The now-iconic film Lawrence of Arabia was released in 1962. This British historical drama is based on the life of T.E. Lawrence who was a real-life writer, diplomat, archaeologist, and army officer. His biggest claim to fame was his participation in the Arab Revolt and the Sinai and Palestine Campaign against the Ottoman Empire in World War One.
Lawrence of Arabia stars Peter O’Toole as the titular Lawrence. This movie was a big hit at the 35th annual Academy Awards ceremony. It was nominated for seven awards and it won in all of those seven categories. Keep reading to find out more about what went down behind the scenes of this massively successful movie.
Water Was An Issue On Set
Lawrence of Arabia was filmed in Jordan, which means that it was actually filmed in a desert. Naturally, the cast and crew got thirsty very frequently and water had to be brought to set by truck from the nearest well, which was over one hundred and fifty miles away. The truck would also bring with it a bunch of plastic drinking cups.
However, the wind would pick up so frequently that it would blow them into the desert. After having countless shots ruined by the flying plastic cups, David Lean banned them from the set and made everyone use ceramic cups.
Some Seasick Camels
Even though the movie was filmed in a desert, it was surprisingly difficult for the crew to find camels for the production. There weren’t really any camels available to them in Jordan, so they had to get camels shipped in from Spain. The camels got to Jordan by boat, which really wasn’t great for their health and wellbeing.
“The camels traveled on shipboard with their legs drawn up under them so they wouldn’t get seasick,” IMDb said. “After they got to Spain, they needed a day to recuperate from the ordeal before they could travel to the shooting locations.”
There Are No Female Speaking Parts
There are women who appear in Lawrence of Arabia, however, none of the women who appear on screen actually have any lines of dialogue. Keep in mind, this movie is over three hours and forty minutes long. That’s a long time for only men to be speaking.
While this might be considered to be an outrage today, back then, nobody even really noticed or cared. It just goes to show how much has changed since the early ’60s.
Fake Heart Attacks
Sam Speigel, the producer of the film, had a hard time dealing with unforeseen complications during filming. He got pretty upset when things didn’t go his way. Apparently, according to the rest of his crew, when he got upset and overwhelmed, he feigned heart attacks.
He took it to the next level one time when he had himself strapped to a stretcher and flown to the desert in a helicopter! On the stretcher, he told Lean, “Don’t worry about anything, David, not the budget, not the schedule, not my health. The picture, the picture is all that counts!”
The Friendship Between Peter O’Toole And Jack Hawkins
Peter O’Toole and Jack Hawkins played rivals in the movie, and because of that, director David Lean wanted them to stay away from each other on set so they wouldn’t get to friendly behind the scenes. Lean believed that Hawkins should have distanced himself from O’Toole to help sell his role, but Hawkins “didn’t see the point.”
These two became fast friends and were regularly seen out drinking together after work and well after production had wrapped. One time long after filming ended, the two of them were enjoying a meal together at a restaurant when O’Toole got into a drunken confrontation with a waiter. However, he quickly backed down after the waiter pulled a knife.
A Long Production Schedule
Most movies take a couple of months to make. Because the crew of this. was committed to perfection and they were working in unfavorable conditions, this film took an unusually long time to complete. Peter O’Toole explained to Johnny Carson just how long he spent making this film.
He described the scene when after their meeting, T.E. Lawrence and General Allenby continue talking while walking down a staircase. According to O’Toole, that scene had to be reshot later, “So in the final print, when I got to the bottom of the stairs, I’m a year older than when I started walking down them.”
An Uncanny Resemblance
The production team actually id a really great job with costumes and makeup in this movie. In fact, Sir Alec Guinness looked so much like the real Faisal after he left the wardrobe trailer that a lot of local Jordanians thought he might have been the real deal.
You know your work is convincing when you manage to fool the locals. If they were able to pull that off without CGI, imagine how great the film could be if they made it again today.
Which “Sources” To Trust
You always have to be careful to check your sources when you’re dealing with Hollywood rumors. Sometimes when it comes to Hollywood legends, the line between fact and fiction gets blurred.
IMDB has clarified that “Contrary to some sources, Richard Burton was never offered the lead role, due to the financial failure of Look Back in Anger (1959), which had caused Twentieth Century Fox to release him from his contract.” This is why you can’t believe everything you read.
It Took A Long Time To Cast Omar Sharif As Sherif Ali
The role of Sherif Ali actually changed hands several times over the course of the film’s production. Originally, Horst Buchholz was cast in the role. However, he was forced to turn it down due to his commitment to Billy Wilder’s film One, Two, Three.
