King Hussein of Jordan lent an entire brigade of his Arab Legion as extras for the film, so most of the "soldiers" are played by real soldiers. Hussein frequently visited the sets and became enamored of a young British secretary, Antoinette Gardiner, who became his second wife in 1962. Their eldest son, Abdullah II King Of Jordan, ascended to the throne in 1999.
The first time Peter O'Toole tried riding a camel, blood oozed from his jeans. "This is a very delicate Irish arse", he warned his instructor". He finally mastered his camel-riding technique by adding a layer of sponge rubber under the saddle to ease his bruised backside...a practical innovation quickly adopted by the actual Bedouin tribesmen acting as extras during the desert location filming. O'Toole was nicknamed "ab al-'Isfanjah" ("father of the sponge") by the Bedouin.
The film was banned in many Arab countries as they felt they were misrepresented. Omar Sharif arranged with President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt to view the film to show him there was nothing wrong with the way they were portrayed. Nasser loved the film and allowed it to be released in Egypt where it went on to become a monster hit.
To film Omar Sharif's entrance through a mirage, Freddie Young used a special 482mm lens from Panavision. Panavision still has this lens, and it is known among cinematographers as the "David Lean lens". It was created specifically for this shot and has not been used since.
In the actual Battle of Aqaba, Lawrence was nearly killed when his camel threw him after he accidentally shot it in the head. In a notable coincidence, Peter O'Toole was nearly killed himself when a gun or rocket used to signal "action" in the first Aqaba take fired prematurely and he was thrown by his panicked camel in front of the charging horses. (Another account holds O'Toole was temporarily blinded by pellets from an effects gun and lost control of his animal; yet another contends he was too inebriated to hold on.) Fortunately for O'Toole, the camel, trained for such mishaps, stood over him and prevented his being trampled.
Musically, Maurice Jarre was hired to write the dramatic score, Aram Khachaturyan was handling the eastern themes and Benjamin Britten was to provide the British imperial music. Neither Khatchaturian or Britten were able to properly get involved so Sam Spiegel hired Richard Rodgers to fill in the musical gaps. When Spiegel and Lean heard Rodgers' compositions, they were hugely disappointed, so they turned to Jarre to see what he had done. The minute Lean heard Jarre's now-classic theme, he knew they had the right composer. Jarre was given the job of scoring the whole film - in a mere six weeks.
During an appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (1962) in the 1970s, Peter O'Toole was describing just how long the movie took to make by referring to the scene when T.E. Lawrence and Gen. Allenby, after their meeting, continue talking while walking down a staircase. According to O'Toole, part of the scene had to be reshot much later, "so in the final print, when I get to the bottom of the stairs, I'm a year older than I was when I started walking down them."
Initially the production used white plastic cups for its drinking water but the wind would frequently pick up and blow them into the desert. After having numerous shots ruined due to errant white plastic cups, David Lean had them banned and replaced with ceramic mugs instead.
On his first location scouting trip in Jordan, David Lean discovered the remains of the Turkish locomotives and railroad tracks Lawrence had destroyed during the Arab Revolution. After 40 years in the sun, they hadn't even rusted.
While filming, Peter O'Toole bonded with co-star Omar Sharif. Recalls Sharif, "Peter and I were like brothers immediately. He said to me, 'Your name is not Omar Sharif - no one is called Omar Sharif. Your real name is probably Freddy something!' And for the rest of the film and the rest of our lives, he's never called me Omar. He calls me Freddy."
Gen. Murray (Donald Wolfit)'s line about the Arab revolt being "a sideshow of a sideshow" was actually written in real life by T.E. Lawrence himself, several years after the war, in his book 'The Seven Pillars of Wisdom'.
T.E. Lawrence's rescue of the lost Gasim actually happened, as Lawrence recounts in his book "Seven Pillars of Wisdom". Though in the film Lawrence is hailed for the heroism, he was in reality ridiculed and chided for what was seen as a waste of effort anyway.
José Ferrer was initially very unsatisfied about the small part he was offered. He only accepted on condition that he be paid $25,000 - more than Peter O'Toole and Omar Sharif combined - plus a factory made Porsche. Ironically Ferrer once said about his tiny role that he considered it to be the finest acting of his career.
The 35mm master interpositive produced by Technicolor in 1966 had reel 2A flipped so that left and right became reversed on screen for about ten minutes in all prints, including initial video releases and TV broadcasts. With no writing on the screen, nobody was able to spot this. During the restoration by Robert A. Harris, David Lean himself pointed out the error and it was corrected. It also turned out that an urban myth about the film is true: Presumably T.E. Lawrence's watch switches from his left wrist to the right - which it did in the early versions due to the splicing error.
David Lean personally supervised the first cuts that brought the film down to 3 hours as he wanted it to enjoy more showings per day. During the 1989 restoration, he would later pass blame for the cuts onto the then deceased Sam Spiegel.
