, Harvard-graduate Christopher Janus, lawyer William D. Bellroy, actor and Homeric rhapsodist George J. Bourlos (who had played Prometheus in the Delphic Festival of 1927), publisher and editor of ATHENE magazine Demetrios Michalaros, and professor Philip Constantinides.

ATHENE magazine. Published in Chicago by

ATHENE magazine. Published in Chicago by Demetrios Michalaros. Here the cover of one of the 1947 issues.

Shortly after his arrival in Chicago, Broneer pursued meetings with all the leading figures of the Greek community. With the support of Gertrude E. Smith (1894-1985), another professor at the University of Chicago, he organized luncheons for them, for interested members of the community, and for the chancellor of the University, Lawrence A. Kimpton. The purpose of making these contacts was “to bring together some representative American-Greeks to find out what they, as a group, would do for the University.” As a first-generation reformed immigrant himself, Broneer must have had a special appeal for his interlocutors, who were in search of a new group identity.

“They agreed to raise money for us for any project that we deemed desirable in terms of a better understanding of Greek culture. It is our job now to find out what we really want in the Greek Department, and they will organize a committee and raise money for that purpose. It is a very enthusiastic and interesting group, and I am confident that, over the years, they will give us a substantial sum of money” Broneer reported after their first meeting on January 31, 1951.

A month later, after a second meeting with Manta, Janus, Bourlos, Michalaros, and Jim Parry, he added that “they were delighted at our proposals that they raise money to bring a distinguished lecturer from Greece each year to the University of Chicago. They indicated that this would be a source of great satisfaction to the Chicago Greek Americans and that the program could be endowed over a period of time,” (February 14, 1951). By April 1951 a new entity, titled The University of Chicago Greek Cultural Foundation (the Foundation hereafter), had been incorporated. The Foundation aimed at “providing lectureships, fellowships, scholarships, and archaeological expeditions which [would] further our understanding of the great sequence which is Greek history.” As a start, a generous donation of $9,000 by Manta would fund a lectureship program for three years. More than this, however, Broneer wanted the Foundation to support his new excavations at Isthmia, which he planned to start in the spring of 1952. At a dinner given by Chancellor Kimpton in honor of John Manta, “the Department proposed to open up excavations in the Isthmian Sanctuary at the east end of the Corinth Canal… [the] project appealed to the guests… some of whom spoke enthusiastically about the benefits from such an undertaking to the Department of Greek, to the Foundation, and to the cause of Hellenism in general” wrote Broneer in a confidential report on July 16th 1951.

What was the novelty in all of this? “Nothing of this nature has ever been done before by the Greeks of Chicago, who pride themselves of forming the real center of Hellenism in America,” Broneer wrote to the editor of “Sun-Times.” And he was not exaggerating. It was probably the first time that a U.S. educational institution had appealed to the Greek American community for fund-raising. Furthermore, by creating a cultural foundation with a specific philhellenic mission and agenda, the Chicago Greek Community and the University of Chicago had entered into a mutually beneficial relationship.

Already in 1952, the Foundation launched a gamut of activities. In the early months, architect Constantine Doxiades, a former coordinator of the Greek Recovery Problem, gave three lectures at the University of Chicago titled : “The Greek Problem,” “Greece and the World,” and “The Road for Greece.” But, although by April Broneer had started digging at Isthmia, funding was limited. “Unless we collect more money this spring this will have to be all for this season and the University will refuse to be responsible for any commitments beyond the $1,000. We must keep a couple of hundred dollars here for operating expenses on the Foundation. Hence there just isn’t any more,” wrote an exasperated and disappointed Gertrude Smith on April 24, 1952. Donations were not coming forward. “Exactly fifty dollars have come in since the dinner for Doxiades,” further complained Smith.

“Now we have a program lined up for May 23 –the twenty-fifth anniversary celebration of the Delphic Festival of 1927-which will take place at the Oriental Institute with George Bourlos giving readings from the Prometheus with a background chorus of maidens. Whether this will do us any good or not I have no notion, but it will be an invited audience and be given under our auspices. I hope that it will be a success.” Smith cautioned that the Foundation lacked organization and true commitment to its aims, despite Broneer’s initial enthusiasm. Even at the start one could discern the first cracks in the relationship between the University and the Greek community.

Celebrating the 25th anniversary of the first Delphic Festival at the University of Chicago. ASCSA Archives, Oscar Broneer Papers.

Celebrating the 25th anniversary of the first Delphic Festival at the University of Chicago. ASCSA Archives, Oscar Broneer Papers.


Actor George Bourlos.

Actor George Bourlos. Cover of a brochure from a previous performance by Bourlos in 1949. ASCSA Archives, Oscar Broneer Papers.

Although it was intended to be a collective effort, the Foundation was based on the initiative  of a small minority of the Chicago Greek community and served their ambitions, never embracing the majority. In fact, for years there was no significant contribution to the Foundation other than from John L. Manta, and nearly all of that benefited  Broneer’s excavations at Isthmia. On the other hand, there is also no evidence that the Greek American component of the Foundation was getting anything in return, or that there were any further efforts directed toward bonding the two parties interests — especially after Broneer  managed to secure large grants for Isthmia from the Bollingen Foundation (from 1954 until 1959).

Goals diverged, and funding both for archaeology and modern Greek studies suffered.  In the fall of 1959, just as he was planning to wind up the Isthmia excavations, Broneer asked Smith about a couple of pledges that the Greek Americans of the Foundation had previously made. “By the way, has anything more been heard of John Manta’s pledge of $2,000? I hope he will not go back on his promise. If I am not mistaken, there was one pledge for $500… that has not yet been paid” (Oct. 30, 1959). By January 1960 the Foundation existed only as a depleted account. John Manta was willing to support the Foundation, but when he proposed to use part of the funds to bring over another lecturer from Greece, Smith was discouraging.

“The thing we do not want is a lecturer brought over from Greece at this point. That never really did a thing for the department,” wrote Smith forgetting the reciprocal nature of the Foundation at the time of its genesis in 1952.

In “The Immigrant’s Gifts,” an essay reviewing a number of Greek films produced in the 1950s and 1960s (A Pebble in the Lake, Fanouris and his Family, The Immigrant, and Dollars and Dreams), the author concluded that the Greek immigrant was always expected to bring his wealth “to his birthplace to the benefit –personal, or at least collective—of the local inhabitants” without any expectations from the other side (Delveroudi 2006). In the case of Chicago, even when Greek American immigrants entered into reciprocal relationships, they demonstrated an inability to use them for their own benefit.  The Chicago Greek community thus missed a chance to further develop an exchange program of lectureships and scholarships through the University of Chicago Greek Cultural Foundation — a precocious experiment that, had it been well-managed, could have resulted in the emergence of a prestigious program in Modern Greek Studies in the United States already by the 1960s.


Deleveroudi, E. “The Immigrant’s Gifts,” in Σε Ξένο Τόπο. Η μετανάστευση στον ελληνικό κινηματογράφο (Immigration in Greek Cinema) 1956-2006, Athens 2006, pp. 19-21.

Laliotou, I. Transatlantic Subjects: Acts of Migration and Cultures of Transnationalism between Greece and America, Chicago 2004

Saloutos, T. The Greeks in the United States, Cambridge Mass. 1964

Vogeikoff-Brogan, N. “Exploring the Relationship of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens with the Greek Omogeneia in the 1940s,” in The Archaeology of Xenitia: Greek Immigration and Material Culture, ed. K. Kourelis, The New Griffon 10, Athens 2008, pp. 41-48.

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