Omar Sharif: ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ Lay Behind My Divorce
Who does not know Hollywood star Omar Sharif, or Michel Shalhoub as he was originally named, the Egyptian-Lebanese talent whose mother wanted him to be a mathematician but whose fate was to become a famous actor?
“I enrolled at the French school because I was born to Francophone parents. At the age of 10 I became obese. My mother thought that I would be a genius and very important, and even the most elegant man ever. She thought the best way to free me from being fat was to send me to an English boarding school, where food was bad and not tempting to eat,” Omar Sharif told the Arabic daily Al Hayat.
The enrollment of Sherif in an English school and his proficiency in English paved the way for him to become an international star.
Sharif studied English as well as acting, a fact that disappointed his mother, who expected him to become a mathematician.
“The first Egyptian commercial film in which I acted was in 1953 at the age of 21. I was fond of the film star Faten Hamamah, who was charming and very famous in Egypt. We got married because we were unable to go out or dance together at that time. The tradition in Egypt was if you fell in love, you had only one option - get married,” Sharif added.
Sharif told the daily that he and his wife spent "splendid" time together in an apartment overlooking the Nile and were the stars of Egyptian films.
They had a "lovely" baby boy and decided to have more children, but Sharif received a telephone call that Sam Spiegel was in Cairo.
Sharif did not know who Spiegel was, was told that he was the producer of the film Al Jisr A’la Nahr Quay (Bridge on River Kwai) and that he wanted to meet Sharif.
The two met, and Spiegel told Sharif that he intended to produce a film entitled Lawrence Wal Arab (Lawrence of Arabia) starring David Len.
He also told Sharif that they wanted to go out to the desert for some test shoots. But when Sharif inquired about his role, Spiegel told him that he did not know, because the role was not scripted yet.
“I discovered later on that a French actor had been chosen for the role, but David Len insisted on designating an Arab actor with wide black eyes for the role, because that would be more convincing than a Frenchman with green eyes. He asked me for photos of a number of Arab actors, including Moroccans, Algerians and Egyptians, and after reviewing them, he held up my photo and said: the role is for this boy, and if he is fluent in English, please bring him to me. I went to London, where they told me that I was very lucky to be chosen for one of the lead roles.
“Omar, you will be a big star when this film is screened,” David Len told Sharif, who could not believe his ears.
“I succeeded in performing the role of an Arab riding on a camel in the film, but they did not give me any another opportunity,” Sharif said, adding that the film changed the course of his career, as he was nominated for an Oscar very quickly and his life completely changed.
“I had to leave Egypt for the US, England and France, and leave my wife and family in Egypt. I met many women and was surrounded with temptations by all these beautiful stars. I had moved from a place where the girls wore long dresses that covered their bodies from neck to heel, without boys being able to go out with them or even touch their hands, to a new place called Hollywood,” added Sharif, according to Al Hayat.
Sharif said, “my wife was working in Egypt and I was working abroad, with both of us having no time to meet each other. No married life can withstand such circumstances and therefore divorce was inevitable. So we separated after 16 years of marriage. I had no time for more love or children and my accidental relationship could not continue for long.”
“I have thought very long about my role in the film Laurence of Arabia, and whether it changed my life for the best or worst. When I look back, I can say that my life in Cairo was romantic and typical. The situation was splendid without any mistake… but it was an ordinary life,” the star added.
Sharif concluded by saying that “you can’t, as an actor in Egypt, turn down an offer like that, because you would accept it spontaneously. If I hadn’t been fat in childhood, I would have stayed at the French school without becoming proficient in English, and consequently, I wouldn’t have gotten the role. This is what I have thought of recently.” - Albawaba.com
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