Peter O'Toole won his career-making (and legendary) part as Lawrence of Arabia after it was turned down by superstar Marlon Brando and a then-unknown Albert Finney. Both director David Lean and producer Sam Spiegel (who produced On the Waterfront (1954), the movie for which Brando and Spiegel won their first Oscars) wanted Brando, but he turned the role down (allegedly saying he didn't want to spend two years of his life riding on a camel). Their second choice Finney was put through extensive screen-tests costing 100,000 pounds, but refused to sign a seven-year contract demanded by Spiegel. O'Toole signed the seven-year contract and got the part.
For the 1989 reconstruction and restoration, many scenes of dialog were missing. As a result Peter O'Toole and a number of living principals returned and re-recorded dialog from more than 20 years previously. For principals who had died in the intervening years sound alike actors were employed (for instance for Jack Hawkins).
T.E. Lawrence's brother, A.E. Lawrence, who was also executor of his will, wasn't keen on the film's representation of his brother so he didn't allow the use of his sibling's autobiography title "Seven Pillars of Wisdom".
Omar Sharif was already a big star in his native Egypt when he got the call to meet Sam Spiegel in a hotel in Cairo. When he agreed to make a screen test, Spiegel flew him to Jordan. In his autobiography, Sharif would marvel that a Jew from Hollywood had gotten something from the Egyptian government the native-born Sharif had been trying to get for years - an exit visa.
Peter O'Toole was considerably taller and better looking than the real T.E. Lawrence (6'2" to Lawrence's real life height of 5'5"). Noël Coward is rumoured to have said, on seeing the première, "If he'd been any prettier, they'd have had to call it Florence of Arabia."
Soldiers from the Moroccan army were employed as extras without pay, which they understandably resented. During off-hours they actually took potshots at cast and crew, David Lean included. Others deserted between takes and never came back.
Because filming was not possible in the complete darkness of night, the night scenes were filmed during the day with light filters on the lenses; this is also the reason there is shadows from the camels during the night scenes.
David Lean hoped to film in the real Aqaba and the archaeological site at Petra. Much to his regret, however, the production had to be moved to Spain because of cost overruns and outbreaks of illness among the cast and crew before these scenes could be shot.
The famous cut from Lawrence blowing out a match to the desert sunrise was originally just going to be a dissolve. But editor Anne V. Coates suggested to David Lean that he use the cut in the fashion of the then current French New Wave.
In an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno (1992), Peter O'Toole confessed quite proudly that, out of fear of falling off during a big camel riding scene, he and Omar Sharif decided to get absolutely hammered and then tied themselves down on the camels before shooting. By his own admission, he was so drunk he had no idea where he was or what he was doing for the entire scene (attack on Aqaba).
José Ferrer had to be talked into taking the role of the sadistic Bey, dubious about it being such a small part. David Lean convinced him that the Bey was a pivotal character in T.E. Lawrence's history.
When film conservationists Robert A. Harris and Jim Painten got permission from Columbia to restore David Lean's film, four tons of extraneous footage was delivered to their door. It took them nearly a year to get through all the material.
Peter O'Toole and Jack Hawkins became close friends on set, much to David Lean's consternation; Lean thought Hawkins should maintain a fatherly distance from O'Toole to help with the part, but Hawkins "didn't see the point" of Lean's advice. The two frequently went drinking after shooting concluded, including one instance in a Seville restaurant (where Alec Guinness was also present) where a drunken O'Toole threatened a waiter, backing down when the waiter produced a knife. O'Toole and Hawkins would also frequently improvise humorous dialogue on set (often during takes), which infuriated Lean.
Sam Spiegel wanted David Lean to consider the cost-saving benefits of shooting in Southern California or the less volatile political climate in Israel. Lean, however, was determined to film the story where it had happened, in Jordan. One obvious problem was Spiegel's religion. Given the political situation in the Middle East, there was a good chance that a Jewish producer wouldn't even be allowed into the country. The production's British advisor, Anthony Nutting, who had been England's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs at the start of the Suez crisis, got around that problem by getting Spiegel a visa that listed his religion as Anglican. When the forthrightly Jewish producer protested, Nutting said, "Sam, just shut up! Here's your bloody visa."
When the film was finally put together and shown to T.E. Lawrence's brother Professor A.W. Lawrence, he was horrified at what he considered liberties taken with history. He called it "an unholy marriage between a Western and a psychological horror," and refused to let them use the title Seven Pillars of Wisdom. He ended up donating most of the money he'd been paid for the rights to charity.
While the team behind the restoration of the film in the late-1980s found all of the surviving footage cut after its premiere, they learned that the soundtrack to said footage had been lost. Thus, the team recruited the then-surviving members of the cast to re-record their lines for the scenes. David Lean complimented Peter O'Toole for his effort, telling him that he did a better job than in the original film. O'Toole replied: "After 25 years, I think I have learned enough to play the scene properly."
