Haya Harareet, the Israeli actress who played Esther opposite Charlton Heston’s titular character in the 1959 religious epic Ben-Hur, has died at the age of 89 at her home in Buckinghamshire, UK. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz broke the news, citing Harareet’s niece.
Born in Haifa, then Mandatory Palestine (now Israel), Harareet began her career in Israeli movies including the war pic Hill 24 Doesn’t Answer, which garnered international attention after it premiered in competition at the 1955 Cannes Film Festival.
She then starred in the 1956 Italian drama La donna del giorno for director Francesco Maselli, before being cast in William Wyler’s big budget remake of Ben-Hur. She landed the role of Esther, star Charlton Heston’s love interest, off the back of a 30-second silent screen test, having previously encountered Wyler in Cannes when accompanying Hill 24 Doesn’t Answer.
The blockbuster release of Ben-Hur catapulted Harareet into the limelight, and she would go on to star in 1962’s The Interns, her second and only other role in American cinema. Elsewhere, she appeared in the 1961 British movie The Secret Partner and the 1974 Brit movie My Friend Jonathan, as well as two further Italian pic, 1962’s The last Charge, and 1964’s L’ultima Carica.
Harareet also co-wrote the screenplay to the 1967 Brit movie Our Mother’s House, starring Dirk Bogarde, and she married that film’s director Jack Clayton; the pair were together until his death in 1995.
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