Then the producers turned to their second choice, Alain Delon, who tested successfully but suffered from issues with the brown contact lenses that were required for the role. Finally, Maurice Ronet was cast but he was later replaced with Omar Sharif after he had difficulty with his French accent and his Arab costume.
T.E. Lawrence Didn’t Want There To Be A Movie Made About His Life
The real T.E. Lawernce didn’t initially want a movie to be made based on his writings. He actually declined Rex Ingram’s offer to have his writings turned into a film in 1926, several decades before Lawrence of Arabia. Later, Alexander Korda tried to do his own version, directed by Lewis Milestone and starring Leslie Howard.
Over the years, other stars such as Robert Donat, Laurence Oliver, Cary Grant, Burgess Merideth, and Alan Ladd were all considered for leads. Eventually, screenwriter Michael Wilson convinced Lawrence’s brother to sell the film rights to producer Sam Spiegel.
Anthony Quinn Gave It All He Had
To get his charter to look and feel as authentic as possible, actor Anthony Quinn, who played the rebel leader Auda Abu Tayi, took matters into his own hands. He dedicated hours each day to applying his own makeup to ensure that his character resembled his real-life counterpart as much as possible.
He was so successful in his dedication that according to one story, he showed up on set in his full costume and was offered his own role, as he was indistinguishable in appearance.
A Special Lens Invented For The Film
To successfully film Omar Sharif’s entrance through the mirage, legendary cinematographer Freddie Young developed a special 482mm lens that was provided to him by Panavision.
Out of honor and respect for Lean, the camera production company still has the exact lens today, and it is referred to as the “David Lean” lens. The piece of technology had been created specifically for that groundbreaking shot, and the lens has remained untouched since. Possibly because no one dares use it.
Crew Members Had Small Cameos
While the major actors of the film were stars in their own right, there were numerous cameos in the film that were made by members of the production team. For example, a first assistant director plays a truck driver in a minor scene.
Furthermore, a construction assistant can be seen in the film, driving a truck. Lastly, another construction assistant got his time to shine when he got a line in the movie while another assistant can be found smoking a pipe in the background.
T.E. Lawrence Wasn’t Lean’s First Choice
After directing the now-classic Bridge on the River Kwai, David Lean knew that he wanted to direct a biographical film. However, he didn’t necessarily know who he wanted it to be about. In fact, his first choice wasn’t T.E. Lawrence at all, but Mahatma Gandhi.
Lean had already started production on his Gandhi film, casting Alec Guinness as the lead role. Although he did a significant amount of pre-production and even scouting various areas in India to film, he eventually abandoned the project.
An Exit Visa Was Provided For The Movie
Omar Sharif was already a major star in his native country of Egypt when he received a call asking him to meet producer Sam Spiegel in a hotel in Cairo. When Sharif agreed to meet for a screen test, Speigel made the plans necessary to get him to Jordan.
In his autobiography, Sharif would go on to explain how astonished he was that a Jewish man from Hollywood managed to get him an exit visa, something that Sharif had been trying to obtain for years,
O’Toole Wasn’t A Natural Camel Rider
The first time O’Toole sat upon a camel, it wasn’t the greatest experience for him. During his ride, blood ended up oozing from his jeans. However, he eventually mastered riding a camel after he added a layer of sponge rubber under the saddle.
This was done to help relieve his sore backside. The practice was also adopted by the Bedouin tribesmen that acted in as extras during the desert scenes. It also earned O’Toole the nickname “ab al-‘Isfanjah,” which translates to mean “father of the sponge.”
Director David Lean Was Influenced By John Ford
When director David Lean was considering the aesthetic of Lawrence of Arabia, he looked to John Ford’s work, one of his personal heroes. Ford is an acclaimed Western director and is renowned for his films such as Stagecoach, The Searchers, Who Shot Liberty, The Grapes of Wrath, and more.
In total, he won four Academy Awards for Best Director and is considered one of the greatest directors of all time. Lean paid particular attention to Ford’s The Searchers and adopting Lean’s use of sweeping camera work and shooting landscapes.
They Couldn’t Film At Night
Considering the technology at the time, filming in complete darkness wasn’t even an option. So, to compensate for this, the night scenes were filmed during the day using specialized night lenses.
This is also the reason that you can see the shadows of the camels and people when it’s supposed to be dark outside. Nevertheless, few people noticed this small detail about the film, most likely assuming it was a powerful moon, and still praised it for its ingenuity and all the other reasons that made it a great film.
