When Omar Sharif died earlier this summer, so did the fantasies of a 13-year-old girl who fell in love with him long ago, in the darkness of a movie theater, while downing chocolate malted-milk balls and buttered popcorn.
As I popped another malted ball into my mouth, his larger-than-life image magically appeared on the big screen, causing me to gasp, do a double take, and nearly choke.
Those eyes. Those sad, soulful eyes. Damn, he was gorgeous. I will never forget seeing him for the first time as Nicky Arnstein, in what has to be one of the best musicals of my generation. “Funny Girl,” with Barbra Streisand as his leading lady. Sharif watched her longingly as she sang her classic number, “People.” Me? I would’ve told the director to skip the song and then plastered a big wet one all over his face.
And later, when it was his turn to sing, in what has to be classified as the worst singing voice ever, I nearly lost it. For who can forget such romantic mush as:
“You are woman, I am man. Let’s kiss.”
Sure, that was probably the corniest come-on line I’d ever heard but she fell for it, didn’t she? I would’ve too. For, with that utterance he set my young heart a flutter, with a passion so intense, I was having hot flashes. In my teens! Oh how I wished that in that moment I was Fanny Brice (aka, Barbra Streisand) and that he’d been directing those musically-challenged lyrics at me. It’s when I learned the meaning of the verb, to swoon.
I became obsessed with “Funny Girl,” seeing it over and over. And this was long before the initials, VCR, crept into our cultural vernacular. In other words, every weekend matinee, that’s where you’d find me, basking in the glow of the silver screen at the Hicksville, New York movie theater, where the aisles were sticky with wads of gum and spilled soda.
“Mrs. Arnstein, Mrs. Arnstein, what a beautiful, beautiful name!” So sings Barbra after she marries Nicky, the gambling hottie.
I learned all the songs from that film, backwards and forwards. For just a little while, I was the one who had “43 expressions, sweet as pie and tough as leather, six expressions more than all those Barrymore’s put together”–way before Drew Barrymore was a twinkle in her father’s eye.
I could make my eyes all teary on demand, as I sang, “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world,” all the while wondering, is it me or do all people need people?
And I could spend hours in the darkness of the basement of my parents’ home, where a friend would hold a flashlight on me as if it was a stage light, so I could belt out, “Oh my man I love him so, he’ll never know,” pretending I already knew the meaning of heartache at the tender age of 13. Which, of course, I didn’t.
Omar Sharif was the end-all, with those eyes, guaranteed to melt the heart of any, ahem, woman. He was this teenager’s heartthrob and I was certain that had he known how much I loved him, then maybe, he would’ve taken me away, swept me off my feet, and begged me to live with him in Hollywood, Egypt or whatever. I would’ve lived with him in an RV, given the chance. Surely, we were meant to be, right?
Actually, we weren’t. My unrequited love affair with Omar in all its glory and childish fantasies, would go on to last a year. Just about how long it took for the film to be taken out of release from the movie theaters.
Omar Sharif wasn’t my first crush nor my last. There would be other infatuations to come, including Pierce “Remington Steele” Brosnan (the only one I ever wrote a fan letter to and got a response!), Colin Firth and most recently, Sam Heughan. (If you haven’t seen Sam in the “Outlander” TV series on Starz then you don’t know what you’re missing. Seriously. You don’t.) But never was there one so brilliantly handsome, so swarthy and mysteriously aloof, as Omar Sharif.
Had I known he was on his deathbed, I would’ve said to him, “Thank you, Mr. Sharif, for giving me something in my youth to hold on to: a dream, an innocent fantasy and hope. Most of all, for teaching me about the ways of the world, and how gamblers can make the worst kind of husbands. Alas, Nicky Arnstein, I knew you when.
So, a belated good bye, Mr. Sharif. You’re wanted in Mr. Zigfeld’s office now.