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Omar

“I got my first foreign assignment while I was still a darkroom apprentice,” says John Minihan, “photographing Omar Sharif in Paris just after Dr Zhivago came out. I’d never been to France before—I was nineteen years old—I’d never been anywhere except an edge-of-town council house in Athy and in Dublin—to catch the cattle-boat out of Ireland at the end of the 1950s—and then London, where we lived in the  basement of a rundown boarding-house my aunt charlady’d.

“Sharif was staying in a palatial suite of rooms at the George V, the poshest hotel in Paris. He was so gracious. He invited me up and asked whether I’d had breakfast, insisting I eat some with him. Coffee at the George V came in an ornate silver pot and the slices of toast were individually wrapped in starched linen napkins, like holy bread. I’d never experienced anything like it. Maybe Omar took to me because I was Irish—he was an Egyptian Arab in the heart of racist Europe and I was bogland Irish in Paris without any French—anyway, why-so-ever, we seemed to bond. He asked me what time my flight back to London was at and what I planned doing until then. My return flight was late in the afternoon and until then I planned to be a day-tripping tourist around the city. “O, but you must come with me!”, he said, “I’m going racing today—horse-racing—you must come!” I took this picture at the racetrack. Afterwards his driver took me back to the airport, and Omar—star of Lawrence of Arabia and Dr Zhivago, two of the really big-impact movies of the era—came along “for the spin.”

John Minihan in Cork

John Minihan

“On the way to the airport, we passed a line of people queuing to see an early evening showing of Dr Zhivago. Over the cinema-entryway—tall as the building itself—there was an enormous picture of Omar as the poetic Dr Zhivago deep in the Russian winter, icicles in his beard and frost on his eyebrows. As we glided by in the almost-silent star-car, Omar and I glanced at one another, he smiling, looking like a vision of beatitude. He was in star-heaven. So was I—I thought to myself: Christ! This is the life!”

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