By Darius Kadivar
"Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough, A Flask of Wine,
a Book of Verse - and Thou Beside me singing in the Wilderness - And Wilderness
is Paradise enow." _ The Rubaiyat Quatrain XI
Persian Poet, humanist philosopher, and mathematician Omar Khayyam
is probably the most famed of all Persian Poets in the West, ever since the
translation by Victorian-era writer Edward Fitzgerald of a series of Quatrains
known as the "Rubaiyaat". It is probably the best-selling book in the
entire history of English poetry. It exists in many editions and has Enjoyed
massive popularity throughout the 20th century, many people have carried it
around, taken it to war, kept it in the car, ordered it for reading on a
putative desert island. The memorable quatrains appeal to all classes and
conditions of men and women; they are still treasured by millions.
translation profoundly influenced the West's perception (or misperception) of
Persia ( today known as Iran ) in the turn of the century. In fact as unusual as
it may seem one of the original manuscripts of the "Rubaiyaat" was
carried aboard the "R.M.S. Titanic" and was to dissapear with the doomed
Liner under the Sea never to resurface again ...
picture: Top Right WWII veteran
General Omar Nelson Bradley
and below portrait of Omar Khayyam (1048 - 4 Dec 1131)
Poet, mathematician and astronomer.
Khayyam (1048 - 4 Dec 1131) was Born in Nishapur, Iran the
provincial capital of Khurasan. Nishapur is located 115 kms. west of Mashhad,
Not much is known about his family but there is speculation that his father's
trade might have been "Tentmaker". Tentmaker is the literal translation
of Khayyám. Omar even pokes fun at his nickname in his writing:
"Khayyám, who stitched the tents of science, Has fallen in grief's
furnace and been suddenly burned, The shears of Fate have cut the tent ropes of
his life, And the broker of Hope has sold him for nothing!"
The sudden popularity of the famous Quatrains, sold for only One
Pence as a pocket book, was such that it was not only restricted to the London
Upper Class and Cultural educated circles, but became an international hit and
strangely enough in the United States where Khayyam's poems became a symbol of
wisdom and celebration of an epicurian life. The Persian Poets popularity was
such that many started picking "Omar" as a
surname for themselves or their siblings as was the case for example of General "Omar" Nelson
Bradley (1893-1981) , known by his troops in World War II as "The
Soldier's General" because of his care of and compassion for those soldiers
under his comand, or Costume designer Omar Kiam for many Hollywood films
of the 1930's.
Khayyams tribute to Wine was also often exageratedly used to
promote the virtues of alcoholic beverages. Thus Khayyam became not only a
popular figure but was also used as a formidable merchandizing vehicle, cited in
Ads promoting the sales of all sorts of items ranging from Persian or Middle Eastern
Rugs, Wine bottles, Vacuum Cleaners,
Porcelain figurines to even Restaurant names such as the famed Armenian
Mardikian's restaurant "Omar Khayyam" created in 1932 in Fresno, California.
A number of artists have also even tried to put his poetry into musical
form such as in British Composer Hubert Bath's "Omar Khayyam: Four Eastern
Impressions for Piano" .
picture: Piano music composed by Hubert Bath (1883-1945)
But also in songs such as "Girl O' Mine" in a musical
entitled "Omar Khayyam the Poet" of the mid 20's.
In 1931 a radio series of about Thirteen Episodes in a "Mystery
and Adventure" gendre were broadcasted with a great deal of success on US
national Radio called "Omar - Wizard of Persia"
It is therefore not a surprise that Hollywood very soon
discovered the potentials of a film story on Khayyam's life and Times. The
Oriental touch of Khayyam's poetry, his glorification of the Good Life and the
Universal appeal of his poetry, made him an ideal role model for all movie goers
thirsty to discover new Romantic Lovers and Adventurers.
At least Three silent films exist on Khayyam :
Lover's Oath" (1922; released 1925), "Omar the Tent Maker" (1922) and
"Omar Khayyam" (1924).
"A Lover's Oath" (also released under the title :
"The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam") Directed by Ferdinand Pinney Earle.
