Talented mega stars, Omar Sharif and Barbra Streisand’s scandalous affair during the filming of critically acclaimed box office hit Funny Girl made headline news globally due to the Israeli-Egyptian Six Day War breaking out at the same time in June 1967. First Sharif nearly got fired by the film’s Jewish financiers, then when a poster of the two stars kissing came out the following year, the Egyptian government nearly revoked his citizenship since  Jewish Barbra was such a vocal proponent of Israel. However, their hot affair only lasted the duration of the filming and the two stars went on to love countless others

Omar Sharif, internationally recognized actor of such classic epics as Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago, playboy, gambling addict and loner, was born Michel Demitri Chalhoub, a Catholic of the Greek Orthodox denomination and of Lebanese descent, in Alexandria, in 1932. His father, Joseph Chalhoub, was a prosperous precious woods merchant who moved to Cairo when his son was four. Chalhoub became even wealthier when he started salvaging barbed wire left behind by the British during the Second World War in the desert, and turning it into nails. His  wife Claire, a glamorous socialite, and notoriously flamboyant gambler, soon came to the attention of King Farouk, as the only woman who could match the King’s high stakes. Claire relished her connection with the King, and becoming part of the elite.

in Funny Girl

According to Sharif, his father’s business was very successful during that time through “dishonest and immoral ways.” In a 2012 interview to Rachel Halliburton for the Independent, Sharif recalls, “My mother used to play cards with King Farouk. He believed she brought good luck to him – she was his mascot. He often came round to our house. I was around 10 years old at the time – if I came home and realised he was there, I would just sneak into bed. My mother used to sit up all night.” He laughs. “By night she would play cards, by day she would give me the slipper. She hit me on my backside every day till I was 14. She was an extraordinary woman – she lived till 1998. I was very close to her, even though she beat me all the time!”

At age 10, the chubby Chalhoub boy was sent to the elite Victoria College boarding school, where he demonstrated a flair for languages. He spoke Arabic, English, Greek, French, Spanish and Italian fluently, which later benefitted his acting career. At school, while playing the title character in his first production, The Invisible Duke, though he was concealed in a box on stage for most of the play, the acting bug bit him and he got hooked onto the thrill of performing. Though Michel graduated from Cairo University with a degree in Mathematics and Physics, he dreamt of becoming an actor, but his father wouldn’t hear of it. The young man reluctantly joined the family business and subsequently staged a suicide bid, slashing his wrists to scare his father. Michel was also fast becoming a ladies’ man, selling his possessions to take girlfriends to dinner if his parents refused to give him extra money. Finally, after much cajoling and threatening, the rebellious young man left for London to study acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA).

In an Arab language film at the start of his career In an Arab language film at the start of his career With his first wife, top Egyptian actress Faten Hamama and their son Tarek With his first wife, top Egyptian actress Faten Hamama and their son Tarek With good friend Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia (1962) that Sharif later said modestly was just shots of men riding camels With good friend Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia (1962) that Sharif later said modestly was just shots of men riding camels

After King Farouk’s deposition in 1952 during the Egyptian Revolution, wealth changed hands in Egypt under President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s nationalisation policies and Chaloub’s business “took a beating,” according to Sharif. In 1954, Michel landed a part in an Arab language film The Blazing Sun opposite popular actress Faten Hamama. Faten had never been kissed on screen before, but she was so instantly smitten with the young actor that she made an exception for him.  The kiss became a national sensation, the two fell in love and quickly got married. Michel converted to Faten’s religion, Islam, taking on the name Omar Sharif, meaning nobleman, which also became his screen name to save his father the embarrassment of seeing his son go into showbiz. Over the next seven years the starry couple made more than a dozen movies together and had one son Tarek, born in 1957, who appeared age eight in Doctor Zhivago playing his father as a child.

In1962, Sharif, who at this time was unknown outside of Egypt, was cast by director David Lean in Lawrence Of Arabia as Sherif Ali Ben El Kharish, in what is now considered one of the “most demanding supporting roles in Hollywood history.” Historian Steven Charles Caton notes that Lean insisted on using ethnic actors to make the film authentic.

