She studied drama and performed dozens of classical theatrical roles in Athens and Paris where she met figures like Jean-Paul Sartre, Jean Cocteau and Francoise Sagan, who deeply influenced her personality.
Her cinema career started with the all time Greek classic ‘Stella’ followed by other internationally acclaimed titles like ‘Never on Sunday’ (five oscar nominations and Cannes best actress prize), ‘Topkapi’, ‘Phaedra’ etc, most of which were directed by her husband Jules Dassin. She recorded many songs, popular both in Greece and France, some of them considered classics too.
During the seven year military dictatorship (1967-1974), she fled the country and dedicated herself to fighting the regime abroad by using her personality, influence and friends to let the world know about the situation in Greece. As a result she lost her Greek citizenship and her property was confiscated.
After the fall of the dictatorship, she returned to Greece and became a founding member of the socialist party of Greece (PASOK) under Andreas Papandreou.
When PASOK won the 1981 elections she was appointed Minister of Culture, serving in this position until 1989.
Although a member of the two major political parties of the country, Melina came very close to become a national figure as she was admired and loved by the majority of the Greek population.
During her years in office, among many outstanding achievements, she started the worldwide campaign for the return of the Parthenon Marbles and masterminded the construction of the New Acropolis Museum to host them safely upon their return.
Finally, she was the one who proposed the idea of the European Cultural Capital, a title that Athens held first of all European cities in 1985.
She died on 6 March 1994 at New York's Memorial Hospital and her funeral was held with full state honours.