en-us-Old is Gold - Sâmia Gamal


Samia Gamal was one of the most important figures in the Egyptian art scene in the "Golden Era". Some called her a farasha (butterfly), due to her light and elegant style that set her apart from other ballerinas of her time. Her unique talent made her Egypt's official ballerina for many years. But what few people know is that her life was not always a fairy tale, on the contrary, it was very similar to the story of Cinderella…

Samia was a symbol of elegance
Samia was a symbol of elegance

Samia Gamal was born in 1924, in the city of Wana Al Qiss, in Beni Suef, Egypt, under the name of Zeinab Khalil Ibrahim Mahfouz, her father was a tailor and her mother of Moroccan descent. When she was just 8 years old, her mother passed away and her father remarried. Her stepmother was very cruel and treated her like a maid in the house. At the age of 13, Samia lost her father too and the mistreatment by her stepmother only got worse. She decides to go and live in Cairo with her older sister and her brother-in-law. Both had a difficult financial situation, so Samia learned to sew in order to help with the family income. She also took care of her sister and nephew's house. Samia's room overlooked a neighborhood cafe where the radio was always on. It was there that she heard, for the first time, the voice of a promising singer, Farid Al Atrash. At the age of 14, she got a job in a fabric factory and then worked as a nurse in a hospital. One of her neighbors loved going to the movies and one day she decides to take Samia to keep her company. The film was Malikat Al Massarah (Queen of Theatres) which featured Badia Massabni. There began Samia's fascination with dance. She dreamed of being a ballerina at the Casino de Abadia and being among the famous. When she was 15, she came home late after going to the movies and her brother-in-law violently assaulted her. Samia ran away from home. She was sitting in Café El Gamal, when the owner's son, Mostafa Gamal, heard her say how much she would love to meet Badia and become one of her dancers. Mostafa took her to visit the casino.

Badia was the queen of theater and oriental dance at that time. Her Casino was frequented by the Egyptian and foreign political and cultural elite. Her concerts had high musical and artistic quality. Badia liked her beauty and elegance and gave her the stage name Samia. Out of gratitude to Mostafa, Samia adopted the surname Gamal. Badia agreed to give her dance and stage preparation lessons. In her debut as a soloist, Samia was very nervous and froze on stage. She did not dance well and was booed by the audience. Badia decided to put her back in the Back line Ballet. At that moment, Samia took the strong decision to become a great ballerina! Badia had hired a very famous and competent Lebanese choreographer, Isaac Dickson, to choreograph her shows and prepare her dancers. He taught various types of dance and prepared oriental fantasy tableaux. He was known in the artistic world and worked in the preparation of actresses for the cinema, such as, for example, the child actress Fairouz, who in the film Dahab (Gold) danced to perfection in the style of Badia, Taheya Carioca and Samia Gamal. He also made small appearances as an actor in films. He was a notary in the 1947 film Fatma, starring none other than Om Kulthum. In the 1952 film Mostafa kamel, he played a doctor. Dickson charged a lot for his lessons, but Samia managed to pay him in installments. He choreographed her to two dance numbers. One with the Spanish music Fire Dance by Manuel de Falla and the other with the Hungarian Rhapisody music by Franz Liszt. Samia also attended a dance school where she learned samba, rumba, tango and rock and roll. She took classical ballet classes with Russian Sonia Ivanova. Samia was looking for the perfect dance outfit to attract Badia's attention and be able to be a soloist again. Taheya Carioca gave her a beautiful red costume and she regained her position as a soloist. She was known for dancing with a tambourine in her hand surrounded by flames. In addition, Badia doubled his salary.

She later went dancing in a casino in Suez and, on her return to Cairo, danced at The Kit Kat Club and El Dollez Club. It was in the latter that she received the nickname "the barefoot ballerina" after taking off her shoe with a broken heel in order to continue dancing. It was at Badia's casino that she met Farid El Atrash and almost fainted with emotion, as she was a fan of him.

