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#FlashBack67: 49 Years Ago, Jewish Barbra Streisand and Egyptian Omar Sharif’s Affair Shocked the World!

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Columbia Pictures, 1968, via YouTube

Dark, handsome, witty, talented Omar Sharif and Barbra Streisand‘s scandalous affair during the filming of Funny Girl made headlines news. The movie’s production was underway at the same time as the Israeli-Egyptian Six Day War was breaking out in June 1967.

Sharif was almost fired by the film’s producers, then when a poster of the two stars kissing came out the following year, the Egyptian government nearly revoked his citizenship since Streisand was such a vocal supporter of Israel.

Director William Wyler and the cast of Funny Girl rehearsed for weeks at Columbia Studios during the summer of 1967. Almost immediately, Sharif was at the center of a controversy that nearly got him replaced in the film. The Israeli-Egyptian Six Day War ”…sent jitters through Hollywood’s Jewish community”, according to Wyler. Sharif wrote:

 ”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.”

People in the industry suggested that Sharif issue a public statement condemning Egypt. Diana Streisand told the press: ”My daughter isn’t going to work with any Egyptian!”

Producer Ray Stark was ready to break Sharif’s contract when Wyler, who was also Jewish, told Stark:

”We’re in America, the land of freedom, 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!”

Just as cameras began to roll in July, a publicity photo of Sharif and Streisand kissing was released. The Egyptian press began a campaign to get Sharif’s citizenship revoked over the kiss. An Egyptian headline read: ”Omar Kisses Barbra, Egypt Angry”. When asked to comment, Streisand told the press:

”Egypt angry? You should hear what my Aunt Sarah said!”

The controversy finally cooled down, but the chemistry between Streisand and Sharif heated up. The two married stars began an affair. Sharif:

”Barbra Streisand, who struck me as being ugly at first, 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”.

The affair contributed to the breakup of Streisand’s already shaky marriage to Elliot Gould. Wyler was aware of the affair and tried to channel their chemistry into their performances.

Famously demanding in her very first film trying to control costumes, hair, makeup, lighting, and camera angles, Sharif explained Streisand’s bossiness:

”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.”

Columbia Pictures via YouTube

Normally, actors in musicals lip-synched to pre-recorded music for their singing scenes. For the last scene in the film where Fanny Brice sings My Man after she has been told goodbye by Nicky Arnstein (Sharif), Streisand had tried lip-synching My Man, but the scene, which was supposed to be emotional and heartbreaking, just wasn’t working. Wyler and Streisand decided to have her sing live. During the scene, Wyler had 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 influence her performance. The film’s editor Robert Swink later said:

”Wyler wanted him around to help build up her sadness. They must have done at least ten takes. Willie shot the thing live and recorded it live. It was pretty emotional for her.”

Streisand blames the backlash from their affair for her not performing on stage for 27 years because of the stress at the time caused her to forget the lines to three of her songs at her famous concert in front of 150,000 people in Central Park shortly before Funny Girl started shooting. She had been guaranteed a heavy police presence, but a surprise visit by Soviet politician Alexei Kosygin reduced the protection from 300 officers to thirty making her feel extremely vulnerable after receiving many death threats.

At the September 1968 premier of “Funny Girl”

The end of filming marked the end of their affair. Streisand later said that given the charged atmosphere during making the film it was difficult to put her feelings away once the days filming ended. Sharif was very complimentary about Streisand but soon got over their break-up by dating his next co-star, Catherine Deneuve.

He was born on this day in 1932. Sharif was taken by Alzheimer’s Disease in July 2015, at his home city of Cairo. He was 83-years-old.

On his passing, Streisand said:

”Omar was my first leading man. He was handsome, sophisticated, and charming. He was ever the proud Egyptian. The romantic chemistry between Nicky Arnstein and Fanny Brice transcended stereotypes and prejudice. I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to work with Omar, and I’m profoundly sad to hear of his passing.”

With very little dialogue and a little bit of awkward singing, Sharif held his own with the charismatic Streisand in Funny Girl. They worked together one more time, in Funny Lady (1975), which focuses on the lasting love between Brice and Arnstein that shadowed her marriage to impresario and songwriter, Billy Rose (James Caan). They share an unforgettable scene that shows all the pain of their love with the two words: ”Goddamn toothbrushes”, along with the speechless gaze of the two actors to tell their story.

Sharif:

“I was madly in love with her.”


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