Remembering the most prominent figure of the Egyptian stage, leading actor and director for both Egyptian theater and cinema, a top icon of the 1930’s and 1940’s who had notable success in mixing between acting, directing, writing and production in Egyptian theater and cinema; The great Youssef Bey Wahby.
Youssef Bey Wahby was born to a high state aristocratic family in Al Fayoum, South of Egypt in 1898. His descendants were well-known for their financial and literary profiles.
His passion for acting grew upon watching Selim Kurdahi’s crew in Suhag and this was his incentive to work in the theater. His father thought like he was bringing dishonor to the family by being attracted to arts rather than science, so he was kicked out the family’s house and was obliged to join the Agricultural school.
Despite being born in a very rich family, Wahby relinquished his father’s wealth and ran away to Italy to study theater and came back in 1921 after Aziz Eid urged him to return to his homeland after his father’s death.
In his early career he started his own play group “Ramses” including actors like Hussein Riyadh, Ahmed Allam, Zeinab Sedki and Amina Rizk, by which he served the spectators a totally diverse theater experience.
He wrote and acted in his first play (Korsy El E’teraf) which later on in 1949 was made into a film in order to immortalize this work over the years.
By his fluency in English, French and Italian besides Arabic being his mother tongue he could get English, French and Italian literature to Egypt on stage. He was later on given the title “Dean of the Egyptian Theater.”
His most prominent plays were Rasputin, El Ma’eda El Khadraa, Banat Al Shaware’, Awlad Al Foqaraa, Hamlet and Cleopatra.
His breakthrough in the field of cinema was delayed because of an opposition religious and journalistic campaign that he faced after his intentions to play Prophet Muhammad’s role in a movie by a German production company in collaboration with the Turkish government under the leadership of Mostafa Kamal Ataturk. Youssef Bey Wahby was put under the pressure of the Egyptian people and King Farouk to turn down the role or he’ll lose his Egyptian citizenship.
Youssef Bey Wahby’s first film was a silent film (Zeinab, 1930) with film director Muhammad Karim, to then collaborate together again in producing (Awlad El Zawat, 1932) which was an overwhelming success.
He then wrote his second film (Al Defaa, 1935) and participated in the direction of the film with film director Niyazi Mostafa. Later in 1937 Youssef Bey Wahby took roles in writing, directing, acting and producing of (El Magid El Khalid, 1937).
Youssef Bey Wahby’s movies kept on amusing the spectators with the likes of (Leila Momtera, 1940), (Leila Bint El Rif, 1941), (Gharam wa Intiqam, 1944), (Safeer Jahannam, 1945),(Ragol La Yanam, 1948), (Ghazal Al Banat, 1949).
Besides being mostly known for tragedy performances, Youssef Bey Wahby could also star in comedy films like (Esha’et Hob, 1960), (E’terafat Zog, 1960) and (El Bahs An Fadeeha, 1973).
Youssef Bey Wahby directed 30 films, wrote 40, acted in 60 films, in addition to a total of 320 on-stage plays.
King Farouk granted him the title of “Bey” in 1944 after watching (Gharam wa Intiqam, 1944).
Youssef Bey Wahby received a first class Medal of Merit in 1960.
He received the State Appreciation Award and Honorary Doctorate in 1975 from Egyptian President Anwar Al Sadat.
Youssef Bey Wahby is also the only Muslim person to earn a Medal for the Defense of Catholic Rights from the Pope himself.
The leader of the Egyptian Stage and one of the most sticking out actors in Egyptian theater and cinema history died in October 1982 sick with arthritis and a fractured pelvis.
The memory of the great Youssef Bey Wahby was never forgotten as he’s one of the most respected figures in Egyptian cinema, several French and English companies saved his movies by reissuing them again.
He left behind a great legacy and a very respectful filmography that we’re all in love with.