The Allenby family lodged a formal complaint against Columbia about the portrayal of their ancestor. The descendants of Auda abu Tayi and the real Sharif went even further and actively sued the studio. The case dragged on for 10 years before being dropped.
Peter O'Toole was often injured during filming. He received third-degree burns, sprained both ankles, torn ligaments in both his hip and thigh, broken his thumb, dislocated his spine, fractured his skull, was bitten by a camel, sprained his neck, tore a groin muscle, and was concussed twice. He also seriously injured his hand during filming by punching through the window of a caravan while drunk. A brace or bandage can be seen on his left thumb during the first train attack scene, presumably due to this incident.
Throughout shooting, Sam Spiegel continued to feign heart attacks whenever he wasn't happy with the way things were going. At one point, he had himself strapped to a stretcher and flown by Red Cross helicopter to the desert location. Attendants carried him to David Lean, to whom he said, "Don't worry about anything, David - not the budget, not the schedule, not my health. The picture - the picture is all that counts!" Then he was flown back out.
Many who had known T.E. Lawrence and other real figures featured in the film were horrified by the picture. Lawrence biographer Basil Liddell Hart wrote to warn many of the man's friends that they would be shocked by the depiction of the hero struggling with sadistic impulses. Lady Allenby, widow of General Allenby, wrote to The London Times: "Is there any way in which a film company can be stopped from portraying a character so inaccurately as that of the late Field Marshal Allenby in Lawrence of Arabia?...What can one do? What is the remedy? Or is there one"
Production was halted to move to Spain, but filming did not resume for three months because writer Robert Bolt had been jailed for participating in a nuclear disarmament demonstration. He was released only after Sam Spiegel persuaded him to sign an agreement of good behavior.
At one point when filming was progressing far too slowly for his liking, producer Sam Spiegel invited William Wyler to visit the set. He wanted Wyler to encourage Lean to rely more on his second units for filming additional scenes, as he had done on Ben-Hur (1959). The visit was to no avail, however, as Lean was too much of a perfectionist to relinquish control.
Robert Bolt's original writing contract with Sam Spiegel was for three months as he was needed to work on another play. But due his immersion on material, he ended up working for 14 months on the script and totally forgot his work on the play.
Sam Spiegel, the films producer, was once known as S.P. Eagle. He had an amazing talent for finding unusual material and hiring exactly the perfect director to execute it. He produced one of Orson Welles's few commercial successes The Stranger (1946). David Lean, the director of this masterpiece, was a well-respected director of moderate-budgeted English films when Spiegel brought him to international prominence with Lean's direction of The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957). He also worked with John Huston, first on We Were Strangers (1949) and most notably on The African Queen (1951). Finally he found the funding from Harry Cohn at Columbia for Elia Kazan's controversial On the Waterfront (1954). Perhaps no other independent producer has been associated with so many brilliant film directors on so many diverse and original stories.
Sam Spiegel and David Lean's already testy relationship soon reached the breaking point. Spiegel rarely visited the set, but constantly complained long-distance about Lean's "wasting" money and allegedly poor footage. Lean eventually got back at Spiegel by sneaking into the dailies a shot of him flipping Spiegel off... in 70mm.
Although women have no lines in the film, they occasionally can be seen in the background of some scenes. For the Arabian ones, tradition forbade Bedouin women from being photographed so costume designer Phyllis Dalton had some Christian women dress up in the flowing robes.
Anthony Nutting convinced King Hussein of Jordan that the film would boost tourism, thus bringing more money into the then-cash-starved nation. He also appealed to his sense of family. The king's great-grandfather, Sherif of Mecca, had launched the Arab Revolt with T.E. Lawrence in 1916. King Hussein quickly gave the film his blessing. Nutting even managed to talk down the original fee for the Jordanian Army's cooperation from one million pounds to 165,000.
Marlon Brando, who had won an Oscar in the Sam Spiegel-produced On the Waterfront (1954), was desired for the title role by both producer Spiegel and director David Lean. Still involved in the editing of his directing debut One-Eyed Jacks (1961), Brando turned the offer down, saying he didn't want to take two years out of his life riding a camel in the desert. Ironically, Brando signed for the role of Fletcher Christian in the Mutiny on the Bounty (1962) remake, which ran way over budget and way over schedule. Whereas "Lawrence of Arabia" was a great success, "Mutiny on the Bounty" was considered a flop and damaged Brando's career. As reports of his temperamental and disruptive behavior during that costly location shoot filtered out, Spiegel and Lean were relieved not to be working with him. Still keen to work with Brando, Lean later offered him the role of Komarovsky in Doctor Zhivago (1965) and the schoolteacher married to Ryan's Daughter (1970) in the eponymous film. Brando did not respond to either offer. (Rod Steiger, who played Brando's brother in "Waterfront", played Komarovsky, while Robert Mitchum appeared in "Ryan's Daughter".)
