Saturday, July 23, 2011

Tales of the Piano Bar, Part 7: The Silver Screen Comes to the Golden Island

It’s time for another story from Mykonos’ Montparnasse Piano Bar, the Greek Aegean’s own La Cage au Folles.  Its management forgave me for allowing my grandchildren to bump them out of their normal slot on the third Saturday of each month only because “we like their parents.”  For those unfamiliar with the Piano Bar’s other tales, it’s where tourists and locals have gone for over thirty years to see and be the characters making up Mykonos’ legendary 24/7 in-season lifestyle.  It is the creation of Nikos Hristodulakis and Jody Duncan, and they’re behind the bar every night. So, heeeere’s Jody.

Pauline Collins
Tom Conti
As far as I can recall such ancient history, the award winning film Shirley Valentine, directed by Lewis Gilbert and starring Pauline Collins, Tom Conti, Julia McKenzie, and Joanna Lumley was filmed on Mykonos in 1988, although the England-based scenes may have been shot earlier.  It is the story of a middle-aged, middle-class, Liverpool housewife caught up in contemplating the meaning of her life finding resolution when fate brings her to Mykonos on holiday.  The film was based on a one-act monologue written by Willy Russell (who also did the screenplay) and performed in London’s West End by Pauline Collins.

In a way, Shirley Valentine captured the essence of the Mykonos of its time, and to this day it inspires new visitors searching for the “Shirley Valentine experience.”

I know that practically everyone on the island has a story about the filming here, but the Piano Bar actually had the major players in our bar every night, and when Paramount Pictures forgot to include a guitar in the props trailer for male lead Tom Conti’s seduction of female lead Pauline Collins, we loaned him our guitar.  I guess you could say we’ve been facilitating that sort of action in more ways than the obvious for decades.

Original Piano Bar
And, yes, the Piano Bar even made it into the film.  You can see our old location in the background of the wedding processional scene that bursts onto the screen as an introduction to the wonder of Mykonos.

We came to know the cast and crew through our dear friend, Jennifer Hero, who served as a location assistant to the production and as the nude body double for Pauline Collins, though I don't think she received credit for that latter part of her work.

Our evenings during filming saw the bar turned into a mini-rehearsal hall, with Nikos from behind the bar serving as stand in for Tom Conti while Pauline ran her lines for the next day's shoot.  Pauline and Alison Steadman, who played Shirley's friend, Jane, became regulars, along with Willy Russell, and even Tom Conti occasionally dropped by.
Playwright and Screenwriter Willy Russell

But of all those from the film who hung out at our place, one delightful fellow in particular stands out in my memory (none of the above-named I hasten to add).  He regularly had far more than his fair share of cocktails and yet never failed to make it to the set on time.  In fact, one night he was so drunk that after we closed for the night we had to carry him outside. 

Still, he wouldn’t wake up.  We didn't know what to do with him.  But it was a beautiful night in more innocent times, so we put him on a bench down by the sea with a pillow under his head and covered him with a throw. 

For the record, we saw no one kiss him good night.  Whether or not someone actually did we cannot say.   However, we did hear that in the morning he not only made it to the set on time but did some of his very best work!

Viva Mykonos.

The cocktail we chose to accompany this tale is not exclusive to us, but nonetheless appropriate for the story: Sex On The Beach.  Fill a large glass with ice, add one ounce of vodka and one ounce of peach schnapps.  Fill the glass with two parts orange juice and one part cranberry juice and stir. Then garnish with a slice of fresh peach, pick up a guitar, and…

Thanks, Jody, but I think I’ll stop you there.

P.S. I'm now blogging on the 19th of each month for my U.S. publisher, Poisoned Pen Press. My first post went up on Tuesday, titled "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Blog."  And yes, full credit is given to my MIE blogmates for that teaching.



  1. Who chooses the images that accompany the text?

    Is there not insult being added to injury by a graphic comparing Mykonos to LIVERPOOL?

    The residents of the island better hope that the hooligans decide not to come to Mykonos. The sun may only shine a handful of days in the year in Liverpool but all the better for learning the fine art of hand-to-hand combat to relieve some of the seasonal affective disorder(SAD). Who is sadder than the Liverpudlians who can see the "pool" (clear water)in the name of their city converted to "pud[dle]" (clear as mud) when changed to a collective noun to describe the residents?

  2. I really enjoy traveling to Greece with You, and this blog was a delight. Now I know why I loved Shirley Valentine. I also enjoyed your PPP post. I wonder what you think of Lawrence Durrell. He fired my imagination just as your photos have done. I love the sunshine-I live on the foggy Northern California coast.

  3. Hi Beth and Lil.

    First, an apology for not responding sooner. Yesterday was the launch of my Greek publisher's Greek-and English-language versions of PREY ON PATMOS (Mystirio Stin Patmo in Greek) and my day went from 7AM to 4AM. This is the first my fingers have touched a keypad in 30+ hours.

    As for image responsibility, Beth, I shall take the credit, but if it's blame you have in mind let me know and I'll find another. Some would call that "the Greek way," but experience has shown me it's a far broader social malady. As for "pool" and "pud," I think that's subject better left to Dan's last post:).

    Lil, I still find "Shirley Valentine" a mid-winter lift when I'm back in the states. It's quaint and of a more innocent time, but the essence of the island is there (though the venues are vastly different) and many of the extras are friends, some long gone except on film. As for Lawrence Durrell, his "The Greek Islands" has acheived almost iconic status (especially on Mykonos) and I recently saw it quoted for this line: "'Whatever tourism has done to the island,' to miss Mykonos 'would be like missing out on Venice because of the tourists.'" By the way, as I recall the Northern California coast is a pretty nice place to be...fog shrouded in mystery or not!