Many people who had personally known T.E. Lawrence and other historical figures brought to life in the film were disturbed by their portrayal. A Lawrence biographer, Basil Liddell Hart, wrote to many of Lawrence’s friends that they would be shocked at Lawrence’s battle with sadistic tendencies in the film.
At one point, Lady Allenby, the wife of General Allenby, wrote to the London Times that “Is there any way in which a film company can be stopped from portraying a character so inaccurately as that of the late Field Marshal Allenby in Larence of Arabia? What can one do? What is the remedy? Is there one?
The Real Lawrence Of Arabia Wasn’t As Tall As O’Toole
While acting as Lawrence of Arabia, Peter O’Toole stood an impressive six-foot-three inches, making him an incredibly dominant figure on the screen. However, in real life, T.E. Lawrence stood a mere 5 feet, five inches tall!
He was self-conscious about his height for his whole life, although it is expected to have been the result of a childhood case of the mumps. He would have been happy to see such a tall man playing him.
Re-Recording The Dialogue
When doing the reconstruction and restoration of the film in 1989, unfortunately, many clips of dialogue somehow went missing. Because you can’t just remove pieces of dialogue from a film, Peter O’Toole and several other living cast members had to come in and re-record the scenes that the dialogue had disappeared from.
For those who had died since the film had been made, such as Jack Hawkins, actors that sounded similar helped fill in the lines.
The Film Made A King
During the production of the film, King Hussein of Jordan was so excited about the idea that he personally gifted Lean an entire legion of soldiers to act as extras. During his extensive time on set, he also managed to fall in love with a young secretary named Antoinette Gardiner.
The two became so enamored with one another that they had a child named Abdulla II. He turned out to ascend the throne of Jordan in 1999.
Bringing In The Trains
One of the biggest scenes in the film was the attack on the Turkish railroad, which they shot in southern Spain. How did they make this movie magic come together? The producers didn’t hold back to make this part happen.
“The crew laid tracks and brought in German and Belgian locomotives from the early twentieth century rented from the Spanish national railway system,” IMDb reports. These guys really wanted to make an amazing film.
O’Toole Was Almost Trampled To Death
Unfortunately, Peter O’Toole was almost killed during the first take of the Aqaba scene. A gun that was used to indicate the beginning of the scene prematurely went off and spooked the camel that O’Toole was riding.
This resulted in O’Toole being thrown to the ground, right as the extras on horseback began charging. Fortunately for the actor, his camel ended up standing over him, which saved him from being trampled by the extras’ horses.
They Had To Get Crafty
When directors need a certain environment to get a successful shot, they make sure it happens. Needing snow when there isn’t any around makes for a tall task, but the crew figured out how to make it work.
“Because Jordan had had no snow the year before, they had to film scenes of T.E. Lawrence’s trek through the mountains in Spain’s Sierra Nevadas,” reports IMDb. “A special sled with ski-type runners was used to move the camera.”
Two Jack Hawkins
Something fascinating about this movie is that there are two actors with the same name. These two probably filled the set with confusion while shooting, but it wasn’t their fault. Whoever cast them didn’t need to do that.
The name we’re speaking about is Jack Hawkins. One Hawkins played the reporter at the beginning of the movie. The other Hawkins, who was more of a veteran, portrayed General Allenby. Perhaps, the other Hawkins wasn’t on set for very long.
Lawrence Was Almost Portrayed By Marlon Brando
Although few people could imagine anyone other than Peter O’Toole mounted on a camel as T.E. Laurence, he wasn’t the first or even second choice! Initially, the role was offered to Hollywood legend Albert Finney. However, he turned it down because he thought the film would be a flop.
The character of T.E. Lawrence was then pitched to the budding Marlon Brando, who turned it down too, as well as Psycho star Anthony Perkins. Little any of them know the success that the movie would see.
Banned In Several Countries
The film was banned in numerous countries, specifically Arab ones, as they felt that the Arab people and many of their historical figures were misrepresented.
Actor Omar Sharif went so far as to arrange a personal viewing with President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, with the hopes of showing him that there was nothing wrong with the film. As it turns out, Nasser loved the film and allowed it to be released in Egypt, where it went on to become a hit.
Missing A Nomination
When you already have Oscar nominations, an 11th seems like nothing. Lawrence of Arabia missed out on an extra nomination because of a silly mistake they probably wished they could take back.
Lawrence of Arabia would have received that 11th nomination for Best Costume Design but someone forgot a crucial step. Somebody didn’t submit Phyllis Dalton’s name for consideration. Snagging that extra award probably didn’t mean much to some people, but maybe it did for Dalton.
