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Omar Sharif

The Actor with Smoldering Eyes
(Part is copyrighted, Lebanese Imprints on the Twentieth Century, Volume I, Asma Freiha and Viviane Ghanem, 2006)

Michel Shalhoub alias Omar Sharif was born in Alexandria, Egypt on the 10th of April 1932. His parents Joseph and Claire Shalhoub had left Zahleh in the Bekaa in the early twentieth century to settle in Egypt. They lived in Alexandria where Joseph was very successful as a wood merchant. Michel moved with his parents to live in Cairo in the smart neighborhood of Garden City between the English and American Embassy where the family welcomed the kingdom's highest dignitaries, amongst them King Farouk.

At the age of ten Michel went to Victoria College where he was a very good student and made his teachers and parents proud. His passions there were football, cricket and theatre. Receiving rave reviews for his performance in the school production of Hamlet, he decided to enroll at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in London.

Joseph was wholly unenthusiastic about this plan and tried in vain to convince Michel to enroll at university in Cairo. Biding his time, Michel stopped his studies and joined the family business.

At the same time, he was well introduced in Cairo's film milieu and became a friend of Youssef Chahine, the director. In 1953 Chahine offered Michel the starring role opposite the leading female star Faten Hamama in his movie ‘A Story in the Valley (Siraa fil Wadi)’, on condition that she approve of him for the part. Michel, very enthusiastic but also very nervous of meeting Faten Hamama for the first time, stood up and recited the Hamlet soliloquy, "To be or not to be..." in English to show off his acting skills. Faten's English was unfortunately not very fluent but she overlooked his lack of experience and agreed to have this handsome young man as her screen partner. She did however insist that he change his name and he chose to be known thereafter as Omar Sharif.

The film was nominated at the Cannes Film Festival in 1955. When only twenty-three, Omar married Faten Hamama who had divorced her first husband Ezzedine Zoulfikar with whom she had had a daughter Nadia. Omar and Faten were to have one son, Tarek born in 1957. They were to divorce in 1974 but remained very close friends. Omar never married again, despite the legions of attractive women that he was seen with around the world.

He acted in twenty-four other Egyptian films made by Youssef Chahine, Kamal el Cheickh, Hilmi Halim, Assayed Bdeir, Atef Salem, Ramses Nageeb, Foutein Abdelwahab, Salah Abou Seif, Ezzedine Zoulfikar and Henri Barakat before starting his own production company. After a week of filming on the first movie produced by his company (The Sun Never Dies), Omar Sharif received a telephone call from David Lean who offered him a role. It was in the late 1960s and Omar left the set to travel to London. Western producers had noticed the dark handsome lead with smoldering eyes in three of his movies: Siraa fil-Wadi, shwon at Cannes, Goha and Bidaya wa Nihaya. Georges Schéhadé had written the screenplay for Goha and it was he who had coached Omar, explaining and analyzing the difficult text. The actor and author had met in Paris and they travelled together with the crew to Tunisia for filming under the direction of Jacques Baratier.
Goha was to receive the international critics' prize at the Cannes Film festival in 1958. Bidaya wa Nihaya (Beginning and End) was an Egyptian movie that appeared in 1960, had much success internationally, especially at festivals in Moscow and Carlo Vivari and was instrumental in making Omar Sharif known on the international film scene.

Having established Omar's command of English, David Lean offered Omar the role of Sherif Ali Ibn el Karish in Lawrence of Arabia. He was to work alongside Peter O'Toole, Anthony Quinn and Alec Guinness for two years in the Jordanian desert. "It was luck, pure luck," he would later say. Nevertheless, he knew how to grasp the opportunity that would lead to his great international career. He was nominated for the Best Actor award at the 1962 Oscars and settled in the United States.

In 1965 he played Yuri in David Lean's Doctor Zhivago for which he received a Golden Globe award. In 1968 after starring alongside Barbara Streisand in Funny Girl his films were banned in Egypt and his Egyptian nationality was withdrawn because of the screen kiss he had exchanged with her, a Jewish actress - this was just after the Six-Day War and Gamal Abdel Nasser's defeat. He moved to Paris and continued acting while fulfilling his other great passion: playing bridge. He is now considered to be one of the world's best bridge players and lives in Egypt and France. He has made over forty internationally renowned films.

