CAIRO – 17 February 2020: In memory of legendary singer/actress Leila Mourad, the voice of the golden cinema age, Egypt Today sheds light on some of the highlights of her artistic and personal life, marking her 102nd birthday anniversary.
She was born Jewish in Cairo on February 17, 1918 to a Syrian father, Zaki Mourad, and a Polish mother, Gamilah Salmon. Her father was a composer and singer who encouraged Leila to sing in radio in the 1930s. Being the eldest daughter, she later had to financially support her family.
Her debut as a singer in the cinema was in “The Victims”, six years before starting her acting career with the “Long Live Love” film starring singer Mohamed Abdel Wahab, who also made her sign a contract for ten musical records. Director Mohamed Karim first said that she wouldn’t make a good actress due to her extremely small frame, but Abdel Wahab managed to convince him.
Producer, director, scriptwriter and actor Togo Mizraahy gave her true fame through seven films, including “Leila Bent El-Reef” (Laila From the Countryside), “Leila Bent Madares” (Laila: The School Student), and “Leila”. Out of 28 films of her career, 17 carried her real name. Mizraahy was able to work on Leila’s shyness, which was the only factor that she lacked to be a great cinematic actress. He taught her how to boldly face the camera and trained her on how to control her facial expression and voice coloring.
Mourad was in need of another director to change her skin and remove the solemnity of tragedies which was the main characteristic of Mizraahy films. She needed a director who can easily create a commercial formula while maintaining he artistic caliber, this man was simply the famous Egyptian producer, actor and director Anwar Wagdy.
Anwar Wagdy and Leila Mourad - Egypt Today Archive
The marriage of Wagdi and Mourad in 1945 significantly contributed to the immortal booming success of this artistic duo and increasing both their credibility and popularity among viewers, especially that at that time Mourad and Wagdy were the only artistic couple who were married in real life.
Wagdy’s innovative methods led the audience to be more attached to Mourad and follow her professional and personal news as if they were members of the same family. Wagdy’s intimate method increased ticket sales.
Mourad reached with Wagdy the peak of her artistic and popular success. As a result, Mourad became more confident in other cinematic experiences with other directors.
After the end of World War II, Wagdi was smart enough to realize that the Egyptian audience's tastes shifted from tragedies to comedy and musical films or their combination, especially low classes who constituted the majority of cinema goers.
- Her film “Ghazl El Banat” (The Flirtation of Girls) is until today one of the most important films in the history of the Egyptian cinema. She co-starred with legendary actors Naguib El-Rihany and Youssef Wahby, who had introduced the film idea to Mourad.
Leila Mourad and Naguib el Rihany in a scene from Ghazal el Banat Movie - Egypt Today Archive
- Her unforgettable role in “Qalby Daleeli” (My Heart is My Guide) film with Anwar Wagdy and the song carrying the same name has maintained wide fame for generations. The song is still featured in modern films, including the late director Mohamed Khan’s “Fi Shaqet Masr El Gedida” ( In Heliopolis’ Apartment ), who believed that “her voice is a unique classic.”
Until the mid-1940s, Egyptian cinema didn’t witness the phenomenon of the female “box office star” until Mourad appeared. Mourad was described with this expression not only because her films achieved high revenues, but because her fans were strongly attached to her to the extent that drove them to go to the cinema to watch her movies only because she was these movies’ heroine, without paying attention to any other details. Her name on any movie poster was a strong guarantee of its high quality.
- She declared her Islam in 1947, one year after she sang “Ya Hoggag El-Beit” (Oh Pilgrims) and “Ya Sett Nazra” (Lady Zeinab, Look at Me).
One day in Ramadan, she woke up to the voice of “Adhan” (Islamic call for worship) near her home at 26 Sherif Street, in Downtown Cairo. As she felt an inner peace to listen to it, keenly bringing up her spiritual inspiration, she asked her husband actor Anwar Wagdy why he did not ask her to convert to Islam, telling him that she wanted to embrace Islam immediately.
- In response to a rumor published in a Syrian magazine accusing Leila of being a spy who donated EGP 50,000 to Israel, Egypt and most Arab countries boycotted her artistic performances for some time.
- While in Europe, she asked for protection from President Mohamed Naguib. She then sang her last national song “Union, Organization, and Work” (Bel Itihad, W El-Nezam, W El-Amal), and then retired from her artistic career as a way to thank him.
- The romantic film was a successful end for her acting journey that lasted for 15 years. She insisted on retiring in 1955, until Egyptian composer Baleegh Hamdi convinced her to host a TV program in the 1960s on Abu Dhabi TV.
She decided to retire when she was only 37 years old, at the peak of her artistic maturity and cinematic glory, to keep an immortal youthful image in the minds and hearts of her fans. Despite her retirement, she maintained her stature and popularity until her death and even after.
Mourad is considered one of the most iconic singers in Egypt’s modern history. She acted in more than 20 movies and sung hundreds of songs that are deeply entrenched in Egyptians’ memory. Known for her innocent golden voice, full of emotions, Mourad would always grab attention when one heard her singing a symphony. She passed away November 21, 1995, leaving behind a large history of immortal movies and songs that will live ever after.