Starring opposite Julie Christie, whose proposition he turned down citing her fondness for fried egg sandwiches as the reason Starring opposite Julie Christie, whose proposition he turned down citing her fondness for fried egg sandwiches as the reason This epic film is set during WW I and the subsequent Russian Revolution. The war drama and its fallout is seen by the audience unfolding through the main protagonist's eyes This epic film is set during WW I and the subsequent Russian Revolution. The war drama and its fallout is seen by the audience unfolding through the main protagonist’s eyes

Omar Sharif and Julie Christie in Doctor Zhivago, 1965 (-3)

Additionally, Lean chose Sharif “for his liquid brown irises — a perfect contrast to the star Peter O’Toole’s glittering blue eyes. Sharif’s first appearance, shimmering out of the desert haze, won countless admirers,” writes Halliburton.  “Despite the rebelliousness and towering ego, Sharif seems extremely malleable when it comes to those he respects.” Lean made him grow the moustache for the role that he kept for most of his life. “At some points, to hear him talk you’d think life began for Sharif only once Lean took him out of Egypt.”

Peter O’Toole, who played the titular role of T.E. Lawrence considered Sharif’s name ridiculous and insisted on calling him “Fred.” The pair soon became best buddies and used to take off for Beirut in the short breaks they had once a month while filming in the Jordanian desert.

“We’d drink without stopping for 48 hours … we went hunting girls in every bar, every nightclub,” Sharif writes in The Eternal Male, his in your face chauvinistic and machismo Seventies autobiography. Their hard-partying lifestyle landed them in jail the night before the film’s Hollywood premiere, when they accompanied comedian Lenny Bruce as he shot up with a hypodermic syringe. “The producer Sam Spiegel got us out of jail,” Sharif told Halliburton. “He arrived with six lawyers. Of course we were completely terrified.”

The awkward looking girl who the other kids said had “a big beak” and who described herself as “a real ugly kid”
The awkward looking girl who the other kids said had “a big beak” and who described herself as “a real ugly kid”
“I hadda be great….I always knew I hadda be famous and rich—the best. Beautiful I'm not and never will be”
“I hadda be great….I always knew I hadda be famous and rich—the best. Beautiful I’m not and never will be”

"My desires were strengthened by wanting to prove to my mother that I could be a star" “My desires were strengthened by wanting to prove to my mother that I could be a star” With first husband actor Elliot Gould, with whom she split because his career couldn't keep pace with hers With first husband actor Elliot Gould, with whom she split because his career couldn’t keep pace with hers

 

In later life, Sharif claimed to be baffled by the film’s success, saying it was just shots of men riding camels. He is reported to have said modestly, “I think it is a great film, but I am not very good in it. I also never thought anyone would go to see the film – three hours and 40 minutes of desert, and no girls!” Lauded for his mesmerizing entrance, Sharif’s turn in the classic earned him an Academy Award nod for Best Supporting Actor, as well as Golden Globe wins for Best Supporting Actor and New Star of the Year.

So pleased was Lean with Sharif’s performance that he cast him in the title role of his epic love story Doctor Zhivago (1965). The classic film was adapted from Boris Pasternak’s 1957 novel that was banned in the USSR for 30 years and is set during World War I and the Russian Revolution. Sharif plays the role of Yuri Zhivago, a poet and physician. Film historian Constantine Santas writes that Lean portrayed the period in a poetic and lyrical manner with powerful cinematography capturing the landscape accompanied by a haunting musical score by French composer and conductor Maurice Jarre, with whom he was also collaborating again. Jarre notably won Academy Awards for the “grand, sweeping themes” for both films. Sharif’s role is largely “passive” and his eyes are “the mirror of reality we ourselves see.”

Scenes from Funny Girl Scenes from Funny Girl

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Decades later Halliburton was reminded of the visual Sharif presents in the film when she meets him as a cheeky octogenarian, “the cheekbones like ridges along cliffs, the taunting imperfection of the gap-toothed smile, those eyes whose glittering fury was captured so strikingly by Lean in the scene from Doctor Zhivago where he watches the Cossacks slaughter peaceful demonstrators.”

During filming, the actor reportedly went through a daily routine of hair-straightening and skin-waxing to disguise his Egyptian looks and later said that the film left him on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Sharif was awarded a Golden Globe for Best Actor for his intense and yet subtle portrayal.

When the film’s leading lady Julie Christie prpositioned him, Sharif turned her down, citing her fondness for fried egg sandwiches as the reason. But the slavish attention (from actresses and fans alike) destroyed his marriage. Convinced that he would not have the strength to remain faithful, he told Faten that he wanted a divorce—while she was still young enough to remarry. They separated in 1965. He always described her as ‘the love of my life’ and often declared that no other woman ever won his heart. Faten was not so romantic or self-destructive — she married again, to a doctor,” writes Halliburton.