In cinema, she worked as an extra in some films, such as Al 3azima (Determination) in 1939, Entessar Al Shabbab (Triumph of Youth) in 1942 with Farid El Atrash, among others. She had a small role alongside Mohamed Abdel Wahab, in the film Mamnoa3 El Hob (Forbidden Love). By the way, Abdel Wahab composed the song Ya Msafer Wahdak (Lonely Traveler) for this film.

In 1946, Samia was ready to play a leading role, which she managed through the great comic actor Naguib Al Rihani, in the film Ahmar Shafeif (Red Lipstick). Later, in 1947, Farid chose her to star in a film he was producing, Habib Al Omr (Love of a Lifetime). They formed a successful love duo, which led them to record several films together: such as Afrita Hanem (Little Lady Devil) with the funny actor Ismail Yassin, Akher Kidba (The Last Lie) and many others. With the death of Asmahan, Farid's sister, in a car accident, the relationship between Samia and Farid became very strong. She supported him a lot during this difficult time and many said that the two had married in secret. But Farid was from an aristocratic family in Syria and his marriage to a ballerina would never be accepted. They always swore that they were just good friends and Farid even said that the only person he would marry would be singer and actress Shadia. But he never married anyone.

The king of Egypt, King Faruq, also greatly appreciated Samia's dancing and she was always invited to dance at official government events. She performed for important foreign officials, like Harry Kissinger, for example. They said that the king was in love with Samia but he got married with Queen Nariman and the rumors disappeared.

After some time, Samia met with the American millionaire Sheppard King in Paris, who proposed marry to her. She took a while to accept, then they got married. He converted to Islam and changed his name to Abdullah King. They moved to the United States and during that period she danced in 16 American states, earning a lot of money with the shows. Her husband had control of the money and when they divorced Samia returned to Egypt with nothing.

Samia had some passing affairs, such as the one with the Italian singer Franco Frank and also with the great composer Baligh Hamdi, of whom he created songs for great stars such as Om Kulthum, Abdel Halim Hafez and Warda, with whom he was married for many years.

Her friend, Leila Fawzy, supported her to return to the cinema screens again. Samia participated in international productions such as the French film Alibaba and the 40 thieves, alongside comedian Fernandel and made a small appearance in the American film The King of the Valley.

She started a love story with actor Rushdi Abbaza during the recording of the film Il Ragl Teni (The Second Man). At that time, Rushdi was married to the American Bárbara, mother of his daughter Qisma. Due to relationship problems, they divorced, then Samia and Rushdi got married. Qisma adored Samia, who took care of her with great affection. By irony of fate, in the film's plot, Sabah, the Lebanese singer and actress, acted as Rushdi's lover and Samia was the betrayed wife. And this actually happened in real life. During a couple crisis, Rushdi left Samia in Egypt and went to Lebanon to marry Sabah. Samia kept silent and never commented on this marriage. The relationship between Rushdi and Sabah did not last long and they broke up. When he returns to Egypt, Samia waits for Rushdi at the airport and forgives him. They were together for 18 years, from 1958 to 1977. Samia moves away from artistic life and dedicates herself exclusively to caring of Rushdi and his daughter. He was a Don Juan and an alcoholic, so Samia reached her limit and they divorced. After that she didn't officially marry any more suitors and continued with her life with her sister and her five nephews.

In the 1980s, singer and actor Samir Sabry, aware of Samia's financial difficulties, invited her to dance in his show. She was 60 at the time and was initially hesitant to accept the invitation. Samir managed to convince her and more than a thousand people came to the Hyatt Al Salam hotel every Monday to be close to Samia's magic. The show became a public success both in Cairo and when they went on an international tour in Europe and the United States, at the invitation of the Egyptian minister of culture. Samia quickly recovered financially and withdrew from the stage. She made the pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia (Haj), when she returned she bought a tomb for herself and asked that when she died they buried her without alarm. Samia took great care of her figure and had a very strict diet, based on salad and yogurt. She had very serious anemia, lost consciousness and was hospitalized for a blood transfusion. When she left the hospital, she didn't follow the doctor's recommendation to eat better. She had stomach problems and this time she was unable to recover, dying on December 1, 1994, aged 70.

Samia will always be a reference for all who appreciate class and elegance in oriental dance.

Claudia Cenci