Modern Screen 1960 Stephen Boyd Feature

articlemodernscreen-april1960-8

The London fog of ’52 was a killer. It rolled in from the sea, ghostly and poisonous, shrouding the city and choking the weak who breathed it. Thousands died before it blew away. One who almost did was a sick and lonely youth from Belfast, Ireland, named Billy Millar. Shivering one minute and burning the next, Billy huddled in a drafty hall of a cheap rooming house. He’d come to London to act. Instead, he was bedded with a dangerous flu, flat broke and starving. All he’d had for a week was water. In his delirium, Billy dreamed : He was stand- ing over a deep, deep well. Inside it were all the emotions and feelings of the world. He could reach down at random, lift them up, take them in and give them out. When he dreamed that, Billy Millar didn’t care if he ever got well.

But, of course, he did. Because today Billy Millar is Stephen Boyd. He has a different name but often the same wonderful dream, asleep or awake. And he believes it as firmly as he believes in leprechauns. That is one big reason why Irish Steve Boyd is the honest new he-man star in Hollywood.

Since his ruthless Messala lost the chariot race but captured the sympathy and sex-appeal of Ben-Hur, Steve has had to turn down eleven juicy offers that could make him rich — if he were a foot- ball squad instead of just one man. Steve missed starring with Marilyn Monroe in Let’s Make Love by a flick of her false eyelash — but he’s up for Marc Antony with Liz Taylor’s Cleopatra. After that they’re talking Valentino’s sexy part in Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse for Steve. Critics are already running out of five- dollar adjectives describing Steve’s virile authority, and even tough-minded Willie Wyler, Ben-Hur’s director, calls him a young Clark Gable. Wherever Steve goes, girls break out in goose pimples. Some reasons why are obvious. Steve Boyd is a gorgeous broth of a boy with a wavy, red-glinted mop of hair. Celtic blue eyes and a rocky, deep-dimpled chin. He’s loaded with genuine Irish wit and charm and there’s nothing wrong with his six-foot-plus,180-pound hunk of muscle, either. But there the standard Hollywood hero portrait stops, and Steve’s dream takes over. All he really cares about is acting.

For himself, handsome Steve Boyd has absolutely no admiration. “I’m not very fond of myself,” he’ll tell you. “but I’m all wrapped up in the people I play.” Fame leaves him cold. He doesn’t care about being a star. He can skip fun, too, and even money. “I’ll work for nothing.” he’s offered, “if I like the part. But I’ll go out of my mind if I don’t.'”

Nothing besides his job.

Steve has even less interest in sports, social life, politics, business or much of anything besides his job. If people ask him about them he has a stock answer: “I don’t know. I’m an actor.” Not long ago an interviewer dreamed up a fancy quote: “If I have one cause in life,” he had Steve say grandly, “it is to fight for the freedom of Ireland;” When that hit his home town, Belfast people who knew him laughed out loud, along with Steve Boyd. For one thing, they’re all loyal subjects of the Queen. Corrected Steve, “The only cause I’ve had to fight for all my life is my own freedom. That’s a battle that keeps on and on.”

When fans mobbed Steve for his auto- graph recently in New York he was equally amazed. “Why should anybody want anything from me?'” he puzzled, “What have I got to do with that guy in Ben-Hur?” To him Steve Boyd and Messala were two entirely different people. A character like that can be hard to figure in a town where the first person, singular, is almost holy writ. Steve Boyd is hard to figure. You have to start all over again with each part he plays. As long as two years ago, when Steve first came to Hollywood to play a ‘bad guy’ in The Bravados, the impact was baffling to all concerned. In fact, when Steve showed up at Twentieth Century- Fox to draw his wardrobe, Mickey Sherrard, in charge, took one look at him and exploded. “My God — they’ve gone out of their minds:” Steve’s Savile Row clothes and London accent seemed about as right for a western heavy as David Niven’s. Furthermore, Steve cheerfully admitted he didn’t know how to strap on his guns, shoot them or straddle a horse. But he learned — and he was perfect in the picture. As for Steve’s experiences — he took a walk from his hotel the first night and got stopped by the cops. “It’s not safe to walk in Beverly Hills.” they told him cryptically, escorting him back. When he got his hotel bill, each day nicked him for more than his dad earned in Ireland for a week’s labor. The apartment he fled to promptly stuck him for six months’ rent, even though almost all that time he was in Mexico and Rome! “I found it all pretty confusing,” says Steve.

He could say the same thing today, because the truth is that Stephen Boyd doesn’t fit the Hollywood pattern, or any pattern for that matter. He doesn’t because with him reality always takes second place. Acting comes first and it always has. But it hasn’t made things easy for Steve. This kind of schizophrenia is nothing new to Steve Boyd. He’s been dreaming as much as waking and, in one way or another, acting as often as living, ever since he was born on the Fourth of July, 1928, in Glen Gormley, outside of Belfast. His mother, Martha Boyd, who traced back to the Bally Castle Boyds. was the youngest of thirteen children, and William Millar, as Steve was christened, was her last baby. “The last child of a last child,” says Steve, “and they’re always queer ones.” Besides, Martha had “a poison in her stomach” most of the months she carried Billy and even the doctor didn’t expect much of value to be delivered. “I’m inclined to think he was right,” grins Steve today.