Premiere of Funny Girl in 1968 Premiere of Funny Girl in 1968

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Moreover, travel restrictions imposed by President Nasser in the form of exit visas forced Sharif to start living in Europe year round for the sake of his career and the subsequent estrangement sealed the fate of the marriage. The couple eventually got amicably divorced in 1974 and remained on good terms till the end.

Sharif found himself at a crossroads in his life at this point, going from a family man to a committed bachelor living in European hotels for the rest of his life. “From the age of 31, I have lived in hotels,” he said. It was at this point that he was cast in Funny Girl opposite singing sensation Barbra Streisand in her first film role.

Barbra was born in the now hipster neighbourhood of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York, in ‘42 to Emanuel Streisand a high school teacher who died when she was only 15 months old. Barbra had a painful, poverty stricken and traumatic childhood. Her mother Diana raised her and her older brother, Sheldon, by working as a school secretary. The were in such dire stratits financially that they had to move in with Barbra’s grandparents’ cramped three room apartment to make ends meet. The two children would crawl under a table to avoid being beaten by their irascible grandfather. It was a deprived childhood and Barbra played with a hot water bottle, pretending it was a doll. One summer when she was away at Jewish camp in ‘49, she returned to find out that her mother had married Louis Kind, a divorced used-car salesman. A half-sister, Rosalind, was born in ‘51.  Barbra was lonely and continuously taunted by her step father who called her “beast” and Rosalind “beauty” and the other children also rejected her because she was so plain looking, skinny, cross eyed with a big hooked nose and acne.

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With Don Johnson With Don Johnson

Barbra attended the Jewish Bais Yakov School, where she sang in the choir and then Erasmus Hall High School where she met her future collaborator, Neil Diamond. The awkward looking girl who the other kids said had “a big beak” and who described herself as “a real ugly kid” was never asked out for a date neither on New Year’s Eve nor to the prom, so to get attention and prove a point, she rebelliously dated a black boy. Additionally, “her voice got her attention when she sang on the stoop of the apartment building or in apartment hallways,” writes Caroline Howe for the Daily Mail.

“I hadda be great….I always knew I hadda be famous and rich – the best. Beautiful I’m not and never will be,” Neal Gabler quotes her in his biography Barbra Streisand: Redefining Beauty, Femininity and Power. “I know if I had a father, I would probably be happily married and have two or three children,” she said.

While still in high school, Barbra would take the bus to Manhattan to study acting where, at the age of 15, she met Anita and Alan Miller of the Cherry Lane Theater in Greenwich Village. Wiley Barbra negotiated a deal with the couple, babysitting in exchange for acting lessons. After graduation, at only 16, she moved to Manhattan in ’60, working in menial jobs and sleeping on cots randomly at friends’ apartments. When hungry, she would go home for a home cooked meal. Her mother horrified by her daughter’s “gypsy-like lifestyle,” begged her to give up trying to get into show business, saying she didn’t have the looks for it. But she burnt with a desire to prove her mother wrong.  “My desires were strengthened by wanting to prove to my mother that I could be a star,” biographer Karen Swenson quotes her.

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Tennis star Andre Agassi said, “So what if she’s twenty-eight years older? We’re simpatico, and the public outcry only adds spice to our connection…. Dating Barbra Streisand is like wearing Hot Lava”

Howe writes: “One theatre company owner said, ‘She’s very talented, but God, she’s so ugly. What are we going to do with her?’ She worked hard but was described as being voracious, wary, distrustful and self-interested.

“She didn’t have time for civility and never expressed gratitude even when someone cast her in a play,” said actor Barry Dennen. Dennen and his partner, both Jewish and gay, taught her how to dress, use makeup and eat with proper table manners. She learned how to cover up her insecurity on stage by studying the flamboyance of drag queens. More importantly, Dennen exposed Streisand to his vast record collection of chanteuses like Billie Holiday and Édith Piaf. He is responsible for developing her peculiar brand of mezzo soprano operatic voice combined with a pop singing style. Barbra realized that in order to achieve her dream of becoming an actress, she would first have to gain recognition being a singer, a formula Madonna adopted decades later.

Ladies’ man & legendary lothario Ladies’ man & legendary lothario

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Holding the Venice Film Festival Career Golden Lion Award Holding the Venice Film Festival Career Golden Lion Award

When Omar Sharif
started losing consistently, at times more than $1 million in a single night, he stopped playing bridge, thinking he had dementia, but it turned out to be a worse degenerative disease, Alzheimer’s

According to biographer Christopher Nickens, Barbra began creating different emotional characters when performing, going from singing with a dramatic voice to a lighthearted one. She worked on her stage presence and started conversing with the audience between songs, ala Frank Sinatra, and even injecting humor into her performance. Her cabaret act became quite popular, especially with audiences at gay clubs who understood what it was to be different and identified with her. Barbra started being compared to widely adored Judy Garland. As Barbra became more famous, she dropped Dennen and never even acknowledged his help. Dennen said later that she had a habit of “cutting out of her life people who were not directly relevant to her success.”

