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5 Famous Arab-American Actors: From Omar Sharif to Salma Hayek

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Arab Americans have long left an imprint on Hollywood. Not only have Arab-American performers topped the music charts, they’re also included among the most accomplished actors in film history. Both Omar Sharif and Salma Hayek have been recognized for their work in film with Golden Globe nominations. In addition, a number of Arab-American actors have made their mark in television, such as Marlo Thomas, Wendie Malick and Tony Shalhoub. This list highlights the ethnic heritage of these actors and their achievements in film and television.

Omar Sharif

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The star of such classic films as “Doctor Zhivago,” “Lawrence of Arabia” and “Funny Girl,” Omar Sharif was born Michal Shalhouz into a Lebanese-Egyptian family in Alexandria, Egypt in 1932. Well known as an actor in Egypt before he became a Hollywood mainstay, Sharif won a Golden Globe for 1965’s “Doctor Zhivago.” The Egyptian government banned his films after he appeared in “Funny Face” opposite Barbra Streisand in 1968 because she is Jewish, and he made love to her onscreen, a taboo in Egypt. Omar Sharif’s career began to wind down in the 1970s. In 1977, he published an autobiography, called The Eternal Male. Omar Sharif received the Venice Film Festival’s Golden Lion award for his work in film in 2003.

Marlo Thomas

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Marlo Thomas was born in 1937 in Michigan to a famous comedian father, the Lebanese-American Danny Thomas, and an Italian-American mother, Rose Marie Cassaniti. A graduate of the University of Southern California, Marlo Thomas made guest appearances on her father’s television program, “The Danny Thomas Show.” Marlo Thomas became a star after landing the lead in 1966’s “That Girl,” a television show about a young single woman who aspires to be an actress. Her acting in the series earned her a Golden Globe as well as several Emmy nominations. The show ran until 1971. While she experienced a career slow down after “That Girl” left the air, Thomas rebounded with films such as 1986’s “Nobody’s child,” for which she won an Emmy. In addition to acting, Thomas has been involved in women’s activism and has served as national outreach director for St. Jude's Children’s Research Hospital, an organization her father founded to help children with serious health conditions. In her later years, Marlo Thomas has appeared in television shows such as “Friends” and “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.”

Wendie Malick

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Wendie Malick was born in 1950 in New York to a Caucasian mother and an Egyptian father. Before embarking on an acting career, Malick was a Wilhelmina model and, after that, worked for Republican Congressman Jack Kemp. She soon left politics for a career in acting. Malick had studied theater and art at Ohio Wesleyan University, from which she graduated in 1972. He first film role was in 1982’s “A Little Sex.” She consistently worked throughout the 1980s, most notably landing roles in 1988’s “Scrooged” and the sitcom “Kate & Allie.” Wendie Malick would go on to win multiple Cable Ace Awards for best actress in the HBO series “Dream On,” which ran from 1990 to 1996. Malick later earned both Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for her role as Nina Van Horn on NBC sitcom “Just Shoot Me,” which ran from 1997 to 2003. In 2010, Malick began starring in the TV Land sitcom “Hot in Cleveland” along with Valerie Bertinelli, Betty White and Jane Leeves.

Tony Shalhoub

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Tony Shalhoub was born Anthony Marcus Shalhoub in 1953 in Wisconsin to Lebanese parents. He began acting as a youth in high school theater productions in Wisconsin. As a young man, he began his professional career on the stage, acting in productions such as “The Odd Couple” and “ Conversations With My Father,” for which he received a Tony award nomination in 1992. In the 1990s, Tony Shalhoub landed television roles in notable programs such as “Wings” and “The X-Files.” He also starred in films such as “Primary Colors,” “Gattaca” and “The Siege.” Tony Shalhoub landed his most high-profile role yet in USA Network’s “Monk,” for which he won multiple Emmy awards as well as a Golden Globe award. The show ran from 2002 to 2009. 

Salma Hayek

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Born Salma Hayek Jiménez in 1966 to a Spanish mother and Lebanese father, the actress was a telenovela star in Mexico before achieving fame in the United States. In the early 1990s, she set her sights on Hollywood appearing in films such as 1993’s “Mi Vida Loca” and 1995’s “Desperado.” After her star making turn in the latter, Salma Hayek continued to land high-profile roles, including “From Dusk Till Dawn” and “Wild, Wild West.” The year 2002 would mark the release of Hayek’s dream project, “Frida,” about the artist Frida Kahlo. Salma Hayek not only co-produced the film but also starred in the title role. For her performance, she received both Oscar and Golden Globe nominations. Hayek also served as a producer on the ABC show “Ugly Betty,” which debuted in 2006. The following year, the show went on to win a Golden Globe. In addition to acting, Salma Hayek has served as an activist for issues relation to women and domestic violence.
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