Mary Mounib: A pioneer in Egyptian cinema is honoured with a Google Doodle

The iconic Egyptian comedic actress was in over 100 films and 60 plays through out her 53-year career created a Google Doodle to celebrate the birthday of Mary Mounib.

Cairo-based artist Shennawy created a Google Doodle in honour of Mary Mounib's 114th birthday.

by Staff Writer

Culture 11 February 2019

To celebrate her 114th birthday, Google put the spotlight on the iconic Egyptian actress Mary Mounib. The Google Doodle depicts her smiling, her iconic dangling earrings making up the Google logo behind her. The emotive doodle was created by Cairo-based artist Shennawy and can be seen across Google the Gulf, North Africa and the Levant.

Mary Mounib was truly a charismatic personality on the stage, screen and in her everyday life. She commanded respect from her peers and fans managing to create a comedic legacy that influenced generations of young Arab comedians and actors even today.

From a hard come up in 1920s Egypt, to breaking into a male-dominated industry, to her famous one liners and transforming into Egypt’s mother-in-law (or depending on how you view it, the original Monster-in-Law – Sorry Jane Fonda), here are some fascinating facts about her life and a career that spand half a millennium.

Mary Salim Habib Nasrallah was born near Damascus to a Lebanese family on February 11, 1905. Her father was a trader whose job sent him and his family to live in to Cairo, Egypt when Mary was six months old.

Her family lived in the suburb of Hay Shobra where Mary was educated and her interest in performing was ignited and her love for theatre and comedy began.  It’s unsure whether or not becoming a performer was something tangible for Mary but a family tragedy forced her to get on the stage.

When Mary was twelve her father, the breadwinner of the family, passed away. So at fourteen she started working as a performer along with her sister Elise. They initially found employment at the Rawd al-Faraj amusement park with an acting group called Fawzi Al Jazairlee named after the founder of the group.

A Young Mary Mounib

Mary’s role in the acting group was small. She would act, sing and would even dance. She gained a lot of attention and quite the reputation as a skilled dancer for being able to dance with koulal over her head (a traditional clay jug) as opposed to a shamaanaat (a candle chandelier), which was more trendy at the time.

When the lead actress in the group, Ihsan Jazairlee (daughter of the founder), fell ill and was unable to perform for a show, Mary was suggested as someone who could take on the lead female role in the play. The role was a well known comedic personality at the time instead that Ihsan had really made popular.

Mary’s raw talent and comedic timing took the role to another level with the audience and many felt that she outshined Ihsan as a comedic actress. This quick success in the group created a lot of tension between her and Ihasna and forced Mary to leave the Fawzi Al Jazairlee acting group.

However Mary wasn’t deterred. Her reputation as a comedic actress was spreading and she quickly moved on to work with the acting group Ali Kasar. She also travelled to Alexandria where she met with famed Egyptian actor director, Bishara Wakim, who was impressed by her talent as an actress and her engaging personality, agreeing to work with her in his acting group.

In 1918 while travelling to Syria to perform she met and performed with actor Fawzi Mounib. Mary and Fawzi started to see each other romantically, got married and Mary officially changed her stage name – Mary Mounib. The couple had a daughter and two sons. Mary’s grandson is the famous Egyptian pop singer Aamer Munib.

Fawzi Mounib began his own acting group and gave Mary many of the leading roles of his comedic plays. Most of the plays they did together were incredibly popular among critics and audiences. Unfortunately their work together came to an end when Fawzi left Mary after she discovered his affair and secret marriage to the actress Nargis.

Mary was greatly affected by the divorce but managed to push through her pain by working. She eventually married again to lawyer Fahmy Abdul Salam, who was her sister’s widow. Weird, we know. Mary allegedly wanted to marry him in order to care for her sister’s children. Still, weird, we know.

Director and actor Bishara Wakim (middle) who gave Mary Mounib one of her early big breaks.

Mary obviously left her ex husband’s acting group and joined the acting group called El Rahani, remaining with them until the death of the founder, Najeeb Al Rihani in 1949. Mary took on the role of leading the group along with Adel Khaire, whom she acted along with in his most famous plays If Only You Were Good and 30 Days in Prison.

Alongside her work on the stage, Mary was also gaining traction as a comedic actress on the screen. Mary began her film career in 1934 with a small role in the film Son of the People.

While her popularity grew as an actress on the stage, the movie roles kept coming and in 1939 her role in the film Determination directed by Kmal Selim really put Mary on the map in Egypt and across the Arab world.

After that, Mary’s movie career was filled with a lot of commercial success and produced many iconic films such as:

Movie poster for Layla, Daughter of the Poor.

Layla, Daughter of the Poorin 1942 directed by Togo Mizrahi and starring the Egyptian superstar Leila Mourad and Egyptian heartthrob Anwar Wagdi.

Movie poster for The Lady’s Puppet

The Lady’s Puppetin 1946 where she played a strong willed materialistic mother along side Naguib el-Rihani and world-renowned belly dancer and actress Taheya Carioca.

Movie Poster for My Mother-in-Law Is an Atomic Bomb

My Mother-in-Law Is an Atomic Bombdirected by Helmy Rafla and also starring Taheya Carioca and Ismail Yassin. In fact, Mary was the first female comedian who had a movie named after her character in My Mother-in-Law Is an Atomic Bombas well as in the film The Pretty Mother-in-Law.

Mary perfected the character of the sassy, bitter, mother-in-law in a number of films producing iconic one liners and cementing her place in Egyptian pop culture for years to come. An incredibly famous scene where Mary perfected her iconic role as the unhappy mother-in-law can be seen in the 1958 film This is Love.

Mary Mounib in This is Love

The brilliance of Mary was not only that was she a natural comedian and great actress, but that she Mary understood that audiences enjoyed watching her in the role of the mother-in-law using that to her advantage. Mary managed to give audiences what they wanted while also creating a number of these mother-in- law characters each with her own distinct voice and personality.

This proved that Mary was completely unique on the stage and screen as an actress who commanded her own fan base by giving them what they expected of her while also stretching her creative muscles as a performer.

Mary Mounib in another iconic role as the mother of the bride or mother-in-law

On January 21, 1969 after performing on stage, Mary arrived home at 1.30am. She didn’t complain of any pain but was struck with a heart attack that ended her life that night. She was only 63.

Her last role on screen was in the 1969 film, Thieves with a Sense of Humour along side the young comedian Adel Imam who today is one Egypt’s most successful and recognisable comedians.

Mary left behind a legacy of 60 plays and more 100 films over 50 years working as a performer and actress. Her iconic role as the never satisfied mother-in-law branded her with the title of Egypt’s funniest mother-in-law.

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