Her first manager, Ted Rozar also said bitterly, “If you were of no value to her, that little switch went off in her head and she treated you like s**t.”

She worked upstate theatres in the summer and returned to New York to sing about being “the girl the guys never looked at her twice, the invisible woman.” She became a Broadway star playing “an outsized Jewish mieskeit” (ugly person) in ’62, making it there with the help of “the Jewish entertainment mafia.” The Barbra Streisand Album released in ’63 and is now a classic. Overnight she became the top-selling female vocalist in the U.S. The album became a Top 10 Gold Record and received two Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year. At the time, she was the youngest artist to receive the honor. It was the turning point in her career “when she went from being a New York phenomenon to a performer with a national reputation.”

“When I’m good, when I’m pleased with my performance, I feel powerful. I forget about being an ugly duckling,” Barbra said.

She started living with actor Elliott Gould. He was twenty-three to her nineteen. “She scared me but I really dug her. I think I was the first person who ever did,” Gould said. They wed in ’63 and had a son together, Jason. But Gould’s career couldn’t keep up with her meteoric rise and they divorced in 1971 after a two-year trial separation. Gould loved Barbra unreservedly, but he thought he seemed desperate. “One side of Barbra needed men. The other was disdainful of men and competitive toward them,” later adding that she didn’t know how to love.

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Additionally, she suffered from debilitating stage fright, which is why she avoided concerts and preferred Broadway performances, starring in Funny Girl for more than two years on Broadway and in ’66 at the Prince of Wales Theater, London. So successful were the runs that she made her big-screen debut in the film version of the play, starring as singer Fanny Brice, while Sharif plays her gambler husband Nicky Arnstein.

Sharif admitted later that he did not find Barbra at all attractive when he first met her, but her appeal soon overwhelmed him: “About a week from the moment I met her, I was madly in love with her. I thought she was the most gorgeous girl I’d ever seen in my life…I found her physically beautiful, and I started lusting after this woman.”

Streisand said the romance of the film went to her head, “It’s hard to stop loving someone when the director yells cut. Fact and fiction got mixed up, and I think we both lost our heads for a while.”

The affair lasted for only four months, the duration of the filming. “I realised that I couldn’t have been in love, because it didn’t hurt when the relationship finished,” Sharif recalled.

A blog post in Retroculturati describes the affair: “Of his wives and lovers it was his affair with Barbra Streisand that would cause by far the biggest global stir.

At a London Gala in November 2014

“Starring alongside each other for the first time on the musical Funny Girl in 1967 in a production by Columbia Studios in which all of the investors were Jewish along with production staff that was pro-Israeli and a media heavily biased towards Israel, the two became romantically involved despite a huge protest from both of their home countries. Even though his own government banned his film the producers stuck by him and he completed the film. In June of 1967, the Israeli-Egyptian Six Day War broke out and in the midst of the huge political and military fall-out came a publicity still of the Egyptian Omar Sharif kissing the Jewish Barbra Streisand. This incensed governments, the public and worst of all perhaps, the wrath of Streisand’s Jewish mother!

“When Sharif met Streisand they were both married. Her marriage to fellow actor Elliot Gould was shaky and despite Streisand’s apparent appalling prima donna behaviour on set she and Sharif hit it off and began an affair, which lasted as long as the making of the movie. The backlash from the movie and their affair should not be underestimated. Streisand blames her not performing on stage for twenty seven years after this because of the stress at the time that caused her to forget the lines to three of her songs at a concert in front of 150,000 people in Central Park. She had been guaranteed a heavy police presence because of the furor of the movie and her affair but a surprise visit by Soviet politician Alexei Kosygin reduced the protection from three hundred officers to thirty making her feel extremely uncomfortable.

“The end of filming marked the end of the affair. Streisand later said that given the charged atmosphere of making the film it was difficult to put those feelings to one side once the day’s filming had ended. Sharif was always very complimentary about Streisand but soon got over the break-up by dating his next co-star, Catherine Deneuve followed by Barbara Bouchet after her semi-naked appearance in Playboy.”