Edited by Milton Sills and starring Ramon Novarro as Ben Ali ,with
co-stars Kathleen Key as Sherin, Edwin Stevens as Hassen Ben Sabbath, and
Frederick Warde as Omar Khayyam.
picture: Left: "A Lovers Oath" (1922 / released in 1925)
(courtesy silent majority) Kathleen Key, Ramon Novarro, Frederick
Warde (Center as Omar Khayyam), Right "Omar the Tent-Maker" (1922)
Shireen (Virginia Brown Faire) and Omar (Guy Bates Post).
backgrounds and trick photography were the draws in this romantic drama, based
on The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. As Ben Ali, Ramon Novarro practically
disappears in the midst of all the camera work and set design, as does his
co-star Kathleen Key. The film's titles are, more often than not, direct quotes
of the Rubaiyat's verses. As a result, the plot sticks pretty much to the
original Edward Fitzgerald translation -- Ben Ali, the son of Omar (Frederick
Warde), is engaged to Sherin (Key), but lusty old sheik Hassan Ben Sabbath
(Edwin Stevens) wants Sherin for himself. Although Ben Ali gets the girl, Edwin
Stevens walks off with the acting honors, and occasionally another actor's
presence emerges memorably in the midst of all the fancy backgrounds and harems,
most notably funny-faced character actor Snitz Edwards as Omar's servant.
The films Running Length is : 6 reels. This was Ramon Navarro's (known as
Samaniego) first starring role. However, the independent art film could not find
a distributor, and stayed hidden in a vault three years until Navarro had become
a full fledged star in Fred Niblo's 1926 Silent Epic "Ben-Hur:
A Tale of the Christ" . By then, both the actor and the film had changed
names. After making this film, a disappointed Ramon returned - briefly - to bit
and extra assignments.
Tentmaker" directed by James Young and produced by Richard Walton Tully
was one of the first attempts to adapt Khayyam's life story to the silver
screen. It was adapted from the stage play by Tully with mixed results. It shows
Omar (Guy Bates Post, who also played the role on stage) as a student in love
with Shireen (Virginia Brown Faire), the daughter of his teacher. The couple
marry in secret, but the Shah (Noah Beery) has heard of Shireen's beauty and
carries her off to his native land. When she turns down his advances, she is
imprisoned. Shireen gives birth while she is locked up and the Shah orders that
both she and the baby girl be thrown off a cliff. They are saved, and the child
is handed over to Omar, but Shireen is sold into slavery. It takes seventeen
years for Omar and Shireen to be reunited. During that time, their daughter
grows up (to be played by Patsy Ruth Miller), and falls in love with a Christian
slave. Do not expect to learn much about Omar Khayyam nor his poems in this Art
Deco style silent film, but it has the charm of its time.
Not much can be said either of Bryan Foy's "Omar Khayham" based on his
screenplay starring Phil Dunham which basically follows the same plot as the one
Films where Khayyam or his poetry are mentioned :
Films quoting Khayyams poetry:
"Unfaithful", "Duel in the Sun", and "Pandora"
Khayyam's poetry seems to have also inspired filmakers in the talkie
era, where the powerful imagery and romantic tainted poetry has been used as an
understatement to the films message.
And The Flying Dutchman" (1951) directed by Albert Lewin was a film
based on the legend of The Flying Dutchman. James Mason plays
Henrick Van Der Zee (The Flying Dutchman), a man doomed to roam the seven seas
for eternity, only being allowed to stop for six months every seven years to
find someone who loves him enough to die for him. He meets Pandora, Played by Ava Gardner, who
sees his ship in the harbour and swims out to it as her curiosity gets the
better of her.
The British version of the film ends with James Mason picking
up a copy of the Rubaiyat and, with his beautiful northern English diction,
" The moving finger writes:
and having writ,
Nor all thy piety
Shall lure it back to cancel
half a line,
Nor all thy tears wash out
a word of it."
_ The Rubaiyat
You can hear James Mason quote this
verse at http://www.jamesmason.ic24.net/mp3/pandora.rm
You will need real player.
