This special correspondent for Access Hollywood credits her big, loving family for her success.
These qualities best describe Maria Menounos, who in just a few short years has made a huge splash in the world of entertainment journalism. From her debut as the youngest person ever to host Entertainment Tonight, to her current role as special correspondent for Access Hollywood, Menounos is proving just what hard work and dedication can do.
When asked the source of her success, she responds with one word: family. Her family immigrated to the United States from a small town in Greece with no running water. Maria was later born in Massachusetts where, by economic standards, her family wasn't wealthy but were lavishly rich in love and support.
“We have a large family — growing up I had forty first cousins that I played with — and we got together frequently at my aunt's house,” says Menounos. “There weren't many frills, but we certainly enjoyed life with each other.”
During her childhood and teenage years, she watched her parents work to get ahead, impressing her with the value of a dollar and a strong work ethic. As a little girl she began to dream of her future and latched on to role models in the news that she came to admire.
Menounos attended Emerson College in Boston with a double major in broadcast journalism and film. She later became an international correspondent with Channel One News — the same career starter for CNN's Anderson Cooper — where she traveled extensively reporting on world affairs.
Today, in addition to her Access Hollywood assignment, Menounos is the West Coast contributor for The Today Show and NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, and the host of her own program on Planet Green called Hollywood Green with Maria Menounos. She also garnered the plum assignment last year of an interview with the entire Obama family during the presidential campaign.
“That was an incredible experience for me — and such a wonderful family,” says Menounos. “They are just a genuine, normal family — and the girls were simply adorable and sweet. I got a lot of heat for asking then Candidate Obama when he was going to fulfill his ‘campaign promise’ to get the girls a dog. Of course, it turned into a pretty hot story during the campaign.”
Television reporting isn't her only professional pursuit. Menounos has been involved with several television and film projects — both in front and behind the camera. She's made guest appearances on TV's Without a Trace and Scrubs, along with a recurring role on CW's One Tree Hill. On the big screen she starred with Jamie Kennedy in Kickin' it Old Skool, and appeared in Tropic Thunder and Fantastic Four.
And, along with business partner Kevin Undergaro, she's produced and directed a couple of independent films: In the Land of Merry Misfits (which she first began working on at age 17) and Longtime Listener, a selection for the Tribeca Film Festival 2006. She and Undergaro, who she credits with the inspiration to pursue film ventures, are currently working on a dark comedy about serial killers with Chris McDonnell and Donnie Wahlberg — “the first serial killer buddy film,” she says.
“Kevin has been a huge inspiration for me to pursue these projects,” says Menounos. “He worked on that first film for ten years with relentless energy and passion. To have a career in this business you need to keep pushing and growing.”
Menounos is ever reaching for the sky — but her feet are firmly planted on the ground, thanks to her family and the strong Greek traditions that are still very much a part of her life. And while the joy and love of her family give her strength for her hectic career, it is their support for one another through life challenges that exerts the strongest influence. One such challenge involves her father Constantinos, who has type 1 diabetes.
“When he first learned years ago that he had diabetes, my father followed his doctors' advice religiously — unfortunately, that advice didn't always translate well due to his poor English,” says Menounos. “So, when they told him to avoid sugars and grain, he did — totally. He wound up weighing 140 pounds at six feet tall, and was constantly passing out.”
When Menounos came to Hollywood, she was finally able to get her father to Dr. Anne Peters, a well-known endocrinologist, who finally helped him get his diet regulated. “She was able to explain to him that he did indeed need a few carbohydrates,” says Menounos, “and since then he has stayed out of the hospital”.
Seeing firsthand the power of communication in the lives of diabetes patients and their families, Menounos is an avid ambassador for the American Diabetes Association, doing her part to promote the latest information on treatment and care. She is also heavily involved in other causes through her own non-profit organization TAH — Take Action Hollywood. The seed idea for this organization began during her Channel One days on a trip to Africa.
“During that trip I saw firsthand the terrible effect of Aids, especially on women and children,” says Menounos. “Kevin and I formed TAH to get involved in issues like Aids, and to get others in Hollywood involved too. Some of the things we've done include working with the Children's Hospital in Los Angeles to address problems with young girls, and producing a short informational film on Aids.”
Because of her father's medical condition, Menounos was raised to pay close attention to health issues, including dental health. Their family had a strong diet in fruits and vegetables, much of which they raised themselves and little to no “junk” food. For a very short time, she strayed from that healthy lifestyle.
“When I went to college, it was non-stop fast food and pizzas,” she recalls. “So, I ate a lot of things that I had never eaten growing up. I wound up, though, gaining a lot of weight.”
As her career began to take off, Menounos returned to the kind of diet she had been raised on and, along with exercise, lost forty pounds. Today there's a healthy glow to her beauty — and her smile.
Like most celebrities, Menounos' smile is an important part of what she does. Unlike some celebrities, though, she's had no major dental enhancements, except for some teeth whitening. As with most things in her life, she gives the credit to her parents. Along with a healthy diet, they made sure she had regular dental care, including sealants as a child. And, when her teeth began to come in crooked, her mother had her own technique to help straighten them.
“We didn't have enough money to get braces, so mom told me to use my tongue and roll it along the back of my teeth as much as possible,” Menounos says with a laugh.
Did it work? “Today, my teeth are totally straight,” she says, “and I never had braces. So, I say it did.” Although not a medically sound treatment, today Maria's smile is beautiful.
While Menounos obviously enjoys her career and the opportunities it affords her to meet so many fascinating people, it's still the simple things in life that makes her smile.
As Menounos's career continues to skyrocket, her smile is becoming just as well known. People know a genuine smile when they see one, and hers is the real thing: the kind that comes from a happy life with the love of family all around you.