Despite the tense political atmosphere, the film went on to become a huge hit. Barbra won the 1968 Academy Award and Golden Globe Award for Best Actress for her performance and was named Star of the Year by the National Association of Theater Owners. Her perfectionism had paid off and the highly charged sexual tension between the stars and the ensuing controversy only fuelled the ticket sales.

Other mega hits in which Barbra has starred include The Way We Were, A Star is Born, Yentl based on a short story by Nobel laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer, which she also directed, as she did The Prince of Tides based on a Pat Conroy novel. From ‘69 to ‘80, she appeared in the Top Ten Money Making Stars Poll, the annual motion picture exhibitors poll for a total of 10 times, often as the only woman on the list. Streisand is the highest selling female recording artist of all time, and has won awards and acclaim in every medium that she’s worked in. She has recorded 50 studio albums with Columbia Records and has had No. 1 albums in each of the last four decades, the greatest longevity for any solo recording artist, and has sold a combined 250 million records worldwide. She is the only artist to have earned honors from all the major award institutions, including two Academy Awards, one Tony Award, five Emmys, 10 Grammys, 13 Golden Globes, a Cable ACE Award, the University of Georgia’s George Foster Peabody Award and the American Film Institute’s Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2015, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama and has been a staunch and vocal Democrat, as well as working for Jewish causes, fostering Jewish-Arab relations, equal rights for African Americans and HIV fundraising through her sporadic but  sold out concerts.

For a plain, indeed self proclaimed “ugly kid” she has had relationships with some of the world’s hottest men including pro football quarterback Joe Namath, countless leading men such as Ryan O’Neal, Warren Beatty, Kris Kristofferson, Liam Neeson, Don Johnson, news anchor Peter Jennings, Canadian PM Pierre Trudeau (father of PM Justin Trudeau) who wanted to make her Canada’s First Lady, and even tennis champion Andre Agassi. In his 2009 autobiography, Agassi writes: “We agree that we’re good for each other, and so what if she’s twenty-eight years older? We’re simpatico, and the public outcry only adds spice to our connection. It makes our friendship feel forbidden, taboo – another piece of my overall rebellion. Dating Barbra Streisand is like wearing Hot Lava.”

Christopher Andersen in his new book, Game of Crowns: Elizabeth, Camilla, Kate and the Throne, writes that Prince Charles as a young man had an immense crush on Barbra Streisand. Even at Cambridge University he had a poster of the star on the wall of his room. In 1974, Charles even visited the set of the movie Funny Girl where he spent 20 minutes with her. Flash forward 20 years, he was back in Los Angeles and they had a secret rendezvous at the Bel Air Hotel that no one knows about, except Diana, who knew all about it.

Quite a roster of lovers for an awkward girl with a large Jewish nose from Brooklyn that even her mother had difficulty loving! Whoever said persistence doesn’t pay off should take a page out of Barbra Streisand’s book.

Barbra said that 1980s onwards she wanted a break from showbiz and just wanted to live like a house wife and a real woman. She sought therapy for her demons and the havoc that her traumatic childhood had wreaked on her self image and romantic relationships. Then, one night while dining with friends at hotspot Mr. Chow in Beverly Hills in 1996, she met actor James Brolin (father of actor Josh Brolin), who is now 75 plus. They sat down and started talking. “After ten minutes I was a goner, and after two hours, I knew we’d get married someday,” Brolin said. Within two years, they were married. The couple are very happy and contentedly and live together in her Malibu dream estate that is made up of four buildings—the mill house, the barn, Grandma’s house and the main house—on three acres of property.

Sharif was not so lucky.  In his heyday, he indulged in a string of short lived romances with such beauties as Ingrid Bergman, Ava Gardener, Sophia Loren, Anouk Aimee, Catherine Deneuve, Julie Andrews and Tuesday Welds, among countless others. He was quite the lothario! However, he never remarried, stating that he never fell in love with another woman again after Faten.

Though “his striking good looks won him many admirers and lovers but towards the end of his life he lived alone with his gambling addiction. Whilst he had his own family, he chose not to settle in a relationship and always insisted it was through personal choice,” writes Halliburton.

 In the late 90s, Sharif began declining film offers, and sadly said that he had lost his “self-respect and dignity.” Sharif said about his Hollywood career, “It gave me glory, but it gave me loneliness also, and a lot of missing my own land, my own people and my own country.”

