Tzeni Karezi (Greek: Τζένη Καρέζη, January 12, 1932 – July 26, 1992) was a Greek film and theatre actress. She was considered one of the most popular and successful actresses of the cinema of Greece.
Tzeni (or Jenny) Karezi was born Evgenia Karpouzi, in Athens, to highly educated parents; her father was a mathematician and her mother a high school teacher. She studied under the direction of nuns in a private French school in Thessaloniki and as a result she spoke French fluently. When she was a teenager, her father left the family and she continued to live with her mother. She did not see her father until he died in a car accident, in 1971. Tzeni also had a sister named Euterpe, named after the nine muses, that she found after she was adopted by her mother.
In 1951 she was accepted at the Greek National Theater (Eθνικό Θέατρο), where she studied in the Drama School. The playwright Angelos Terzakis and the director Dimitris Rontiris were among her teachers. Upon graduation, in 1954, she was immediately thrust into starring roles in the theatre, playing alongside actors such as Alexis Minotis and Katina Paxinou.
Her stage debut was in the Marika Kotopouli theatre in the French comedy, La belle Heléne, with Melina Mercouri and Vassilis Diamantopoulos. She continued starring in theatrical plays by Lorca, Shakespeare, Miller, Tolstoy and of Greek contemporary writers like Psathas, Fotiadis and Kampanellis.
In 1955, Karezi made her cinema debut in the Alekos Sakellarios comedy Laterna, ftoheia kai filotimo in 1955, a massive success just like its sequel, Laterna, ftoheia kai garyfallo in 1957. For the soundtrack of the 1959 film To nisi ton genneon she recorded a song by the subsequent Academy Award-winner Manos Hadjidakis “Min ton rotas ton ourano” (Do not ask the sky) later covered by Brenda Lee as “All Alone Am I”.
Her career flourished in the 1960s, when she headed her own theater troupe in 1961 and starred in some of the most classic movies of the Greek cinema, like Lola in 1964, Mia trelli…trelli oikogeneia in 1965, Tzeni-Tzeni in 1966 and Kontserto gia polyvola in 1967. Maybe her greatest success was the film Ta kokkina fanaria (The Red Lanterns) in 1963, which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and made her known outside of Greece. Her last appearance in film was in her production of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata in 1972.
In the following decade Karezi continued to produce and star in stage classics, like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and the ancient Greek tragedies Medea of Euripides and Electra of Sophocles. She appeared for the last time in theatre in 1990 in the Loula Anagnostaki play “Diamonds and the blues”, while she suffered from metastatic breast cancer, was in terrible pain and she had to stop her appearances for treatment.
She was considered the greatest “rival” of the other major Greek star Aliki Vougiouklaki in terms of popularity and success, although actually the two were close friends and they followed the same paths in life, while they had the same end as both were attacked by cancer.
In 1963 Karezi made her first marriage to the journalist Zahos Hadjifotiou, but this marriage did not last for a long as it ended up in 1965. In 1967, during the filming of Kontserto gia polyvola, she met Kostas Kazakos, “the love of her life” as she continuously said, with whom she gave birth to her only child, Konstantinos Kazakos. They formed a popular duo and Karezi’s repertoire shifted to more sophisticated and intellectual plays. They were led to prison where they spent several nights, for the production of the play To megalo mas tsirko (Our big circus) in 1973, which was humiliating the Greek dictatorship (1967–1974).
Tzeni Karezi died on 26 July 1992 from cancer at her home. She was buried at a public expense, while thousands of people were present to attend her funeral. As a cancer sufferer, she greatly admired the new branch of medical science for cancer pain relief and palliative care and the work of the specialized doctors who helped relieve her pain. As a result she asked those close to her, to make it widely-known and assist the development of this branch, so that other fellow sufferers could be freed from the agony of cancer and be able to live through their last days with dignity. After her death, her wish materialized and her family founded the “Tzeni Karezi Foundation”, for the people who suffer great pains from cancer.