When he first heard that the movie was going to be produced, Lowell Thomas (on whom the Jackson Bentley character was based) offered to give producer Sam Spiegel a large amount of background material on T.E. Lawrence and the Arab Revolt that he had collected, but was rejected by Spiegel.
Anthony Quinn applied his own make-up and would often arrive in real Arab clothes. At one point, David Lean mistook him for a native on the studio lot and so he sent his assistant to tell Quinn that he had replaced by this new arrival.
General Allenby's Jersualem headquarters was filmed at the Moorish mansion, Casa de Pilatos, in Seville. While setting up there, the lighting crew accidentally smashed a centuries old statue. Fortunately, the authorities were appeased and filming was allowed to continue.
While assisting Robert Bolt with research, Anthony Nutting, who was working on his own biography of T.E. Lawrence, became convinced that the war hero had left something out of the final edition of Seven Pillars of Wisdom in his description of his capture and mistreatment by the Turkish police. He finally uncovered a rare 1922 edition of the manuscript and a letter to George Bernard Shaw's wife that strongly suggested that the Turkish Bey had actually raped Lawrence, a fact hinted at in the movie.
In July 1961, the company moved to their first location, Jebel Tubeiq near the Saudi Arabian border. The spot was 150 miles away from the nearest water and had not been inhabited since a band of monks abandoned their monastery there in the seventh century A.D. Temperatures were so high in the summer sun that most thermometers couldn't even register them. In fact, the thermometers had to be cooled down.
On a visit to Spain in his yacht, Sam Spiegel summoned Peter O'Toole to his cabin, where he furiously reprimanded him for his hedonistic behaviour. After having a drink with John Box, who faced similar treatment, the pair sneaked aboard the yacht and stole all of Spiegel's cigars.
Colonel Brighton is in essence a composite of all of the British officers who served in the Middle East with Lawrence, most notably Lt. Col. S.F. Newcombe. Newcombe played much the same role as Brighton does in the film, being Lawrence's predecessor as liaison to the Arab Revolt; he and many of his men were captured by the Turks in 1916, but he later escaped. Also, like Brighton, Newcombe was not well liked by the Arabs, though he remained friends with Lawrence. (In Michael Wilson's original script, he was Colonel Newcombe; the character's name was changed by Robert Bolt.) Brighton was apparently created to represent how ordinary British soldiers would feel about a man like Lawrence: impressed by his accomplishments but repulsed by his affected manner.
The final location for the film was in Morocco, where they moved to shoot the massacre of the Turkish army. The scene required an Arab army of 800 mounted on horses and camels and a Turkish army of 1,200 on carts and mules. David Lean started with long shots and moved to close-ups so they could gradually let people go throughout the day before they got too tired, a real danger shooting epic scenes of this nature.
The night before the film's Los Angeles premiere, Peter O'Toole and Omar Sharif attended a performance by controversial comedian Lenny Bruce. Afterwards, they had a few drinks with him, then accompanied him home, where he proceeded to shoot up. At that moment, the police broke in and arrested all three on drug charges. Sharif called Sam Spiegel in the middle of the night, and the producer used his influence to get the two actors released. But O'Toole refused to go unless Bruce was released too. So Spiegel and his lawyers had to get the comedian's drug charges dropped.
While shooting Peter O'Toole and I.S. Johar riding together on a single camel, David Lean saw that they had trouble staying on the animal. On closer inspection, a large block of hashish was discovered; both actors were completely stoned. Shooting was abandoned for the day.
When the restoration was being made, those involved had a hard time locating Arthur Kennedy. They had heard he was living in Savannah and phoned every Kennedy in the phonebook. The actor finally returned their call a rerecorded his dialogue on a 3/4" tape in a local TV station.
Anthony Nutting had to negotiate to hire the Bedouin tribesmen, who also wanted a million pounds. When he asked how they could ask so much, he learned that their representative, Sherif Nasser, had learned of a secret one million pound loan Sam Spiegel had taken out from the Arab Bank there. The bank director, as it turned out, was Sherif Nasser's uncle. Spiegel got the price down by pulling a ploy his associates were used to. He had a heart attack, which so threatened the production's future that the Bedouin lowered their price.
In the early days of the production, when the Bentley character had a more prominent role in the film, Kirk Douglas was considered for the part. However, Douglas wanted a star salary and second billing after Peter O'Toole. Douglas' demands were rejected by producer Sam Spiegel and the Oscar-winner Edmund O'Brien was cast in the part. O'Brien filmed the Jerusalem scene, and supposedly Jackson's political discussion with Omar Sharif's character Ali before being felled by his heart attack. He was replaced on short notice by Kennedy, who was recommended to director David Lean by Anthony Quinn. Kennedy had replaced Quinn as King Henry II on Broadway in the play Becket (1964). (Ironically, when "Becket" was made into a film, it was Peter O'Toole who was cast as Henry.)