Christopher Stevens writes in an article for The Daily Mail: “The story of Egyptian actor Omar Sharif is perhaps the saddest, loneliest tale in all of movie history. But it has also been a life overflowing with wealth, adoration and affairs with the world’s most desirable women. Sharif squandered his good fortune — with divorce from the only woman he ever truly loved, an illegitimate child he refused to acknowledge, millions lost at the gaming tables, a glittering career abandoned and outbursts of violence….It always appeared as if he had the most enviable existence. After decades spent living alone in luxury hotels in Paris or London, staying up till 5 a.m. every night at the casino or the bar, the actor has now returned to Egypt. But this is no homecoming: he still lives in a hotel, at a Red Sea tourist resort. His life, it seems, is as rootless and lonely as ever.”

His most demanding mistress of all proved to be his gambling addiction that took hold of him. Stevens writes, gradually, “all Sharif cared about was pocketing fees for roles, however dire, so he could pursue his twin passions — playing bridge and breeding racehorses. ‘I don’t think I could live without a deck of cards in my hands,’ he declared, when asked on BBC Radio’s Desert Island Discs in 1978 what luxury he would need most as a castaway. But the cards and the casinos were bankrupting him.

“After losing £750,000 in one night at roulette, he was forced to sell his house in Paris, and announced: ‘I don’t own anything at all apart from a few clothes. I’m all alone and completely broke. Everything could have been so different if only I had found the right woman.’

“His gambling addiction, he admitted, was madness, but he could not stop. He blamed boredom, and the loneliness of living out of a suitcase. His agent became used to Sharif’s desperate calls, demanding work so that he could pay urgent debts. Often, the actor even had to reverse the call charges. But however many shoddy movies he made, he was always ‘one film behind my debts’.
He hated the roles. Though he could act in six languages — English, French, Spanish, Italian, Arabic and Greek — he had an accent in all of them, and so was always cast as a foreigner: a Sultan, a Spanish priest, a Mexican cowboy, or Genghis Khan. He doted on his son Tarek and adored his grandchildren, whose mockery of his dreadful films made him ditch acting in the mid-Nineties.

“Gambling was not so easy to renounce. After losing more than £20,000 at the Enghien-les-Bains casino in Paris in 2003, he head butted a policeman and was given a suspended prison sentence. It wasn’t the first time he had been threatened with jail for his temper: he was arrested in Greece for smashing up a restaurant. At a hotel car park in Beverly Hills, he brawled with an attendant, while four years ago he lashed out at a female fan who was badgering him for a photograph. But his womanising was over. He had quit a 100-a-day cigarette habit, too, following a heart attack in his hotel room in 1994: as he collapsed on the bed in Paris’s George V hotel, in agony, he was unable to think of anyone he could call for help.”

Halliburton writes, at one time, “he was one of the world’s top 50 bridge players – the Omar Sharif Bridge Circus played exhibition matches all over the world – and he once received a late-night invitation to play with the Shah of Iran and his wife.” Sharif even authored books on the subject, like Play Bridge With Omar Sharif (1990) and Omar Sharif Talks Bridge (2004). “Does he play now? ‘No,’ he says soberly. ‘I stopped six years ago when I stopped being good enough.’ (He says speaking of his violent incident.)  He has also cheerfully acknowledged that he has made a lot of films he wasn’t proud of to help finance his bridge habit. He’s had many strong friendships throughout his life, not least with Hosni Mubarak’s wife, Suzanne. ‘I thought it was right that Mubarak went,’ he says, ‘but I always found his wife very intelligent and interesting to talk to.’”

In the new millennium, Sharif’s career enjoyed a brief resurgence with Monsieur Ibrahim (2003), in which he portrays a Muslim shopkeeper who befriends a Jewish youth in ‘60s Paris for which he won France’s César Award. The same year, he received the Venice Film Festival’s Audience Award and the Career Golden Lion prize for Achievement in Film. The following year he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Dubai International Film Festival.

“He still had a reputation as an insatiable lover but the truth, he said, was more mundane: usually, he preferred to go for a walk,” writes Stevens. “In 2012, he turned 80. He slipped into a melancholy routine: sleep till noon, bathe and walk the streets of Paris on his own. ‘I have no friends in Paris,’ he said last year. ‘I want someone to take me out in the evenings.’”

He spent his last days with Tarek and his two grandsons Omar, also an actor, and Karim. When Faten died, aged 83, Tarek was forced to admit that Sharif suffered not from dementia but Alzheimer’s. In his final years, in Egypt, Sharif remembered he was an actor, but could no longer distinguish one film from another. When he did remember he deprecatingly said that most of them were “rubbish.”

