In a one-woman show that she frequently performs, Olympia Dukakis utters the line, "Maybe there's a joy in not belonging." This sentiment seems far-removed from Dukakis's own image. After all, she is probably best-known for portraying Rose Castorini, the strong-willed matriarch in the popular film Moonstruck, who defines herself when she says, "I know who I am." Because she's so terrific as Castorini she won an Oscar for the role we believe Dukakis is like that in "real" life. Why else would she go on to play equally forceful women in films like Steel Magnolias and TV productions such as Tales of the City? But, to the contrary, Dukakis is a life-long searcher and former outsider who remains on a quest of self-discovery. This journey is at the heart of her wonderful new memoir, Ask Me Again Tomorrow: A Life in Progress, which she authored with Emily Heckman , and which has its origins in family dynamics. Dukakis grew up "a hyphenated American" in Lowell, Massachusetts, a town so renowned for its community of Greek Å½migrÅ½s that it was called "The Acropolis of America." A first-generation Greek-American, she refused to be "the dutiful Greek daughter," a decision that would create a lifelong rift with her mother. Yet among her warmest childhood memories are afternoons spent at the movies with her mother, a woman whose sensitivity and artistry, Dukakis believes, were suppressed by cultural traditions.
Determined to make her own way in the world in defiance of those traditions Dukakis initially followed a pragmatic path. Despite an infatuation with the stage, she graduated from college with a degree in physical therapy and spent two years working with victims of the brutal polio epidemic of the early 1950s. It was afterward that she returned to theater, in a master's program. Her metamorphosis as an actress would not be easy. During her first paying gig, she was so terrified that she was unable to say a single line in the entire first act. As Dukakis candidly recounts, she fought to overcome personal battles, including an addictive personality, bouts of depression and relationship woes. She sought help through various forms of therapy and later, through spiritual studies. Moving to New York City also fostered healing, because ethnicity was no longer an issue. The city was a multi-cultural capital.
For Dukakis, the stage would become a conduit for her passions and for her odyssey of self. Marriage (to the stage actor Louis Zorich) and motherhood did not crimp her work it enhanced it. The family's move to New Jersey brought Dukakis new challenges via a lengthy tenure with a local theater company. She had worked for 30 years as a performer and director when she achieved "overnight" success in Moonstruck. That was in 1988, the same year she introduced cousin Michael Dukakis at the Democratic National Convention. It was, she joked, the "year of the Dukakii."That Oscar led to other memorable screen roles. But oddly, Dukakis shares little information about the roster of stars she's worked with. We learn, via a single line, that Sally Field is disciplined. And that Shirley MacLaine pegged Julia Roberts for major stardom. But what about Cher (who won the Best Actress Oscar for Moonstruck)? And the early Nic Cage (also of Moonstruck)? If there's a drawback to Dukakis' story, it's the sense that the woman known for playing up-front roles is perhaps holding something back. Otherwise, this chatty, conversational autobiography is a fascinating account of the beloved actress' life. Pat Broeske is the co-author of Howard Hughes: The Untold Story.