This Day in History (1973): The Arabian Peninsula, in living color
Aramco reflects on its motion picture depiction of the earliest days of Saudi Arabia.
From the April 18, 1973, edition of The Arabian Sun
Aramco wanted a full-length motion picture that would do justice to the history of the Arabs from the birth of civilisation to the taking of Riyadh by King ‘Abd al-‘Aziz, one that would capture the spirit of Islam on one hand and the excitement of the discovery of oil at Dhahran on the other.
Richard Lyford — with an Academy award for his work as editor-director of “The Titan,” “The Story of Michelangelo,” and the experience in Arabia producing “Miyah,” a short subject on water conservation — was therefore on location in Saudi Arabia twenty years ago with a small professional crew and a number of Aramco employees eager for stardom.
They were making an Ansco color film called “Island of Allah” in the English version and “Jazirat al-‘Arab” in the Arabic version.
Among the few professionals on hand was Isa Sabbagh, at that time Voice of America Arabic Section chief and later U.S. Public Affairs officer in Kuwait and Beirut. He played the Bedouin guide Khalid and his narration introduced and tied together the Arabic version. Frederick March did the narration for the English version.
The film — which is still available for viewing from the Public Relations film collection and from the film library attached to the Headquarters Library — opens with the arrival of three bearded American geologists in Jubail. The geologists are played by the late James C. Stewart, a Government Relations employee at the time; the late Albert Clements, then a geologist and later an ordained minister; and Ira “Hank” Constad, then an industrial trainer and now an industrial relations consultant in Wichita, Kansas.
The story flashes back over 6,000 years of rhapsodic history, but the big act is the taking of Riyadh in 1902.
Caption for top photo: American geologists in white ghuttras are welcomed by the Amir of Jubail in “Island of Allah.” The scene shows Aramco employees, from left, Jim Steward, Sa’d ibn Rukayyan, Al Clements, and Hank Constand. Isa Sabbagh (second from right), who played a Bedouin guide, was the Voice of America Arabic Section chief.
Also on this day
2018 — “Black Panther” is the first film shown at a commercial cinema in 35 years in Saudi Arabia as cinemas are reopened
2018 — King Mswati III of Swaziland announces that his country's name will change to Eswatini
1985 — "Wham!" become the first western pop act to release an album in China
1980 — The Republic of Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia) comes into being, with Canaan Banana as the country's first President. The Zimbabwean dollar replaces the Rhodesian dollar as the official currency
1955 — 29 nations meet at Bandung, Indonesia, for the first Asian-African Conference
1949 — The Republic of Ireland Act comes into force, declaring Éire to be a republic and severing Ireland's "association" with the Commonwealth of Nations
1947 — The Operation Big Bang, the largest non-nuclear man-made explosion to that time, destroys bunkers and military installations on the North Sea island of Heligoland, Germany