Omar Sharif followed his beloved Faten to the grave, dying of a heart attack less than six months after her in July 2015 at a hospital in Cairo, aged 83. Befittingly, his funeral was held at the Grand Mosque of Mushir Tantawi in Cairo, attended by family, friends and Egyptian actors. His casket was draped in the Egyptian flag on top of a black shroud, and he was laid to rest at the El-Sayeda Nafisa Cemetery.

Looking back on their whirlwind affair, Barbra said, “He was one hell of a guy.”


BEHIND THE CAMERA ON FUNNY GIRL

By Andrea Passafiume

For Turner Classic Movies (TCM)

William Wyler, Herbert Ross and the cast of Funny Girl rehearsed for weeks during the summer of 1967 at Columbia Studios in Hollywood. Almost immediately Omar Sharif found himself at the center of a controversy that nearly got him replaced in the film. In June the Israeli-Egyptian Six Day War broke out, which according to William Wyler, “sent jitters through Hollywood’s Jewish community.” As Omar Sharif elaborates in his 1976 autobiography, “All the investments in the production were Jewish. The atmosphere of the studio was pro-Israeli and my co-star was Jewish. Most of the newspapers backed Israel. And I was an Egyptian.”

Panic gripped the studio over the politics of the situation. Some people wanted Sharif removed from Funny Girl. Others thought that Sharif should issue a public statement condemning Egypt. Even Barbra Streisand’s mother made her feelings against Sharif known. “My daughter isn’t going to work with any Egyptian!” she said according to Sharif. Producer Ray Stark was ready to break Sharif’s contract when William Wyler, who was also Jewish, stepped in as the voice of reason. “We’re in America, the land of freedom,” he said according to Sharif, “and you’re ready to make yourselves guilty of the same things we’re against? Not hiring an actor because he’s Egyptian is outrageous. If Omar doesn’t make the film, I don’t make it either!” Sharif kept his job.

funny-girl

Just prior to shooting, Barbra Streisand took a short break in June to fly back East to perform her famous concert in New York’s Central Park. In July, Funny Girl was ready to roll. Everything was going smoothly until a publicity photo of Omar Sharif and Barbra Streisand kissing was released to the newspapers. With the emotions of the Six Day War still running high, the Egyptian press began a campaign to get Sharif’s citizenship revoked over the kiss. The Egyptian headline read: “Omar Kisses Barbra, Egypt Angry.” When asked to respond to the controversy, Barbra Streisand tried to make light of it. “Egypt angry!” she said. “You should hear what my Aunt Sarah said!”

The controversy eventually died down, but the chemistry between Streisand and Sharif did not. Though both were married at the time, the two began an affair while making Funny Girl that lasted for the duration of the production. “Barbra Streisand, who struck me as being ugly at first,” said Sharif, “gradually cast her spell over me. I fell madly in love with her talent and her personality. The feeling was mutual for four months – the time it took to shoot the picture.” With Streisand’s husband Elliott Gould back in New York to take an acting job, the two were free to share romantic evenings and weekends together. Though their relationship didn’t last, the affair would ultimately contribute to the breakup of Streisand’s already shaky marriage to Gould. William Wyler, who knew about the affair, tried to channel their real-life chemistry into their performances.

Those involved with Funny Girl said that she alienated with behavior that was often described as “controlling,” “rude” and “demanding.” There were reports that Streisand was chronically late and that she constantly kept everyone waiting. Some said that she would ask to re-shoot scenes that were already done and try to control every aspect of the production from the lighting design to what sort of shot was needed to who did her hair. “Here was this young whippersnapper,” said Assistant Director Jack Roe, “telling a very noted director how to do his job.” The majority of the extended cast and crew reportedly found her aloof, self-absorbed and inconsiderate. “I thought she was rude during the whole shoot,” said Roe. “I didn’t like the way she treated people, from Wyler and (cinematographer Harry) Stradling all the way to her personal maid, Gracie.” According to some, Harry Stradling threatened to walk off the picture unless Streisand stopped trying to dictate how he should photograph her. Screenwriter Isobel Lennart famously described working with Streisand as “a deflating ego-crushing experience.”

“With me she worked desperately hard on her part. She kept trying to improve herself; she worried about how she looked; she would come on the set in the morning and ask if we could do a scene over again. She was totally dedicated. She trusted me, and I trusted her.” Adding to that Wyler later said, “I’d much rather work with someone like Barbra, a perfectionist insisting on giving her best at all times and expecting it of everyone else, than a star who doesn’t give a hoot.”