After signing for the film, Peter O'Toole was flown to New York to meet the Columbia executives backing the film, an experience he didn't care for. One said to him, "When I look at you, I see six million dollars". O'Toole replied, "How'd you like a punch up the throat?" He later said, "I hate all that stuff, it made me feel like a prize bull".
The film depicts the seizing of the port of Aqaba by the Arabs as a stirring sneak-attack that caught the Turks unaware. Actually most of the fighting for Aqaba involved the capture (and loss and recapture) of a small fort at Abu-al-Lasan, some fifty miles well inland. T.E. Lawrence and Sheikh Auda marched unopposed into Aqaba itself a few days later after British warships shelled the port into submission.
Peter O'Toole spent three months learning how to live as an Arab before a frame of film was shot. He travelled across the desert with the Bedouin camel patrol and often slept rough under the stars amidst utter silence, just as Lawrence had done as a child.
Peter O'Toole feared he was having a nervous breakdown, due to the harsh terrain and the pressure enforced on him by David Lean. He begged his wife, Siân Phillips, to come and raise his spirits: "Here, you have to be a little mad to be sane".
Alec Guinness admired Peter O'Toole's talent and charm, but as he watched him drink to excess on location, his appreciation cooled. One day, the two of them were invited to dinner at a local dignitary's house. O'Toole got drunk, quarrelled with his host and threw a glass of champagne in his face. Guinness wrote to a friend, "O'Toole could have been killed - shot or strangled and I'm beginning to think it's a pity he wasn't".
When the scene where Lawrence is first given his Arab clothes wasn't working as written, David Lean took Peter O'Toole aside and said, "There's something missing, Peter. What do you think a young man would alone in the desert if he'd just been given these beautiful robes?" He pointed out to the desert and O'Toole's eyes followed. "There's your theatre, Peter. Do what you like". So, O'Toole improvised Lawrence looking at his reflection in his knife.
After five months shooting in Jordan, Sam Spiegel ran short on cash and moved the entire production to Spain, where he had frozen assets he could only spend in that country. David Lean was so unhappy about the move that he stayed in Jordan on his own after everyone else had left for a rest in England. Surveying one of the last scenes there, a desert panorama complete with camels, he complained, "Bloody well match that somewhere else in the world."
David Lean had less than two months to prepare the film for its premiere after completing second unit work. As a result, the version shown at premiere was a few minutes longer than he might have liked. He had hoped to go back and cut a few frames from some shots he thought ran too long, but after the premiere, distributor Columbia Pictures asked him to cut 20 minutes from it so that exhibitors could squeeze in an extra showing each day. So instead of trimming a few shots, he had to cut whole scenes. For a 1971 re-issue, another 15 minutes were cut. Many critics have complained that this later version renders the action incoherent, particularly in the film's second half, which sustained the largest cuts.
As production wound down in Jordan, Omar Sharif and Peter O'Toole wanted to prepare themselves for their return to civilization. They had read about the sudden popularity of the "Twist" in one of the magazines shipped to the company's desert compound and flew in a teacher from Paris to give them lessons in the evening, after the day's filming was completed. The production dragged on for so long, however, that by the time they were back in England, the "Twist" had fallen out of fashion.
David Lean thought that one of Lawrence's key conflicts throughout the film was his inability to come to terms with his own homosexuality, and if you keep this in mind there are a lot of moments in the film that can be read in this way. He also compared the relationship between Lawrence and Ali to the doomed love affair in his heterosexual romance Brief Encounter (1945).
The role of Sherif Ali was originally intended for Horst Buchholz but he was forced to turn it down owing to his commitment to Billy Wilder's movie One, Two, Three (1961). Second choice Alain Delon tested successfully but suffered problems with the brown contact lenses required for the role. Maurice Ronet was then cast but was replaced after difficulties with his French accent and his Arabian dress (Lean complained "He looked like me walking around in drag").
During the desert location shoot, 300 Bedouins wearing sandals muffled in wool were charged with smoothing out the desert sands with palm fronds after each rehearsal and take so there would be no extraneous footprints in the sand.
After six months filming in the desert, Peter O'Toole was allowed to return to Britain for a week's rest following his injuries. Once out of hospital, he went and on a bender and was arrested for drunk driving, jailed, fined £75 and disqualified for a year. Sam Spiegel reprimanded him, "You're not supposed to get up to that kind of caper on a film like this".
The film received its American premiere during a newspaper strike in New York, and the few critics who saw it gave overwhelmingly negative reviews, notably Bosley Crowther, who dismissed it as a "camel opera".
The film credits list Sir Adrian Boult as the conductor. According to the liner notes on the Varese Sarabande (VSD 5263) release of the original soundtrack, composer Maurice Jarre actually conducted every note of this recording with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. According to "Beyond the Epic: The Life and Films of David Lean" by Gene Phillips, Sir Adrian Boult found conducting a film score so overwhelming that he handed the job over to Jarre. Sir Adrian's name was still listed for contractual reasons, apparently because he was the chief conductor of the orchestra at that time.