The American version, however, omits this and
substitutes a few phrases explaining the legend of the Flying Dutchman, almost
as if American audiences were not accorded enough intelligence to appreciate the
Vidor 's "Duel in the
Sun" (1946) a dramatic love story set in the American West with
Jones and Gregory
Omar Khayyam is quoted towards the end of the film by Gregory
Pecks character "Chavez" who tries to confort his daughter Pearl:
thing is certain, and the rest is lies: The flower that once has bloomed,
_ The Rubaiyat Quatrain LXIII.
In Adrian Lyne's ( "Fatal
Attraction" , "9
1/2 Weeks" ) "Unfaithful"(2002),
Diane Lane is a wayward wife and Richard Gere is her suspicious husband. Connie
(Lane) leaves her suburban home on an errand, venturing into Manhattan during a
wicked windstorm. On a trash-strewn Soho street, she literally runs into Paul
Martel (Olivier Martinez), a handsome young Frenchman carrying a huge stack of
books. Connie has a bad scrape on her knee, and is unable to get a cab, so Paul
invites her up to his apartment. Paul is quietly flirtatious as he gives Connie
some ice and a bandage for her knee. Connie phones home and explains to her son,
Charlie (Erik Per Sullivan), that she's running late. Before she leaves, Paul
gives her a book of Persian poetry, The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
However the film for which Khayyam is certainly best
remembered for is the one with the Hollywood Star of the 1950's Cornel Wilde.
When Frank Freeman Jr., son of the longtime head of Paramount Pictures, reads the novel written
by Manuel Kamroff's novel "The Life, the Loves and the Adventures of Omar
Khayyam" he is more than thrilled, and suggests screen writer Barry Lyndon
to work on it immediately. In order to insure the utmost authenticity a research
staff assembles more than 300 books on 11th Century Persia's history, politics
and art. The result is a mammoth screenplay of 1, 500, 000 words which will
serve as the backbone of a multi-million film with the most popular stars of the
Time : Cornel Wilde, Debra Paget, John Derek, Michael Rennie and Raymond Massey.
Filmed in Vista Vision technicolor the film depicts the Life of
Omar who appears as a Soldier, Poet and Scientist. The exacting task of
designing Medieval Persian Costumes went to Ralph Jester, who already worked for
most of Cecile B.
DeMille's films such cas the "Ten
Commandments" (1956) , or "Samson
and Delilah" (1949).
The Movie's Legend has it that on the set,
the actors had asked Jester to sew invisible pockets into the flowing robes so
that they could carry, between takes lunch, money and cigarettes, car Keys,
hankerchiefs and other modern necessities...
It is therefore with amidst great amount of Publicity and
Merchandizing (including Poetry contests to win free tickets) that Paramount
Life, Loves and Adventures of Omar Khayyam" directed by William
Dieterle, in the movie theaters in 1957.
picture: Poster release of Omar Khayyam 1957
"Eleventh Century Persia is beset
with enemies . The Mighty Byzantine army threatens its border. At Court a band
of fanatical murderers, The Assassins, plot to set up their own Shah. Eyeing the
throne is also Prince Ahmud (Perry Lopez), vindicative, jealous offspring of the
Shah's first Wife, Zarada (Margaret Hayes). Ahmud, hates handsom Prince Malik
(John Derek), courageous son of the Shah and rightful heir to the throne.
Amid this scene of intrigue and treachury is Omar Khayyam (Cornel Wilde),
adventurer, poet, astronomer and man of action. The shah ( Raymond Massey)
appoints Omar as counselor to the court, a move which pleases the Shah's chief
Minister Nizam (, who needs Omar's wisdom for guidance. Nizam, Omar and the
wealthy and fawning Hasani( Michael Rennie) are former schoolmates, intensly
loyal to eachother. Knowing that Omar's beloved the beautiful Sharaine (Debra
Paget ) is to become the Shah's fourth wife, Hasani brings Omar a pretty slave
girl (Joan Taylor). The latter promises to be Omar's faithful servant, hoping to
win his heart.
The Byzantines thrust themselves across the border. Prince
Malik earns the honor to go into battle with the Shah. By following Omar's
scientific calculations, the Shah routs out the enemy with a surprise
Through the slave girl, Omar has discovered the Assassin's
seemingly invincible fortress. Strangely enough, he is welcomed by the Assassins
and is shocked to discover that Hassani is their leader. Conveying the
impression that the Assassins are winning him over their side, Omar covertly
surveys the rock-hewn structure for means of destroying it.
the Shah and Malik have been wounded and half their forces wiped out, Prince
Ahmud, who is in t league with the Assassins, rides with his army to cut off
what is left of the Shah's forces.