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I think I knew more about Funny Girl than Mr. Wyler. I had played it a thousand times and had read all the revisions of all the scripts…But once we started…well, it couldn’t have been a more creative relation…We tried different things and experimented and so forth. It was stimulating and fun and good things came out.” She added later, “He was never threatened by my ideas. After Funny Girl, I was thrown by any director who ever was threatened because Willie used to get a kick out of them. He’d use them, not use them, laugh at me, not laugh at me. I mean, he was a wonderful person to collaborate with.”

In fact, Wyler’s professional relationship with Barbra Streisand was such that he allowed her unprecedented access to his directing process, often letting her watch dailies with him to see how her performance was shaping up. Co-star Anne Francis found this aspect of the director-star relationship threatening. “Every day, Barbra would see the rushes,” said Francis, “and the next day my part was cut or something else was cut. Barbra ran the whole show…She had the Ziegfeld girls’ scenes changed – one day she told Wyler to move a girl standing next to her because she was too pretty, and the girl wound up in the background. Eventually, the Ziegfeld girls’ scenes were eliminated altogether.”

Challenging as she was, several on the set also agreed that many of Streisand’s instincts were good ones, and that she was often right about things. Her perfectionism, some believed, was merely the result of insecurity. If she was demanding of everyone around her, she was twice as demanding of herself. “She fusses over things,” said Wyler, “she’s terribly concerned about how she looks, with the photography, the camera, the makeup, the wardrobe, the way she moves, reads a line. She’d tell the cameraman that one of the lights was out – way up on the scaffold. If the light that was supposed to be on her was out, she saw it. She’s not easy, but she’s difficult in the best sense of the word – the same way I’m difficult.” Herbert Ross, who staged the film’s musical numbers, added to that. “We spent hours shooting her to test her in different lights, different make up, different hairdos,” he said. “I was with her the day she saw the first set of dailies. She was terrified – it was the first time she’d ever seen herself on film. Well, onscreen she looked a miracle. How could anyone have known that her skin was going to have that brilliant reflective surface that she was going to look radiant – that was just a wonderful plus.” Omar Sharif explained, “You have to understand, she’s a kid from Brooklyn…She didn’t just think she was plain – she thought she was ugly. So no wonder that insecurity…Those weren’t rumors that she caused trouble during the filming of Funny Girl. There was trouble – in wardrobe, in makeup, and so on. But when the whole film sinks or swims on you, you’re in trouble.”

For the last scene in the film where Fanny sings “My Man” after she has been told goodbye by Nicky Arnstein, William Wyler did something unusual. Normally, actors in musicals lip-synched to pre-recorded music for their singing scenes. Streisand had tried to do that for “My Man”, as she did with the other numbers in Funny Girl, but the scene, which was supposed to be emotional and heartbreaking, wasn’t working. He and Streisand decided to have her sing live in order for her to truly be in the moment. During the scene, Wyler had Omar Sharif stand behind a nearby curtain and talk to Streisand between takes. Their affair was ending as the Funny Girl shoot came to an end, and Wyler knew that Sharif’s presence would have an effect on her performance. “He wanted him around to help build up her sadness,” said Robert Swink. “They must’ve done at least ten takes. Willie shot the thing live and recorded it live. It was pretty emotional for her.”

Shooting wrapped on Funny Girl in the Fall of 1967. At the wrap party William Wyler gave Barbra Streisand a director’s megaphone, according to William Wyler’s 1973 authorized biography, “in mock recognition of her devotion to every aspect of filmmaking including directing.” Streisand gave Wyler an 18th century gold watch inscribed “TO MAKE UP FOR LOST TIME.” The two parted ways with a mutual respect. “I was very fortunate to have Willie as my first director,” said Streisand. “What was amazing is that when he showed me the first cut of the movie, I would say ninety-five percent of the moments I had picked in my head was in there. It was extraordinary. He just knew when it was right. He used the right moments all the time.”

Funny Girl premiered on September 19, 1968 at the Criterion Theater in New York. With everything that Barbra Streisand had riding on the film, she couldn’t have asked for a more smashing debut. Funny Girl was a huge hit – the highest grossing film of 1968 – and the reviews were unanimous that Barbra Streisand was a superstar. It was nominated for eight Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Actress. On April 14, 1969 Barbra Streisand took home the Oscar® for her performance, tying with Katharine Hepburn in The Lion in Winter (1968). Taking the stage in her now infamously see-through black Arnold Scaasi outfit, Streisand looked at the Oscar® and said, “Hello, Gorgeous!” mimicking her famous first line in Funny Girl. Streisand was indeed a movie star.

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