The first Spanish location was in Seville, where the company actually got to stay in hotels. The production took advantage of the city's Moorish architecture to re-create early 20th century Damascus, Cairo and Jerusalem, which had become too modernized for use in the film. Two thousand local extras turned out to film General Allenby's entry into Damascus in front of Seville's Archeological Museum.
In 1995, the Writers Guild decided that Michael Wilson had written enough material for the film to merit a screen credit. All versions of the film since then, including the DVD, credit the script to Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson.
Sherif Ali is a combination of numerous Arab leaders, particularly Sharif Nassir - Faisal's cousin - who led the Harith forces involved in the attack on Aqaba. The character was created largely because Lawrence did not serve with any one Arab leader (aside from Auda) throughout the majority of the war; most such leaders were amalgamated in Ali's character. This character was, however, almost certainly named after Sharif Ali ibn Hussein, a leader in the Harith tribe, who played a part in the Revolt and is mentioned and pictured in Lawrence's memoir Seven Pillars of Wisdom.
Jackson Bentley was based on famed American journalist Lowell Thomas, who helped make Lawrence famous with accounts of his bravery. However, Thomas was at the time a young man who spent only a few days (or weeks at most) with Lawrence in the field - unlike Bentley, who is depicted as a cynical middle-aged Chicago newspaperman who is present during the whole of Lawrence's later campaigns. Bentley was the narrator in Michael Wilson's original script, but Robert Bolt reduced his role significantly for the final script. Thomas did not start reporting on Lawrence until after the end of World War I, and held Lawrence in high regard, unlike Bentley, who seems to view Lawrence in terms of a story he can write about.
When Omar Sharif tested to play Sherif Ali, David Lean wanted to give the character facial hair to contrast with the fair, clean-shaven star, Peter O'Toole. He tried him with a beard but didn't like it. Then he fitted the actor with a mustache, which is how he played the role. Sharif had become a star in his native Egypt without facial hair. The impact he made in the film was so strong that he has kept the mustache for the rest of his career.
Property manager Eddie Fowlie coordinated the move to Spain on a large tramp steamer. The strangest part of the cargo was 100 stuffed camels. He had bought the skins from a slaughterhouse in Jordan and had them stuffed in case they were needed for battle scenes, which they were.
Michael Wilson worked on the screenplay for over a year, then was summarily dismissed by David Lean for unsatisfactory work. Unfortunately the cast and crew were already in Jordan and waited for weeks before a new writer was hired.
The Turkish Bey who captures Lawrence in Deraa was - according to Lawrence himself - General Hajim Bey (in Turkish, Hacim Muhiddin Bey), though he is not named in the film. Though the incident was mentioned in Seven Pillars of Wisdom, some biographers (Jeremy Wilson, John Mack) argue that Lawrence's account is to be believed; others (Michael Asher, Lawrence James) argue that contemporary evidence suggests that Lawrence never went to Deraa at this time and that the story is invented.
As the departure for location shooting neared, David Lean still didn't have a final script. He had decided he didn't care for Michael Wilson's treatment and insisted they find someone to re-write it. Then he saw Robert Bolt's historical drama A Man for All Seasons in London and realized he'd found his writer. At first, they only asked the playwright to redo the dialogue, and he refused. Then Sam Spiegel offered a large fee for a complete rewrite, but only if he could finish it in seven weeks. Bolt tried reading several books about Lawrence, but found them too contradictory, finally focusing on Lawrence's own Seven Pillars of Wisdom as his primary source.
Contrary to some sources, Richard Burton was never offered the lead role, due to the financial failure of Look Back in Anger (1959) which had caused 20th Century Fox to release him from his film contract.
It took impeccable planning to prepare the railroad attack. They could only film the sequence once. After careful testing, they determined that it would take ten pounds of guncotton to cut the rails and another ten to send the train cars careening off the track. To control their motion through the desert, they had to plant steel plates under the sand. The engineer set the locomotive at full throttle, then jumped off before the tracks exploded.
In a dried riverbed, designers built the entire town of Aqaba, Jordan, circa 1916. Contemporary Aqaba had become too modernized to serve as a location. The set consisted of 300 separate building fronts and a quarter-mile-long sea wall. On a hillside behind that, they built a half-mile square Turkish Army camp and parade ground overlooking the town. Here they filmed the Arab charge of 150 camels and 450 horses through the Turkish camp.
After three months shooting in the Seville area, the company moved again, 350 miles southeast to the port city Almeria. The area comes closer to desert terrain than any other part of Europe. A special train carried the company overnight from Seville. Another train carried the trailers in which they had lived in Jordan, while a 48-truck convoy brought the props, costumes and technical equipment.