Omar seeks out the Shah and prevails upon
him to muster his remaining soldiers and attack the Assassins stronghold.
Through Omar's knowledge of chemistry and geology, the forteress is destroyed
and the Assassins defeated. The Shah dies of his wounds. Ahmud's and Malik's
forces join in battle during which Ahmud is killed. Malik ascends the throne and
Omar and Sharain find happiness together."
Although details of Khayyam's life are unknown, this movie invents
one for him that include his real achievements - inventing a new calendar and of
course penning poems. Thus the film provides us with a splendid cinematic
introduction to Persia's greatest poet.
Khayyam appears as a compassionate and noble figure whose
extraordinary literary talent and all-encompassing intellect displayed no
natural boundary. Khayyam is admirably portrayed as a fascinating personality.
The casting of the movie is exceptional and we are treated to fine supporting
performances by distinguished actors of the time such as as Michael Rennie as
Hassan Sabbah ( Hassani ) and Sebastian Cabot as Nizam al-Mulk (Nizam) among
picture: Omar Khayyam (Cornel Wilde) Right hardly suspects
his childhood friend Hassani (Michael Rennie) far right and his
mischievace plans as harem girl Yaffa ( Joan Taylor ) looks on
(copyright Paramount pictures)
Somehow Hollywood seems to have only retained Khayyam's
metaphorical celebration of wine by making Cornel Wilde play an often-drunk Omar
Khayyam who longs for his sweetheart who the Shah ( Raymond Massey) keeps in his
harem as his third wife. Omar Khayyam works in the Shah's court as a
mathematician who is drawing up a new calendar.
The movie also attempts to explore key historical issues
surrounding the life and times of Khayyam. We learn about the Byzantine Roman
Empire's war with Persia involving an alliance composed of Bulgars, Greeks,
Franks and Lombards. We also confront a number of other historical and
scientific issues in this film that are portrayed with an interesting admixture
of detail and insight that seems to be unusual for such Hollywood productions.
picture: Khayyam (Cornel Wilde) sitting to the right of the throne
becomes the Shah's ( Raymond Massey ) military advisor
and top in love with Sharain (Debra Paget a Harem Girl.
(copyright Paramount pictures)
Khayyam additionally provides us with a fascinating
glimpse of the Assassins of Syria, a sect known as the infamous "Hashashin" and
led by Hasani (Michael Rennie). Also the film has Khayyam romancing with Sharain
(Debra Paget) while foiling the assassin sect's plot to kill the Shah's son
Prince Malik (John Derek) ( historically the future Malik Shah).
picture: Left Video Release cover of 1957 film. Right Prince Malik (John Derek)
left finds in Khayyam (Cornel Wilde) right a loyal protector
(copyright Paramount pictures)
efforts to root the Assassins out of their extrodinary mountain fortress,
Khayyam is therefore led to crosse swords with the Assassin sect whose members
are deluded by their leader into thinking that they are in paradise when they
actually are in a hashish-induced zombie-like state. In fact, the word
"assassin" means "hashish-eaters".
Thus Cornel Wilde as Khayyam appears
as a remarkable military genius in addition to his poetic and scientific skills;
Nizam who historically was a political genius of his Time is reduced
to a supporting role by Sebasien Cabot and Hassan Sabbah portrayed by Michael
Rennie is a suave and calculating villain with good manners, rather than a
"Osama Ben Laden" type of monster which he probably was.
This leads us
to conclude that Omar Khayyam's portrayal in William Dieterle's film is
certainly highly exagerated especially regarding Khayyams physical and military
skills, and tends to reduce his poetry to the love af wine. The real Khayyam was
probably more in phase with the the one depicted by Amin Maalouf in his
bestselling novel "Samarkand".
