Rushdy Abaza (Rushdy Said Bughdady Abaza)
Actor, producer and screenwriter (Al Mansoura, Egypt, 8.3.1926 – Egypt, 7.27.1980)
Born in Al Mansoura in 1926, and died at 53 of a liver cancer, Rushdy Abaza was one the most popular actor of the golden age of Egyptian film studio system era.
Rushdy Said Bughdady Abaza was born to an Italian mother, Teresa Luigi, and an Egyptian father who worked as a police officer. He graduated from St. Marc College in Alexandria and did not complete his university education. The Abaza family is deeply rooted in Egyptian society and many of its sons played significant roles in the history of the country. Rushy could become a body building athlete, but in 1948 Abaza attracted the attention of the director Kamal Barakat while he was playing billiards in the Riviera Casino in Emad el Din Street. Barakat found something amazing about the 22 year old young man that made him give Abaza the main role in The Young Millionaire (el Millionnairah el saghîrah) and 150 L.E. as a salary.
“The experiment failed in the beginning, and it was bound to be a failure”, concludes Kamal Ramzi as acting had progressed in 20 years and looks alone were no longer the only criteria for actors. To make matters worse for the young amateur, after the shooting of the film was over, his father and the entire Abaza family strongly objected to his acting any further. Art was not allowed in such an aristocratic family. However, Abaza insisted that there was nothing wrong with art. For three years Abaza played the main roles in four films – one of these was Murra min nar (1950), by Cairo-born Gianni Vernuccio – but he did not meet with much success. He decided to travel to Italy in 1950 to try his luck in cinema there, since he spoke Italian, in addition to English, French and Spanish fluently. The Cairo-born Italian director Goffredo Alessandrini who directed Abaza’s second film Peccatrice bianca in 1952 (Aminah in Arabic, starring also Youssef Wahby, Samiha Tawfik and Seraj Munir) tried to help him there but in vain. He was to play in only two more film related to Italy, that is French-Italian co-production Shaitan, il diavolo avventuroso (aka Fortune carrée or Square Fortune) by Bernard Borderie, an adventure film also starred by Seraj Munir, Reyad El Kasabgy, Mohamed Sourour and Leïla Djezairia, and in the notorious historical film, an Egyptian-Italian co-production La spada dell’Islam, directed by Andrew Marton and Enrico Bomba, and featuring Lobna Abdel Aziz, Ahmed Mazhar, Farid Shawqi, Imad Hamdi, Mahmoud El-Meliguy, Hussein Riad, Taheya Carioca, Naima Wasfy, Zuzu Hamdi and Abbas Fares.
He did not fare any better in the cinema on his return to Egypt, so he turned to other things, such as working in the Suez Canal and buying a restaurant. But his love for the cinema was overpowering and he returned to it again, starting at the beginning this time. He accepted small parts that matched his ability and experience. “If it was Kamal Barakat who discovered Rushdi Abaza, then it was Ezz Eddine Zoulficar who made a star out of him”, wrote Abd el Ghani Daoud: Zoulficar directed A Woman on the Road (Imra’h fî-l-tarîq), a turning point in the life of Rushdi Abaza. Their next film together was the following year (1959), The Second Man (el Ragoul el thânî). The film changed the typical image of a gangster presented in Egyptian cinema, for Abaza played the role of the updated criminal: a handsome, smooth man who hides his evil nature. From then on, Abaza became a star.
Abaza’s career is rich and complicated. He reached the peak of his career in political films such as Jamila the Algerian (Gamîlah), A Man in Our House (Fî baytinâ ragoul), No Time For Love (Lâ waqt li-l-houbb), Sunset and Sunrise (Ghouroub wa Chourouq), Something in My Heart (Chay’ fî sadrî) and Behind the Sun (Warâ’ el chams). He also played some comic roles in which the comedy emerged from the situation itself such as Wife Number 13 (el Zawgah raqam talatacher), Beware of Women (âh min Hawwâ’), For a Bunch of Children (Min agl hifnat awlâd), and Half an Hour of Marriage (Nouss sa’at zawâg). “The core of all his roles is that he is a strong, self-confidant man”, concludes Daoud. Labib sees in the heart of Rushdi Abaza a “touch of sadness” for his lost chances. Rushdi Abaza wrote one film Achour the Lion Heart (‘Achour qalb el asad) in 1961 and produced The Naughty Men (Chaqâwat riggâlah). He died in 1980 while making The Strong Men (el Aqwiyâ) and actor Salah Nazmi completed his role.
Peccatrice bianca (Goffredo Alessandrini, 1952, ff, act), Shaitan, il diavolo avventuroso (Bernard Borderie, 1955, ff, act), La spada dell’Islam (Enrico Bomba, 1961, ff, act)
Frame taken from:
La spada dell’Islam. Dir. Enrico Bomba. Fi.C.It. – Finanziaria Cinematografica Italiana, Misr. Co., Il Cairo, 1961.
Contributors: Leonardo De Franceschi, with Alessio Altieri
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