Competing with the film was a stage play by Terence Rattigan called Ross, named for one of the aliases Lawrence had used in later years to escape notice. The play had a successful London run and was set for a film adaptation, with Laurence Harvey starring, but a threatened indictment from Sam Spiegel made it impossible for producer Herbert Wilcox to attain financing, so the production was dropped at a loss of 100,000 pounds. In this case, turnabout was fair play. Wilcox had turned Lawrence down in 1926 when the hero was trying to sell the screen rights to his Seven Pillars of Wisdom.
The film's military adviser, an army officer, went mad with sunstroke, wandering out of his tent in the dark of night shooting at anything that moved across the landscape with live ammunition. He had to be carted away.
Some of the desert scenes for the film were shot at Merthyr Mawr Sand Dunes, near Bridgend, South Wales, UK. The sand dunes there are vast and are the second highest in Europe. A few miles further West along the coast is Margam Sands, at Port Talbot, which was the location for Ealing Studio's WWII desert movie 'Nine Men' (1943).
In the opening fatal motorcycle crash scene of the 1962 Lawrence of Arabia movie, the registration of the motorcycle laying at rest after the accident can be seen as UL 656, the registration of the actual motorcycle involved in the fatal crash was GW 2275. The registration UL 656 in fact is that of another Brough Superior motorcycle T. E. Lawrence owned.
Notice the attention to detail when Lawrence is writing out the promissory note for Anthony Quinn's character: He writes from right TO left, as one would write in Arabic, and not left TO right, as most English (and most other languages are written).
One of the major scenes shot in southern Spain was the attack on the Turkish railroad. The crew laid tracks and brought in German and Belgian locomotives from the early 20th century rented from the Spanish national railway system. Each of the two trains included eight passenger cars, 14 horse cars, two luggage vans and a guards' van.
Various members of the film's crew portrayed minor characters. First assistant director Roy Stevens played the truck driver who transports Lawrence and Farraj to the Cairo HQ at the end of Act I; the Sergeant who stops Lawrence and Farraj ("Where do you think you're going to, Mustapha?") is construction assistant, Fred Bennett; and screenwriter Robert Bolt has a wordless cameo as one of the officers watching Allenby and Lawrence confer in the courtyard (he is smoking a pipe). Steve Birtles, the film's gaffer, plays the motorcyclist at the Suez Canal; David Lean himself is rumoured to be the voice shouting "Who are you?" Finally, continuity girl Barbara Cole appears as one of the nurses in the Damascus hospital scene.
Mr Dryden was based loosely on numerous figures, including Sir Ronald Storrs, who was head of the Arab Bureau and later the governor of Palestine. It was largely Storrs' doing that Lawrence first met Faisal and became involved with the Revolt. This character is also partially based upon Lawrence's archaeologist friend, D. G. Hogarth, as well as Mark Sykes and Henry McMahon, who historically fulfilled Dryden's role as a political liaison. He was created by the screenwriters to "represent the civilian and political wing of British interests, to balance Allenby's military objectives."
André De Toth suggested a shot wherein bags of blood would be machine-gunned, spraying the screen with blood. Second-unit cinematographer Nicolas Roeg approached David Lean with this idea, but Lean found it disgusting. De Toth subsequently left the project.
To accommodate the cast and crew while they were filming in the desert, the production company set up a small city of tents and trailers, complete with air conditioning and refrigerators. The location company started with 75 members and eventually rose to more than 400, most of them Jordanians. The leading actors each had personal servants to see to their needs, from laundry to cold drinks. A master chef was flown in from London to set up the company kitchen. On Saturday nights, they showed movies outdoors. And every 28 days, they were flown to the nearest city for two days of recreation. Both Omar Sharif and Peter O'Toole separately enjoyed soaking in cold baths during their breaks, as they couldn't do that on location.
Referring to the secret Sykes-Picot treaty, Faisal says "and the need to keep [the Arabs] in the British interest and the French interest." When he says "British interest" he shakes Allenby's hand, and when he says "French interest" he shakes Dryden's hand. Dryden is not French, but one of Claude Rains' iconic roles was as Captain Renault in Casablanca (1942).
Elaborate screen tests with Albert Finney as Lawrence were shot at a cost of 100,000 pounds. Finney later balked at producer Sam Spiegel's demand that he sign a seven-year contract if he accepted the role, and dropped out, replaced by Peter O'Toole, already under contract to Speigel.
David Lean argued with his second unit directors on how to film the battle scenes, firing one (André De Toth). note Lean set the tone earlier in the production, explicitly telling his crew "I loathe second unit directors."
Peter O'Toole immediately set out to research Lawrence, almost memorizing Seven Pillars of Wisdom and interviewing anyone he could find who had known him. He had to move fast, as he was set to leave for the location shoot only five weeks after winning the role.
