A sneaky child following his dream!
Almost one month after his death, we have decided to pay tribute to the legendary Egyptian international actor Omar Sharif. This post will explore the interesting upbringing of Omar Sharif and how this formed the sophisticated and remarkable actor known on the screen.
Omar Sharif was born Michel Demitri Shalhoub in 1932 in Alexandria, Egypt. His father, Joseph Shalhoub was a precious woods merchant originally from Zahlé, Lebanon. His mother, Claire Saada was a noted society hostess. His family is described as “Melkite Catholic” and of Lebanese decent.
Michel described himself as a fat boy who was not good looking. He was sent to Victoria College, a very strict English private school, where a lot importance and care were given to health, particularly diet and sports. Because of this he developed a healthy body and appreciation of sports. Although many would assume he did not like it, he was very thankful for studying at the college: it was the place where he started to discover his passion and deep relation to acting and theatre. He also developed a talent for languages at school and was fluent in Arabic, English, French, Greek and Spanish. This contributed to his talent of playing a traveller in films as an adult, which he was cast as frequently. Unfortunately, his parents did not want him to study acting and theatre. Instead he gained a degree in mathematics and physics from the University of Cairo and went to work in his father’s timber business. But in his mind, he kept a passion for acting, hoping and waiting for the perfect chance to make his dream come true.
He started to form a group of students and amateurs to work on theatrical plays, in which he was usually the star. One day, a new guest came to watch one of the plays: the French ambassador. He loved his performance and congratulated him for it. However, this memorable encounter still did not convince his father to encourage his son pursuing a career in acting.
After two years though, the family business had been suffering some losses. Michel had been purposefully selling goods for a price that was lower than the original one. Exasperated, his father decided to let him pursue acting:
You want to become an actor? Fine. Do whatever you want.
He then applied to The Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London.
After his studies, school friend Youssef Chahine, well- known director, contacted him to ask him if he was interested in a screen shot test for the main role in his new and upcoming film. Of course he answered yes. Youssef Chahine himself had just returned from studying cinema in America. Michel remarked he had been terrified facing the camera for the first time, acting in front of Faten Hamama, an Egyptian film actress who had already established herself as a child star. But then he added:
But, again frankly speaking, I could not help imagining my photo beside hers in the poster and my name with hers in the news.
The film The Blazing Sun also known as Siraa Fil-Wadi was filmed in 1953, and Michel played the role of Ahmed with Faten Hamama who became his wife two years later, in 1955. In 1954, he starred in Devil of the Sahara film, also directed by Youssef Chahine. Then in 1955, he was the lead actor in Our Best Days, a film by Helmy Halim.
But in order to marry the Egyptian Muslim actress Faten Hamama, he was obliged to convert his religion from Christian to Muslim. Consequently, this is the reason for his mysterious name change from Michel Shalhoub to Omar Sharif that has intrigued many. Together, they became the most popular and loved couple in the Arab cinema. Faten Hamama had a daughter from a former marriage, whose name is Nadia Zulficar, and Sharif treated her as his own daughter, saying that:
All the people are my children. If I love the mother, they are my own sons and daughters, and they are not my sperm. Sperm for me is not fatherhood.
The couple also had a son named Tarek in 1957.
The story of Omar Sharif continues in the next and final post, talking about his huge success in Hollywood and his divorce with the one woman he loved and married: Faten Hamama.
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