Mohammed El-Bakkar was forty years old in 1952 when his ship pulled out of the port of Cairo. For a decade he’d been a fixture of the Egyptian film industry, a singer with remarkable power and range, but now his hair was thinning and he was putting on weight, and it had been years since he’d been cast in a leading role. He’d turn up as a sailor or a bedouin and belt out a lighthearted novelty number. Or he’d do a cameo as a self-obsessed opera star, serenading his reflection in a dressing-room mirror, unaware that the hero—a younger, handsomer singer—was about to lock him in a trunk and steal his place onstage. The joke was that Bakkar was pompous, a ham, and there was probably some truth to it. Had he been less convinced of his abilities he might have resigned himself to the life of a clown. Instead, he did what hams around the world had been doing for generations. He moved to New York.
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