1962 Stephen Boyd Interview regarding the runaway production of “Cleopatra”

I sometimes wonder how Stephen’s career – and the 1960’s – would have turned out had he waited just a few months longer to start filming “Cleopatra.” He would have been a part of one of the biggest cultural movies of the 1960’s. The problem was, however, he would have spent literally two years filming (or waiting to film) this project! Stephen arrived on set in London in the later summer of 1960 to start filming “Cleopatra” (he was going to be Marc Anthony, of course). By late spring of 1961 he was still waiting. Stephen opted out “Cleopatra” in June of 1961 to start work on “Lisa” with Dolores Hart. When Richard Burton replaced Boyd in July and production on “Cleopatra” finally crawled to a start in late 1961 in Rome. “Cleopatra” was still filming in the summer of 1962 when Boyd was on hand in Rome filming “Imperial Venus” with Gina Lollobrigida! Below is a fascinating glimpse at this production from Stephen’s point of view while he was filming “Jumbo” in Hollywood.

Harold Hefferman, Philadelphia Daily News, March 8, 1962

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HOLLWOOD. – Behind movie headlines:

“Runaway production” is a terrifying term striking hard at every layer of the Hollywood foundation. As to its personal impact, no actor in town has greater reason for despising it than Stephen Boyd.

Boyd came back from two years movie making in Europe with little more than wasted time and the unhappy feeling both his career and personal life had been adversely affected by his absence.

The blond actor, who spent an earlier two year period villainizing Charlton Heston in “Ben-Hur,” went back to Europe in 1960 to make “The Big Gamble” with Juliette Greco. While there 20th-Fox notified him he was to play “Anthony” to Elizabeth Taylor’s “Cleopatra,” so he remained on- and on.

“The whole two years – minus a few weeks I spent back here in Hollywood – added up to nothing short of a fiasco,” growled Steve, on the set of “Billy Rose’s Jumbo” at MGM. “While waiting for ‘Cleo’ to get started, I went to Cairo for the big lighting of the Sphinx. That was when they were planning to shoot the picture in Egypt – but, of course, that fell through.

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“I’d say that about the personal high points of those 24 months was my trip to Cairo and Lebanon. The countries are beautiful, and it’s too bad so many things came up to prevent shooting ‘Cleopatra’ there.”

A few weeks after Steve reported for the big Queen of the Nile spectacle, Miss Taylor was stricken with her first and near fatal illness, followed by innumerable script and change-of-producer- director delays. Meanwhile, he was assigned by the studio to do “The Inspector” opposite Dolores Hart in Holland. This is a film he has yet to see.

“I can only say I hope it came out better than ‘The Big Gamble,’” Steve chided candidly, “because that one, I’m sure, won’t do a thing for my career. But that did save me from doing ‘Cleopatra,’ for which I am undyingly grateful.”

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Dolores Hart and Stephen Boyd in “Lisa”

Steve doesn’t put much stock in the “Roman holiday” rumors of a romance between Liz Taylor and Richard (Antony) Burton. He attributes the notoriety to “a dream creation” by the over-imaginative Italian press.

“Why, the fan magazines and even a couple of Italian newspaper columns had me linked romantically with Elizabeth- a month before I’d even met her!” he laughed. “One headline read: ‘Will Steve divide Liz and Eddie?’ And I’d never even seen the lady, except in a couple of her movies. She and Eddie and I joked about it when we finally did meet on the set – but sometimes rumor and gossip can get way beyond the amusing stage.”

Steve blasts “runaway” for two other personal reasons. It cut into his burning romance with Hope Lange – she didn’t wait, and took up with others – and financially he took a shellacking.

I didn’t get anything resembling tax breaks,” he explained, “and, in fact, I paid both British and U.S. taxes all the time I was away. (Steve is a British citizen, of Irish descent.) I’m not dead set against pictures being made in foreign countries—sometimes they really turn out better – but in far too many cases, such as ‘Cleopatra,’ if they don’t film them on the McCoy locations, they’d do better to stay right in Hollywood and let everyone relax, including the actor.”

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Hope Lange and Stephen Boyd, 1961

Stephen Boyd and Yvette Mimieux

There seemed to be a very affectionate and protective older brother/little sister relationship between Stephen Boyd and actress Yvette Mimieux on the set of “Caper of the Golden Bulls”. Stephen would know all about having sisters at least – he had four of them! Yvette was only 24 years old when she was making this picture and Boyd was 35. The below pictures are some of my favorite of Stephen and Yvette together. Stephen looks dashingly handsome in his mid-1960’s short hair and white suitcoats, and Yvette equally alluring.

And for her part, Yvette would gush about her co-star during The Bible…In The Beginning premiere in October of 1966.

At our table was lovely Yvette Mimieux, accompanied by her manager Jim Byron, but dividing her chatting time between Ustinov [they’re good friends and may be working together in the Disney picture] and Stephen Boyd , who plays Nimrod in “The Bible.”

Yvette worked with Boyd in the Paramount picture “Caper of the Golden Bulls” [not yet released], and told me she considers him one of the most considerable and solicitous men she shows — with his costars.  (Chicago Tribune, Oct 10, 1966, Norma Lee Browning)

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Stephen Boyd Meets Royalty for “The Man Who Never Was” Premiere, 1956

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Below, Stephen Boyd meets Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (the husband and consort of Queen Elizabeth II) in 1956 during a premiere of “The Man Who Never Was.”