He plays himself in:

Building the Great Pyramid (TV) (voice), 2003
75 Years of the Academy Awards: An Unofficial History (TV), 2003
Mysteries of Egypt, 1998
The Lebanon... Imprisoned Splendor, 1996
Doctor Zhivago: The Making of a Russian Epic (TV), 1995
Bridge Deluxe with Omar Sharif, 1993
The American Film Institute Salute to David Lean (TV), 1990
The Festival Game, 1970
Sophia: A Self-Portrait (TV), 1968
Vienna: The Years Remembered, 1968
The Car that Became a Star, 1965
Moscow in Madrid, 1965
Pasternak, 1965
Zhivago: Behind the Camera with David Lean, 1965

Films:

2008 - The Last Templar (TV Series)
2008 - Hassan and Marcus
2008 - Featured in Roland Emmerich's prehistoric drama, "10,000 BC"
2007 - Hanan W Haneen (TV Series - Egypt)
2006 - Featured in the ABC miniseries "The Ten Commandments, (TV Series)
2006 - One Night with the King
2005 - Shaka Zulu: The Last Great Warrior
2005 - San Pietro, (TV)
2005 - Fuoco su di me
2004 - Cyber Meltdown
2004 - Cast opposite Viggo Mortensen in the film "Hidalgo"
2003 - Return of the Thief of Baghdad
2003 - Petits mythes urbains, (TV Series - He wrote the screenplay)
2003 - Soyez prudents, (TV Series)
2003 - Monsieur Ibrahim et les fleurs du Coran
2001 - Shaka Zulu: The Citadel, (Mini TV Series)
2001 - The Parole Officer
2001 - Censor
2001 - The 13th Warrior
1997 - Heaven before I Die
1996 - Umm Kulthum: A Voice like Egypt
1996 - Gulliver's Travels, (TV)
1995 - Catherine the Great, (TV)
1994 - Lie Down with Lions, (TV)
1993 - Dehk, we le'ab we gad we hob
1993 - Mayrig, (Mini TV Series)
1993 - 588, rue paradis
1992 - Beyond Justice
1992 - Mayrig
1992 - Tengoku no Taizai
1992 - Mrs. 'Arris Goes to Paris, (TV)
1991 - Al-Aragoz
1991 - Al-Moaten al Myssri
1991 - Memories of Midnight, (Mini TV Series)
1990 - The Rainbow Thief
1990 - Viaggio d'amore
1990 - Mountains of the Moon
1990 - Moi, Antoine de Tounens, roi de Patagonie, (TV)
1989 - Il Principe del deserto, (Mini TV Series)
1989 - Quattro piccole donne, (TV)
1988 - Keys to Freedom
1988 - Les Pyramides Bleues
1988 - Les Possédés
1987 - Grand Larceny
1987 - La Martingale
1986 - Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna (TV)
1986 - Harem, (TV)
1986 - Peter the Great, (Mini TV Series)
1984 - Top Secret!
1984 - The Far Pavilions, (Mini TV Series)
1983 - Ayoub
1981 - Green Ice
1980 - Oh, Heavenly Dog!
1980 - Pleasure Palace, (TV)
1980 - S.H.E., (TV)
1979 - Bloodline
1979 - Ashanti
1978 - Mysteries of the Great Pyramid, (TV)
1976 - The Pink Panther Strikes Again
1975 - Funny Girl to Funny Lady, (TV)
1975 - Funny Lady
1974 - Juggernaut
1974 - The Tamarind Seed
1973 - L'ile Mystérieuse, (Mini TV Series)
1972 - Le Droit d'aimer
1971 - Le Casse
1971 - The Horsemen
1971 - The Last Valley
1970 - Trois hommes sur un cheval
1969 - The Appointement
1969 - Che!
1969 - Mackenna's Gold
1968 - Mayerling
1968 - Funny Girl
1967 - C'era una volta...
1967 - The Night of the Generals
1966 - Poppies are also Flowers
1965 - Doctor Zhivago
1965 - Marco the Magnificent
1965 - Genghis Khan
1964 - The Yellow Rolls-Royce
1964 - Behold a Pale Horse
1964 - The Fall of the Roman Empire
1962 - Lawrence of Arabia
1961 - Ishayat Hub
1960 - Bidaya wa Nihaya
1959 - Maweed maa maghoul
1959 - Seraa Fil Nil
1958 - La Anam (No sleep)
1958 - Shatie el Asrar (Shore of my Mystery)
1958 - Goha
1956 - Siraa fil Mina (Struggle in the port)
1956 - La Chatelaine du Liban
1955 - Ayyamina el Helwa (Our happy day)
1954 - Shaytan al Sahra (Devil of the Desert)
1953 - Siraa fil Wadi (Struggle in the Valley)

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