Lawrence Of Arabia's Camels Caused No Shortage Of Pain For Peter O'Toole

Even though I have watched "Lawrence of Arabia" quite a few times in my life, I still cannot fathom how something this gigantic in scale and scope was ever committed to film. It's been 60 years since its first premiered, and no movie has ever felt bigger. But it isn't just the scale that boggles the mind. It's the harsh desert conditions, the wrangling of so many extras and animals, and the massive action set pieces. "Lawrence of Arabia" had to be a logistical nightmare that was punishing to make. It certainly left some scars on its star Peter O'Toole.

This was O'Toole's first big role. He basically appears in every scene. The grandeur of the movie doesn't work unless his performance is just as grand, and it is. But because he is its center, the physical demands on him must have been excruciating. In particular, he faced some rather uncomfortable moments making "Lawrence of Arabia," when learning how to ride a camel, perched upon a wooden saddle. Appearing on Fresh Air back in 1993, O'Toole recalled the physical toll riding a camel gave his posterior:

"I was there three months before filming started and the idea was to learn to ride a camel. [It was] impossible. What you see is a European perched uneasily on the top of this huge brute, snorting and galloping. ... I found after a while my bottom was bleeding from bouncing up and down on this snorting great dragon."

That doesn't sound pleasant in the slightest, and he is on the back of a camel for quite a lot of that movie, considering it's the main mode of transportation through the desert. Luckily, as production went on, O'Toole found a bit of a solution to his bleeding butt.

'The father of rubber'

You can't expect someone to just go through months of shooting out in the desert atop a camel with scrapes and scars that make it difficult to sit down. Peter O'Toole had to use some ingenuity to solve this problem, and he turned to a material that is much softer than a wooden saddle: sponge rubber. He goes on to say on Fresh Air:

"I went to Beirut — not to gamble this time — but to buy sponge rubber and it was, I remember, mucous membrane pink. And I arrived back to my Bedouin friend with this lump of thick, thick rubber and I stuffed it, shamelessly onto my saddle. ... But after a while they looked and they saw it was quite comfy, too, and they could bounce more easily on sponge rubber than you could on wooden hump, so they began to ask me to buy more. So I was requisitioning tons of this damn stuff, yards of it. I think I introduced sponge rubber into Arabian culture. ... They called me [in Arabic] 'the father of rubber.'"

Sponge rubber may not have been historically accurate to the time of T.E. Lawrence, but sometimes you need to sacrifice a little bit of accuracy so your actor can do their work without being in terrible pain. Peter O'Toole had the weight of a four-hour historical epic on his shoulders and was in a feud with the film's producer Sam Spiegel. That was burden enough.