Friday, July 10, 2015

He Was Man

Goodnight, sweet prince...

He was, simply put, handsomeness incarnate.  The pride of Egyptian cinema, chosen - at least according to local lore - from a handful of promising young leading men for international stardom in the early sixties and even today the only first-rank world player drawn from Egypt's once-rich domestic film scene.

My favorite Sharif movie* is one of his pre-Hollywood ones, 1958's Sayyidat el Qasr (Lady of the Manor). He plays a handsome devil-may-care playboy (typecasting, I suppose) who is taken by a heautiful, poor young girl and makes her his wife, with predictable but infinitely charming upsets before the happy fadeout.  The heroine is played by the beguiling Faten Hamama - sort of the Audrey Hepburn of the Nile. For a while, she was in real life as well as on screen Mrs. Sharif.  They were a magical couple, the memory of whom is still a touchstone for those who mourn the vanished days of a more cosmopolitan, graceful Egypt.

If the flame never again burned quite as brightly for Omar Sharif as it did in his first few years in international blockbusters, I can attest that in my Cairo days a decade or so ago, he remained an arresting figure, a charismatic and gracious regular at the Four Seasons' elegant Library Bar, with whom having a nodding acquaintance was one of the little perks of hanging out there.  The last few years had been unkind to him, with bad behaviour attributed to alcohol or worse when it was likely from nearly the start more the effects of that creeping scourge, Alzheimer's.

Now, while it's still sad to lose the man, we can start the process of re-appreciating him, as it were, as the star and gentleman he truly was.

Nicky Arnstein, Nicky Arnstein, Nicky Arnstein... and so much more.

* In this context, Funny Girl's not really in the running; it's immortal, but a Streisand show from start to finish.  Still... has anyone ever wastreled more alluringly?


  1. "Wastereled." What a charming word.

  2. Quite a life (on screen, and off)!

  3. I fell in love with him in 1962, when he so far outshone Peter O'Toole in Lawrence of Arabia that the screen seemed to go blank around him. Not just a great star but a wonderful actor, subtle and powerful, capable of being compelling and nearly invisible by turns.

  4. I wear my bobby-sox at half mast today. First fell in love with him in Funny Girl...what a voice, what eyes. You said it Thombeau: Sigh.

  5. what a shame. One of my colleagues in the Sandlands was always enormously proud that his parents lived in the same Zamalek apartment block, and he took me by recently. Not as chi-chi as one might have thought...

    1. The outsides of Zamalek flats, of course, can be deceiving - but the funny thing about Sharif is that he never made all that much money, and I think he lived more lavishly in Europe than at home...

  6. It's turning into quite a year for losing screen idols. Jx