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Omar Khayyam

Omar Khayyam(1957)

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The working title of this film was The Loves of Omar Khayyam. The onscreen title cards read: "The Life, Loves and Adventures of Omar Khayyam." The picture begins with the following foreword spoken by Raymond Massey: "A thousand years ago, the Persian Empire stretched from the Mediterranean Sea, all the way to India and down to Egypt. This great empire was ruled by a warrior Shah. He had the absolute power of life and death. Even the most exalted bent at his feet. Yet this mighty ruler would now be forgotten but for the work of a man who was among the humblest of his subjects: Omar Khayym. He was a happy man, with friends among both the lowly and the great in the ancient city of Nishapur. The motto of those dangerous and exciting days was 'Think as your master thinks.' But Omar Khayym thought for himself. He was a lover of life and wisdom, a poet when the mood was upon him and a mathematician when it was not. He was a student of the stars and those things written in the stars. Omar Khayym had an understanding of human nature and a philosophy which has conquered the hearts of men and of women." Although the name of the real-life Omar Khayym was spelled with an accent mark, the title of the film omits it.
       Born May 18, 1048 in Nishapur, Omar Khayym was a Persian poet, mathematician, and astronomer, renowned in his own time for his scientific achievements, but better known in modern days for his poetry. His name Khayym ("Tentmaker") May have been derived from his father's trade. After being educated in the sciences and philosophy, Khayym went to Samarkand, where he completed an important treatise on algebra and was invited by the Seljuq sultan Malik-Shah to revise the Persian calendar. He was also commissioned to build an observatory in the city of Esfahan in collaboration with other astronomers. After the death of his patron in 1092, Khayym returned to Nishapur, where he taught and served the court from time to time. Khayym's poetry had attracted comparatively little attention until Edward FitzGerald published the celebrated The Rubiyt of Omar Khayym in 1859, a collection of Khayym's verse which has now been translated into most major languages and is largely responsible for coloring European ideas about Persian poetry. Omar Khayym died on 4 December 1131.
       According to the file on the film in the Paramount Collection at the AMPAS Library, Omar Khayyam cost approximately $2,272,000 to produce, though Paramount publicity materials put the figure closer to $3,000,000. Actors considered for the role of "Omar" included John Forsythe, Robert Wagner, Rossano Brazzi and John Neville. Actresses contemplated for the role of "Sharain" included Joanne Dru, Yvonne De Carlo, Donna Reed and Joan Collins. Hollywood Reporter news items report that portions of the film were shot on location in the Indio and Palm Springs regions of Southern California.
       According to Paramount studio records, a dispute over the authorship and screen credits for Omar Khayyam erupted between the studio and Pasha Khan. Los Angeles Examiner reported on March 5, 1954 that Hosseim Pashe, a bartender at the Vagabond Restaurant in Los Angeles, had sold an original story based on the life of Omar Khayym to Paramount and had been engaged by the studio to write the screenplay. On March 10, 1954, Hollywood Reporter, referring to the writer as Pasha Khan, stated that he had sold a two-hundred page manuscript on Omar Khayym to the studio, and that Paramount was retaining him to do further research for the film. In an internal memo, dated April 12, 1956, the studio stated that Khan would not receive any writing credit for the film, as Paramount had purchased the title The Loves of Omar Khayyam from him, but had chosen not to use his story. Under this agreement, Khan was to be paid for twelve weeks of work.
       In December 1955, Daily Variety reported that Khan had filed a $27,000 lawsuit against Paramount, arguing that the studio had purchased his script for $1,000 in February 1954, then agreed to pay him for four weeks work to prepare the film and an additional ten weeks work serving as technical advisor. In rebuttal, Paramount stated that Khan had been paid in full according to the terms of his contract, but was not used as the film's technical advisor and thus should not be credited as such. In the suit, Khan sought $2,000 in lost wages, plus another $25,000 for "loss of prestige." The final disposition of this lawsuit has not been ascertained.
       Actor Michael Rennie was borrowed from Twentieth Century-Fox for his appearance in Omar Khayyam. Frank Freeman, Jr. received his first credit as producer on the film, having previously worked as an associate producer. Freeman was the son of long-time Paramount executive Y. Frank Freeman, Sr. Daily Variety reported in June 1957 that Paramount was planning to open the film in Teheran, Iran, but it has not been confirmed that the world premiere was held in that city. Other films featuring the character of "Omar Khayym" include the 1922 release Omar the Tentmaker, starring Guy Bates Post and Virginia Brown Faire under the direction of James Young, and A Lover's Oath, a 1925 Astor Pictures production, directed by Ferdinand P. Earle and starring Ramon Novarro and Kathleen Key (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30).