Equal Partners
by Roland Ezri

Equal Partners by Roland Ezri

Equal Partners

By Roland Ezri

"Women are the backbone of all societies. They do a substantial part of the work, and play a major role in raising the future generation yet they are largely powerless. The decisions that count are made by men and foisted upon women."

Writings by Roland Ezri

The Second Exodus – Egypt – LXXXIX. My Years at 12A Rue Khantaret Ghamra – Entertainment (15 of 30)

Ali El Kassar

El-Kassar was a famous comedian who, with his own theater group, performed on many stages. He also acted in some 16 movies; some of the famous ones are: Osman Wa Ali; Bawab El A’mara (The Superintendent Of The Building); and Amir El Intikam (The Prince Of Revenge, an adaptation of The Count Of Monte Cristo).

He was born in Cairo in 1898 (or maybe earlier). As a child, he revealed an amazing talent for acting and he joined several acting groups. His earlier performances were at Moulid (Fair) El Sayeda Zeinab. His break came when he took the role of the doorman Osman Abdel Bassit. (The superintendent of a building or Bawab El A’mara acted as a doorman, and was responsible for keeping the building safe and clean; he generally was not responsible for maintenance, i.e. plumbing, electricity, etc.).

This role was perfect for him; he took it on the stage and where possible in films. But he was not a one-trick pony; he was a gifted and versatile comedian who contributed to Egyptian comedy in a big way.

El Kassar was one of two performers that I had the chance to meet in person.

Next to uncle Maurice and nonna Bida in Alexandria lived a widow, Set (ma’am) Antar. Every summer, Antar rented 2 rooms for the sayefims (tourists who came to spend all or part of the summer in Alexandria). One day, a semsar (broker) came to Antar with an interesting proposition. His client wanted to rent a complete apartment for the summer, and was willing to pay a substantial rent. Antar’s apartment met the criteria of his client; would she be interested to rent it? If so, could she move out to another place for the summer? Although Antar had no idea where she would go, she was more than willing to cooperate. And the client as it turned out was none other than the famous Ali El Kassar and his theater group.

And so it was that one summer I found out that my grandmother had a famous neighbor. I thought that I would see him often, but he was a very busy man and, except for one occasion, I only caught glimpses of him.

He was coming out of his apartment when he saw me; he usually smiled and briefly nodded; but on that day he had a broad smile, and called me ya shater (good lad), he then added, “gedetak bent halal” (your grandmother is a good woman).

Apparently, nonna Bida has been acting as the peacemaker when there was a scene between the performers; and there were many such commotions. All of which brings me to my next point.

All of us during that summer learned an important lesson. You have a performer on the stage who is dancing, singing, or acting. You enjoy the show, but don’t give a second thought to the work, and, yes, the tears behind the performance.

What happened during that summer was that I saw behind the facade of all performers. Never again did I see Mickey Rooney, the Marx Brothers, or Errol Flynn as people having a lot of fun. The world of an actor is not glamorous. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s Hollywood, Rome, or Paris; behind every movie there are many people who labor tirelessly, and often pay a high price so that we can get a brief respite from our daily life.

What happened during that summer was that nonna Bida found herself drawn into some serious arguments and did her best to calm the rough waters. It was not uncommon for one of the ladies in the group to knock on the door and walk in crying.

There was one show a day and endless rehearsals. There was constant disagreement as to how a scene should be performed. Bickering and back-biting were common currency. And that went on for 7 days a week for two solid months. The pay was not that great, however, they could earn “extras.” But despite performing in a cabaret, these were decent women who weren’t willing to sully their reputation.

Nonna Bida mostly managed to reconcile the combatants. To thank her, Ali gave her 2 free tickets; she could enjoy the show, and order without charge all the food and champagne she wanted. She went with aunt Rachel. They had a sumptuous meal, enjoyed a fabulous show, and were treated like royalty. But let me assure you that neither of them touched a drop of champagne, or for that matter any other liquor.

Ali El Kassar died in 1957.

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