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Sunday, 13 June 2021

Remembering Omar El-Hariri: The Egyptian actor with 'a thousand faces'

The silver-screen icon was born in June 1922 and died in October 2011

Ashraf Gharib, Saturday 19 Oct 2019
Omar El Hariri
Omar El Hariri

Born Omar Mohamed Saleh El-Hariri, the Egyptian actor was born on 12 February 1926, although some sources say he was born in 1922. His brief appearance as a boy in Salama is Alright (1937, Niazi Mostafa) confirmed he was born in 1926. Since his childhood, and until he died on 16 October 2011, El-Hariri was fascinated by the world of cinema.

He graduated from the Higher Institute of Theatrical Arts in 1947. In his class were renowned actors Farid Shawqi, Shokry Sarhan and Faten Hamama.

El-Hariri kick-started his acting career in the theatre with the Ramses Theatrical Company, headed by Youssef Wahbi, who enrolled El-Hariri participate in a number of plays, the most unforgettable of which are The Jealousy (1948) and The Confessional the following year. Wahbi's support to El-Hariri was not limited to the stage. He gave El-Hariri his cinematic debut in The Confessional -- based on the play with the same name -- produced and directed by Wahbi in the same year.

Around the same time, El-Hariri played a small role in a comedy, Look out for Your Wallet (1949, Mahmoud Ismail). Then Wahbi continued to offer El-Hariri bigger roles, as in Al-Avocato Madiha (1950, Youssef Wahbi). Such roles gave El-Hariri a prominent place in the cinema community and he was offered even bigger roles, such as in Son of the Nile (1951, Youssef Chahine), Farewell my Love (1951, Omar Gimei), Street Children (1951, Youssef Wahbi) and I am Alone (1952, Henri Barakat).

If El-Hariri owed Wahbi for debuting him on stage and screen, he owed much more to director Ezz Eldin Zulfikar who cast him as a supporting actor in Ask my Heart (1952) along with Faten Hamama and Yehia Shahine. Later on, El-Hariri participated in several significant films. Zulfikar insisted El-Hariri act in the majority of his subsequent films, such as An Appointment with Life (1953) and Loyalty in the following year. Then he cast him as the leading actor in Dearest to Me (1955), a role that has shown El-Hariri’s thespian talents where he played the role of a young man whose face was disfigured causing him a severe psychological trauma.

Naturally, El-Hariri’s played more supporting roles in the 1950s, such as in Word of Truth (1953), Ataba Square (1959, both Fateen Abdel-Wahab) and The Lady of the Palace (1958, Kamal Al-Sheikh). It was difficult for El-Hariri to carve his name alongside the likes of Omar Sharif, Farid Shawqi, Shokry Sarhan and Kamal El-Shennawi and others who cleverly managed to steer the limelight away from him.

However, El-Hariri skillfully played the roles of the handsome friend or rival in love. In the 1960s, El-Hariri was the first choice to play such character in films such as The Holy Matrimony and The River of Love (1960, both by Ezz-Eldin Zulfikar), based on Lev Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, and Sokkar Hanem (1960, Al-Sayed Bedeir), The Olive Branch (1962, Al-Sayed Bedeir), The Sour Grapes (1965, Farouk Agrama) and Saboteurs (1967, Kamal El-Sheikh).

In 1968, El-Hariri decided to go to Libya to establish the Libyan National Theatre, where he spent more than five years training a generation of actors and directors. Although this was a noble mission, his absence from Egypt resulted in the considerable decline of offers he received. Eventually, he stopped receiving any more roles to play. Upon his return to the country he wanted to play a character that would put him back on the map.

In the mid-1970s, El-Hariri played the role of a police investigator/prosecutor in the sensational hit series To Be Continued. His role in the series was brilliantly played that it landed him a spot alongside Adel Imam in the play A Witness who Witnessed Nothing. The play introduced El-Hariri to a younger generation who were not familiar with his name.

Coinciding with these TV successes or because of them, El-Hariri’s name shone once again through a number of significant films such as The Guilty (1975, Said Marzouk), The Circle of Vengeance (1976, Samir Seif) and The Untouchables (1981, Ali Badrkhan), based on a short story by Naguib Mahfouz.

Throughout the last three decades of his life, El-Hariri continued to act in TV series, most notably Aunt Safiya and the Monastery, based on Bahaa Taher’s novel (1994, Ismail Abdel-Hafez).

 In his latest years El-Hariri's health deteriorated and he was surrounded by familial problems.

Eight years ago El-Hariri died, but he left Egyptian cinema, theatre and television a rich and diverse legacy, and he was dearly dubbed the "man with a thousand faces".

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