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Layla Murad (1918-1995)

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Layla Murad

Layla Murad began her film career in 1932, singing “The Day of Departure” in al-Dahaya (The Victims), directed by Badr Lama. Egyptian cinema was on the threshold of sound. The Victims had originally been made as a silent film, but the public wanted Hollywood-style talkies, so Lama added the song by Layla Murad. She was only fifteen.

At the time, she was being trained by Dawud Husni and her father, Zaki Murad, both prominent Jewish composers. Several years passed without further involvement in cinema, until in 1938 she was chosen to play the female lead in Yahya al-Hubb (Long Live Love), alongside Muhammad Abd al-Wahab. Murad combined physical grace, a sweet and well-trained voice, a beautiful face, and eyes that shone with innocence and passion. A star was born.

Togo Mizrahi swept her up and made her into the number one Egyptian actress, through four films: Layla Mumtara (A Rainy Night, 1939), Layla Bint al-Rif (Layla, Girl of the Country 1941), Layla Bint al-Madaris (Layla the Schoolgirl, 1941), and finally Layla (1942). Then, once again, Murad disappeared from the screen, this time to reappear two years later in her fifth and final Mizrahi film, Layla fil-Zalam (Layla in the Dark, 1944).

The use of Murad’s name in all these titles—indirectly in Rainy Night (Arabic for “night” is layla, pronounced the same as the name, but spelled differently)— shows just how marketable she was. Layla, her fourth Togo Mizrahi film, ran for twenty-two weeks.

Murad later married Anwar Wagdi, actor, director, and producer, converting to Islam in the process. Of the twenty-one films she went on to make, the most famous is Ghazal al-Banat (The Flirtation of Girls, 1949), directed by Wagdi, in which she starred opposite Naguib al-Rihani. Another great performance was in Shati’ al-Gharam (Romance Beach, 1950), directed by Henry Barakat. Her worst film was probably her last, Al-Habib al-Majhoul (The Unknown Lover, 1955), directed by Hasan al-Sayfi. With the failure of this film, the banning of “With Unity, Order, and Work”—her song to commemorate the Free Officers’ revolution of 1952—and the outbreak of the Suez War in 1956, Murad retired, at the age of thirty-eight.

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