Peter O'Toole sometimes got up to japes onset that were not always appreciated by everyone. Once, he demolished the tents as the crew lay sleeping. "After a hard day's work in 140 degrees heat, that wasn't funny", said cameraman Peter Newbrook.
When the company moved from Jordan to Spain, the camels travelled on shipboard with their legs drawn up under them so they wouldn't get seasick. After they got to Spain, they needed a day to recuperate from the ordeal before they could travel to the shooting locations.
When the film first came out, rumours spread that some theatre managers turned down the air conditioning or turned up the heat during the half hour before intermission in order to sell more ice cream and cold drinks.
Peter O'Toole's screen test was more modest than Albert Finney's, taking only a day to shoot. He dyed his hair blond and shaved the beard he was wearing in a Stratford, England, production of The Merchant of Venice. David Lean was impressed at the first sight of him in costume. Halfway through, he stopped the cameras and said, "No use shooting another foot of film. The boy is Lawrence." O'Toole signed for the film with the stipulation that his wife, actress Siân Phillips, be flown to the location once a month at the production's expense.
When Lawrence and Colonel Brighton first sit with King Faisal in Faisal's tent (at about 40 min.), Brighton stretches out his legs while Lawrence keeps his folded meekly behind. In Arab culture the blatant exposing of the soles of one's shoes is considered a gross insult, and Lawrence (already something of a scholar on Araby) would have certainly avoided the misstep. Brighton, on the other hand, an archetype here of the typical British officer in that theater, doesn't know or doesn't care.
After choosing him for the part of TE Lawrence, Peter O'Toole signed a contract with Sam Spiegel for $50,000 per picture for 3 movies. Albert Finney's screen test alone for the same part cost $100,000.
Because Jordan had had no snow the year before, they had to film scenes of Lawrence's trek through the mountains in Spain's Sierra Nevadas. A special sledge with ski-type runners was used to move the camera.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
The film took longer to make than it did for the real T.E. Lawrence to go from lieutenant to colonel, to see the desert tribes united and tip the balance in the Allies' favor against the Turks in World War I.
The moment when T.E. Lawrence - freshly adorned in his new flowing white robes - raises his dagger to look at his reflection was an improvisation by Peter O'Toole. The moment would be repeated at the end of the film in a wholly different context when a battered Lawrence looks at his bloodied dagger after the battle for Damascus.
The real T.E. Lawrence was actually riding from the Bovington Army Camp to his cottage in Cloud Hill when his tragic accident occurred. The scene where Lawrence was tortured and assaulted by the Turks was actually from the book "The Seven Pillars of Wisdom," published in shortened form as"Revolt in The Desert." Lawrence refused to publish "The Seven Pillars," his life's work, but did print it exclusively for 120 people only. The 120 people who read the book were delighted with it, and the book was published after Lawrence died.
When first telecast (by ABC-TV), the film was shown in two parts on two successive nights because of its four-hour length. Even so, it was edited so that Lawrence's torture by the Turks was even less explicit (and less comprehensible) than in the original film.
Despite the film's success, many people disliked this film due to its fictional elements (fictional characters in this film such as Sherif Ali, Colonel Brighton, Jackson Bentley, Mr. Dryden etc.). Another reason why others disliked the film has to do with the death of T.E. Lawrence in this film. Many people believed T.E Lawrence was murdered. One of the principal witnesses of the accident of T.E Lawrence was an army corporal named Catchpole who testified about a black van heading toward Lawrence. After the crash, the black van raced off down the road and the corporal ran over to T.E Lawrence who lay on the road with his face covered in blood. The corporal was instructed not to mention the van as being involved in the accident and the suspicions increased when it was reported that Catchpole killed himself shortly after testifying about the black van. Right before his death, Lawrence had been planning to see his friend Henry Williamson, who was facilitating a meeting between Lawrence and Adolf Hitler for making peace between England and Germany. T.E. Lawrence abhorred the idea of yet another war in Europe.
In his autobiography and in a letter to George Bernard Shaw's wife, there are indications that T.E. Lawrence was forced to perform homosexual acts for the Turkish governor of Deraa, something which this film skimmed over. However, both friends and enemies of the governor alike vehemently dismissed Lawrence's claims as fantasies and insisted the governor was not a homosexual.
For Lawrence's death scene, Peter O'Toole sat on a bike that was strapped to a trailer and pulled along behind the camera car. During filming, the bar connecting the trailer to the camera truck snapped and the only thing preventing O'Toole hurtling out of control into the road was a flimsy piece of rope. The car abruptly stopped and the crew breathed a heavy sigh of relief to see O'Toole still in one piece. "I think it was only Lawrence up there teasing", he said.
The character of Tafas (The Arab guide shot by Omar Sharif for drinking water from the wrong well) is played by Zia Mohyeddin, who is a Pakistani actor, producer, director and television broadcaster. He is considered a Legend and is of great influence in the literary circles.