Around 1890, Maria Adrianou, a poor woman, finds an abandoned baby with a necklace around its neck and the name “Kyveli” engraved on the locket. Following the advice of the Leonardou family, at whose house she was employed, she hands the baby over to the “Athens Foundling Hospital” from which she would later legally adopt it. According to folklore, Kyveli was born in Smyrna (Izmir), Asia Minor in 1888. However there can be no confirmation as she was a “lovechild” born out of wedlock. According to other versions, she was born in 1887 or even four years earlier in 1884. In addition to the confusion surrounding her date of birth there were also various rumours surrounding her ancestry; for a while she was even openly described as the illegitimate daughter of King George I of Greece.
Despite being born in poverty (Adrianos was a cobbler) the young Kyveli was spared nothing while growing up due to the active involvement of the well to do Leonardou couple who had lost their only child and rejoiced in the presence of the sparkling little girl. Their role proved decisive for Kyveli’s future. She moved from the tiny room in the rundown neighbourhood of Agios Panteleimon’s “court of miracles” where she had lived with her adoptive parents, to the Leonardou house in the bourgeois Plaka and went to school at the select “Hill School for Girls”. She was then sent to a hat-maker to learn the trade. But it was too late. In her mother’s words, “… She had the devil inside her for the theatre…”
Kyveli had demonstrated her inclination for the theatre early on and to such an extent that she started oratory and diction lessons with the renowned Professor Sigalas. In 1901, during a performance by his students at the “Parnassos” Society, Kyveli won the top prize jointly with Theoni Drakopoulou (who would later become known as the poet Myrtiotissa). That year also saw the founding of the short lived “Drama School of the Royal Theatre”, whose courses Kyveli enlisted for and followed. A few months later however, the School was shut down and Kyveli found herself among the initiates of the “New Stage”, which was founded by her teacher and mentor, Konstantinos Christomanos.