December 18, 2013

Plattsburgh woman recalls Peter O'Toole's break-out film

PLATTSBURGH — Ruby Hughes’s star-dusted memories of the late Peter O’Toole intertwine with treasured ones of her late husband, James Hughes.

The matinee idol and the decorated World War II veteran’s lives intersected in Seville, Spain, 1962.


On the set of “Lawrence of Arabia,” O’Toole starred as T.E. Lawrence, a famed British officer who united warring Arab factions against the Turks during World War I. The Arab Revolt (1916-18) led to the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire.

On leave from Moron Air Base, Mr. Hughes portrayed an “Arab chief,” who can be glimpsed during the victory celebration near the end of the Oscar-winning film.

The Super Panavision 70 film won Best Picture, Best Achievement in Directing and Best Achievement in Cinematography.

“The one planning the scene there in Spain, they wanted 10 morenos,” Mrs. Hughes said. “That means black men. The commander let 10 of the black men be in the film.”


Horizon Pictures cast African Americans as Arabs and European Americans as Brits. They were paid $1,000 pesetas, plus $1,000 pesetas for a costume fitting.

On the set, Mrs. Hughes took photographs of her laid-back husband as a swashbuckling man-of-the-desert decked in a thawb, with a belted blade at his waist and a cartridge belt strapped across his chest.

“I went to the set and everything,” she said. “It was so different and exciting. They had someone to do the costume and fix them up like they were real.”

Mr. Hughes had no spoken lines, but there is a point in the film where Lawrence (O’Toole) runs right past him.

“He was so tickled,” Mrs. Hughes said.


Directed by David Lean, the film also starred Alec Guinness, Omar Sharif, Jack Hawkins and Anthony Quinn.

Mrs. Hughes and her husband were present with other extras and their wives at the post-production party. She has many black-and-white photographs of the night, including one of her doing the twist with Omar Sharif.

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