However the film can still be considered as a sincere albeit highly romantized
tribute to Khayyam's genius very much in the style of other Hollywood movies
such as "The
adventures of Marco Polo" (1938) starring Gary Cooper, "The
Life of Louis Pasteur" (1936) or "The
Life of Emile Zola" (1937) starring Paul Muni the latter also directed
by William Dieterle. The film is therefore truly a joy to watch as a Technicolor
Spectacle and contains all the ingredients that make up an exciting Oriental
picture: Left to Right Cornel Wilde, Debra Paget, Michael Rennie,
John Derek, and Raymond Massey
(copyright Paramount pictures)
"Ah, my beloved, fill the cup that clears Today of past regrets
and future fears- Tomorrow? - Why, tomorrow I may be Myself with yesterday's
seven thousand Years." _ The Rubaiyat Quatrain XXI
On the Actors of the 1957
Cornel Wilde is "Omar Khayyam" Poet, Drinker and Adventurer. He
was one of Hollywoods leading men in the 40's and 50's in such films as "Forever
Cecile B. DeMilles "The
Greatest Show on Earth" with co-star Charlton Heston. and appeared as
Alladin in Alfred E. Green's 1945 film "One
Thousand and One Nights" .
Debra Paget is "Shirine" was one of Elvis Presley's sweethearts and a
co-star in "Love
me Tender" . She often appeared in Adventure films in the mid and
John Derek is Malik ( Malik Shah). Better known as
Bo-Derek's husband and director, he nevertheless made memorable appearances in
such films as Cécile B. DeMilles "The Ten Commandements" 1956
and three years prior to the film on "Omar Khayyam" he took on the role of
another "Persian hero" Hadji Baba in "The Adventures
of Hadji Baba" (1954) directed by Don Weis.
Rennie portrays a suave Hassani (Hassan Sabah) and is certainly the
actor who is best remembered for his role as an Outer Space Alien in "The
Day the World stood Still (1951)"
Raymond Massey is the Shah ( Alp Arslan ) and is no other than one
of the lady killers in the famous "Arsenic
and Old Lace (1944)" with Cary Grant. He also appeared as President
Roosevelt in the successful tv series The "Winds
of War" starring Robert Mitchum and Ali MacGraw , and many who used to
follow the series "Bankeh Karlaid" (Persian title) a Dynasy or Dallas type tv
vehical of the late Sixties will probably remember the Old Patriarch who played
along with George Hamilton.
On the Music Score:
The music score of this film "The Life Loves and adventures of Omar
Khayyam" (1957) was composed by Victor Young
with Lyrics by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, with "The Loves of Omar
Khayyam", "Take My Heart", and "Tell My Love"
Peruvian singer Yma Sumac, who also
features in the film as Karina.
Khayyam and the Rubaiyats On-Line
Khayyam is immensely cited worldwide on many websites dedicated to
poetry, science or mathematics, here a just a few of my findings :
Khayyam the mathematician
and his Geometric
Solution of the Cubic
Beautiful Website on Khayyam The Persian
Stanzas or verses of four lines The
Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam appears here in one of the suggested translations
by Edward J. Fitzgerald.
Recommended Reading on Khayyam
Merchandizing "Omar Khayyam's" 1957 film :
Merchandizing the Poet: Carpets and Vacuum Cleaner "Omar
Khayyam" Contest proposed by Paramount Studios for promotion of its film "Omar
French-Libanese Amin Maalouf's 1995 best selling novel "Samarkand"
tells the story of Khayyam and the whereabouts of the Rubaiyats manuscript which
is supposed to have sunk with the Titanic. It is a novel that has been an
International hit by the Author of "Leo
"Wine of Nishapur: A
Photographer's Promenade in the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam" Photography:
Shahrokh Golestan Calligraphy: Nasrollah Afjei Translated by: Karim Emami
published by Mazda Publishers.
Cool Wine Quotes
Check out imdb the name "Omar"
which also established itself in Hollywood circles since the 1930's.
About the author:
Darius Kadivar was born to an Iranian father
and French mother,and lives and works currently in France as a multimedia
documentalist. Interested in movies and particularily historic Epics made by
Hollywood's Golden Age in the 50's and 60's. He has contributed a number of
articles on movies for various Online magazines.
... Payvand News - 3/7/03 ... --