Retro Heaven

The Omar Sharif and Barbra Streisand Affair

Remembering Omar Sharif….

barbThis week saw the sad loss of one of cinema’s most charismatic actors, Omar Sharif. Having been recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease he died of a heart attack aged eighty three in his home city of Cairo.

Sharif was the quintessential playboy. He starred in two of the greatest cinematic productions in history; Lawrence of Arabia and Dr Zhivago and with his new found fame and fortune gambled and lost heavily in the world’s most glamorous casinos. 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.

Of his wives and lovers it was his affair with Barbra Streisand that would cause by far the biggest global stir. Starring alongside each other for the first time on the musical ‘Funny Girl’ in 1967 the two became romantically involved despite a huge protest from both of their home countries.

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 both governments and the public and worse of all perhaps, the wrath of Streisand’s Jewish mother!

In a production by Columbia Studios in which all of the investors were Jewish along with production staff who were pro-Israeli and a media heavily biased towards Israel one can imagine Sharif’s discomfort. But despite his own government banning his films the producers stuck by him and he completed the film. 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 it on her not performing on stage for twenty seven years because of the stress at the time which 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 furore 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 days 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.

So Retroculturati salutes the life and memory of Omar Sharif, actor, playboy and surely the only man who could have turned down Julie Christie in the 1960s because of her fondness for fried egg sandwiches.

Rest in Peace Omar Sharif.

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