 

Below is a very rare Royal Gala Premiere booklet for “The Man Who Never Was.” The pamphlet is from the Wednesday, March 14, 1956 premiere of the film and was attended by the Duchess of Kent.

Stephen Boyd as Nimrod in “The Bible…In the Beginning”, 1966

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Stephen Boyd was no stranger to biblical epics after his experience in Ben-Hur in 1959. John Huston’s quasi- psychedelic and beautifully filmed 1966 epic The Bible…In the Beginning was Stephen’s last venture into ancient times on the movie screen. Boyd’s segment in this film occurs just after the intermission and it contains a truly mesmerizing movie moment with an astonishing Tower of Babel in the desert with thousands of extras climbing to the top and all around. There are so many extras that they look like ants from the top of this tower! Stephen Boyd as a very regal Nimrod strides slowly onto the screen in an elaborate costume and golden/black eye makeup which would make Cleopatra envious. As he slowly mounts the winding staircase of the Tower of Babel, his minions and wives cower in his footsteps. As he reaches the top, he seems overcome with pride and he asks for his bow. Aiming it high into the sky, he shoots an arrow which becomes lost in the clouds it goes so far. Immediately after doing this the ground begins to rumble and the wind blows as God disapproves of this vanity. Once the dust clears, Nimrod is shocked to find that he can no longer understand any of his entourage. Their words make no sense as God has confounded their language. Everyone rushes around in confusion and they flee out into the desert. Nimrod surveys his now empty Tower in defiance and angry dismay.

Then, as quickly as it had started, this story line ends. Why?

Well, a reporter in 1969 asked Stephen this very question :

I asked him about some of his earlier films, about his brilliant but aborted Nimrod in John Huston’s “The Bible.” The role ended in the middle of nowhere.

“I had just made the test of Huston and had been on the film for only a couple of days when Fox yanked me off to make ‘Fantastic Voyage.’”, Boyd said. “I assumed they were going to junk what I did or do it over with someone else, but later on, Huston decided to use what little he had, so of course, the actor is blamed for it. You have to make compromises all the way. Big ones on the big picture, smaller ones on the smaller ones, you even have to make them on the good pictures, and I say the hell with it. You can make a lot of stupid pictures that make a lot of money, so why eat your heart out?”

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I, for one, am so pleased that Huston left this scene in the movie even though it is incongruously placed and appears like a mini vignette. Stephen’s appearance was brief but he was still listed as one of the main stars. The movie was a box office success (it was the top grossing movie of 1966), and it is still played frequently on television today.

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To film his brief scene, Stephen luckily missed an airplane crash in Rome and then got lost driving himself to the movie location in Egypt!

I reported back here for “Voyage” to learn it was postponed a month, so accepted John Huston’s offer to play Nimrod, which fitted neatly into the interval. Just before I was to leave, Saul David, my producer, said he and Dave Fleischer must have some huddles with me first. So I canceled the flight and took tickets for a plane four days later. It saved my life. I was booked on Flight 800 which went down with everyone aboard lost. (For more about TWA 800 Crash, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TWA_Flight_800_(1964) )

“We were rained out when I first hit Cairo,” Steve continued, “Huston was working in the Moadi desert 50 miles outside the city, and I got lost heading for location. Nothing but sand in all directions, not even a mirage in sight. I was done up in a fantastic costume of gold metal eyebrows and helmet, tight black leather pants and fur chaps. A man appeared out of nowhere and thrust his arm inside the car. I thought I’d be shot on sight, instead he shook hands, said something in Egyptian and pointed out the direction of our company.” Hedda Hopper, Hollywood, Dec 28, 1964.

Below are some pictures from the movie and promotional film booklet with some information about how they filmed this unforgettable scene of Nimrod and the Tower of Babel. The Tower itself was built on a back-lot set in Rome as solidly as any modern structure in order to allow hundreds of people on it during the filming. Some people thought it looked like new skyscraper! The framework was made of steel tubular pipes covered with plaster and anchored in a concrete setting. The outside was artistically made to look like ancient bricks. It rose 120 feet and cost $375,000 to create. (Jan 5, 1965, Tucson Daily Citizen, “Tower rises–and so does the cost”)

Historically speaking, King Nimrod himself was a somewhat mysterious figure who was the grandson of Noah’s son Ham. He ruled over Mesopotamia after the Flood, and his Kingdom was enormous, covering parts of Babylonia and Assyria. He was a renowned hunter and is said to have been the first to eat meat and make war, which may explain some of the production photos of Stephen on horseback in costume doing some hunting with his bow and arrow. These were probably the scenes filmed in Egypt as well but abandoned in the final cut.

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Who can bend the bow of Nimrod?

Or put strength into the arrow like unto his strength?

Nothing is too mighty for him to do!

No power is greater than his!

For he has taken the earth and made it his own.

He stores up the thunder and wears the lightning like a jewel.

The glory of Nimrod shines beyond the sun.

There is none greater than he in earth or heaven.

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