Left To Right
If you pay close attention to the film, you will notice something if you focus on it. You see, directors like to add in their own incognito themes and creative ideas.
Director Sir David Lean implemented a nice metaphor that many probably missed. The majority of the movement goes from left to right in this movie. What could that symbolize, you ask? Lean said he did it to emphasize that the film was a journey.
ABC Cut It In Half
This one might not be that surprising, but there is a little nugget you’d probably like to know. Whenever explicit films get televised, the network always edits them and makes them TV appropriate.
When ABC got it, they had to show it in halves, two nights in a row because of the length. And despite the standard edit already in place, they edited it even more to make Lawrence’s torture a bit easier to watch.
Columbia Gets Sued
Most people don’t like to be disrespected. That’s just the nature of human beings; treat others how you want them to treat you. The Allenby family sent out a formal complaint against Columbia Pictures due to the way they portrayed their ancestors.
Taking it a step further, Auda Abu Tayi and Sharif descendants actively sued Columbia. They weren’t going to stand for it in any way. The case dragged on for ten years before eventually getting dropped.
Peter O’Tool’s Contract
Signing deals is something that everyone in show business does with regularity. Sometimes people get what they want out of it and sometimes they don’t, but signing deals is just part of the industry. What kind of deal did Peter O’Toole get?
“After choosing him for the part of T.E. Lawrence, Peter O’Toole signed a contract with producer Sam Spiegel for $50,000 apiece for three movies,” IMDb mentions. “Albert Finney’s screentest alone for the same part cost £100,000.”
Not The Brightest
Sir Anthony Quayle didn’t think that the character Colonel Brighton was the brightest in any way at all. In fact, he thought the Colonel was “an idiot.”
Although he felt that way, Lean suggested otherwise. It was Lean that told him that Brighton was probably the only honorable person in the whole movie. Well, we’re not saying you can’t still be an idiot while honorable, but maybe both were right.
About The Motorcycle
As mentioned earlier, directors like to include subtle things throughout the film that have hidden meanings. If you remember the fatal motorcycle crash at the start, you can see the registration of the bike.
“The registration of the motorcycle laying at rest after the accident can be seen as UL 656, the registration of the actual motorcycle involved in the fatal crash was GW 2275,” IMDb reveals. “The registration UL 656, in fact, is that of another Brough Superior motorcycle T.E. Lawrence owned.”
Dealing With The Heat
As you’ve already seen, the makers of this film did whatever it took to get things just right. If that meant sacrificing access to cooler temperatures than so be it. When they were in Morocco, things got scary hot.
“The crew took up residence at an old Foreign Legion encampment in Ouarzazate, with no air conditioning in one-hundred-plus degree Fahrenheit (thirty-eight-plus degrees Celsius) temperatures,” IMDb says. That’s an incredibly hot temperature to work in!
The Great Influence
One reason why families felt disrespected by this film is the inaccuracy of ethnic portrayal of the characters. Having someone from Pakistan play an Arab person isn’t the right thing to do, even if the actor is a “legend.”
“The character of Tafas (the Arab guide shot by Omar Sharif for drinking water from the wrong well) was played by Zia Mohyeddin, who is a Pakistani actor, producer, director, and television broadcaster,” IMDb reports. “He is considered to be a legend and is of great influence in literary circles.”
Peter O’Toole loved acting and he showed it while prepping for this film. He pulled out his bag of techniques so that he could ace his role.
“Peter O’Toole immediately set out to research T.E. Lawrence, almost memorizing Seven Pillars of Wisdom and interviewing anyone he could find who had known him,” IMDb said. “He had to move fast, as he was set to leave for the location shoot only five weeks after winning the role.”
No More Plastic On Set
When they first started production on set, they used white plastic cups for drinking water while shooting. That sounds like an okay idea until the wind gets involved.
Gusts blew these cups into the desert all the time. Eventually, it became too annoying too having random white cups pop into the scene so Lean had them banned. He replaced them with ceramic mugs, a much heavier choice that wouldn’t let the wind bully it.
A Mute Point
Do you remember how long this movie is? The run time is three hours and thirty-six minutes. That’s quite a long for a film to leave out women speaking, don’t you think?
If that doesn’t make sense, let us explain. This film has no roles where women speak. Everything else about it is so fantastic that they didn’t feel the need for another gender to have any dialogue. Reportedly, this is the longest movie to exclude women from spoken conversation.