Stacked against his husky brothers, it’s true. Billy was no prize. They took after their dad, James Millar, a mountain of a man who drove a truck for a living, who could down a mug of beer at a gulp and who, even today. Steve proudly claims, “can wipe up the floor with me any time he feels like it.” The brothers, from James, twenty years older, to Alex next above, were buckos so famous for their brawn and red tempers that one was called “Blow” at school, because he blew his top and clobbered anyone who crossed him. Billy wasn’t like that. He was solid and strong enough, a “Billy Bunter” kid, as they said around Belfast. He could run like the wind, rough it up in soccer and hockey, but fighting, which was glorious sport for his brothers, made him feel cheap. But once, when an American boy named Eugene challenged him on the school grounds Billy fought desperately, “and I beat the tar out of him.” says Steve. “But I was sorry afterward. The master bent us both over and whacked our bottoms with a paddle.” Billy never hit any- one after that. Sometimes Billy Millar couldn’t understand himself, but he didn’t try too hard. He was too busy being something else.

He was a steamship, usually the Queen Mary, blowing foghorn blasts through his fingers and sailing up and down the side- walk. He was a racing automobile, ripping down the hills in a skateboard, once clear under the wheels of a passing car. The driver only jumped angrily out at the bump, yelling “You little so-and-so!” and chased him up the street. He roamed the woods outside of town and up on the Cave Hill, alone — being whatever came to his imagination — Robin Hood. Brian Boru. a deer, fox, or even a tree. Later, when he grew up enough, he’d set out on solitary hikes through the Mourne Mountains, singing Irish ballads . . . “where the mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea . . .” and staying at youth hostels. “I was a dreamer,” admits Steve. “And the things I liked best I liked to do alone.” That was hard to manage the way the Millars lived in Glen Gormley. They rented a tiny house, smaller than the modest apartment Steve has in Hollywood to- day, for $1.10 a week. All eleven crowded inside, and a succession of cats who inevitably met sad ends. The main support for this brood was James Millar’s salary of $18 a week. Sometimes Martha worked and each Millar kid, girl or boy, found a job as they grew up to help. Billy pulled potatoes on farms nearby. Once he tried a job in a garage, until a towed tractor he was steering tipped over on the slippery road to Belfast and almost killed him.

Ireland was poor and the Millars were poor Irish. The world-wide depression in Steve’s boyhood didn’t help, and then came the war to make things desperate. Food was scarce and the Nazis plastered the port of Belfast regularly, leaving incendiaries and delayed action bombs that blew up without warning and killed plenty of kids Billy knew. Some families moved out into the hills but the Millars stayed where they were, thinking themselves lucky compared to Jack, Billy’s brother, who joined the Navy and stuck out the war on Malta, the heaviest bombed spot of all. Despite all this and his poverty, Steve Boyd calls himself lucky to have had the boyhood he had.

Nobody’s impressed

He likes to go back home today. “In fact,” says Steve, “I need to. It gets my feet back on the ground.” When he does his mother tells him, “Now, there’ll be none of that Stephen Boyd business around here, boy. You’re still Billy.” Sometimes she calls him “Poison,” from the recollection of his birth. And his dad who, after thirty-two years, drives the same trucks for the same company and makes about the same pay, teases him roughly. “How’s the head, Billy — swelling up? I’ll get a bucket of water!” His brothers are all men who work with their hands. He has twenty-two nephews and nieces. Nobody’s impressed.

Stephen Boyd prizes this and even envies them. “My father and mother,” he believes, “are both remarkable people. At an early age they made and kept their happiness. If I could ever achieve what they have,” he muses wistfully, “I’d be content.”

Back then contentment didn’t mix with Billy Millar’s dreams any more than it does today. But he’s grateful that some virtues and values of respectable poverty rubbed off and clung to him. “Life was a struggle,” as he puts it. “But a cheerful struggle. We never had a shilling ahead but I don’t remember any feeling of fear or insecurity. There was always life and excitement in our house, always love, always humor and always pride.”

At school Billy Millar had a nickname. “Smiler.” “I was a serious kid,” he explains, “but happy serious.” From the minute he trotted off to classes, at the age of four, he liked everything about school. But he was always speaking his mind. He’d argue until they shut him up. “I was sure hard to convince,” says Steve. At the Scottish Presbyterian church he even argued with the Reverend Nicholson about his sermons. “It amazed me.” states Steve, “that a man could read a text from the Bible and then have the nerve to tell others what it meant. Why, it means some- thing different to everyone who reads it!” He’d tell the good man this and they’d have word battles after church, to the preacher’s delight. But later, when Billy Millar briefly thought he’d like to study theology and be a minister himself, Reverend Nicholson shook his head.

“I know your mind, Billy,” he counseled. “And you won’t do for organized religion. You’d never accept it.”

By then Billy Millar was already a veteran in a profession where it didn’t hurt a bit to have ideas of your own. But it did hurt to have your voice change. At fourteen, Billy was a has-been kid actor. It had all begun when he was eight with a little school play in Glen Gormley, something about Scotland Yard, as Steve remembers. He played a policeman and he can still rattle off his opening lines, “Look — Maggie and Jim are comin’ down the street. She’s grumblin’ like me grand- mother’s parrot — and he’s gone all red in the face!” A scout from the British Broad- casting company was combing the schools for a kiddie talent and he snapped Billy right up for the Children’s Hour program. A kid who was always being something else anyway found this a pushover. For most of the next six years Billy was either rehearsing or happily being everybody but himself over radio.

Into the family pot

The good part was the expressive out- let for imaginative Billy Millar — and maybe even more than that — the money. For a skit he collected the equivalent of $16, a decent week’s wages for any grown working man in Ireland. For a play he got $25, more than his own dad earned. All of it went into the family pot, which could use it. But it was bad being cut off from his age group at a time when Billy Millar, particularly, needed them. “Sometimes,” glooms Steve Boyd today, “I still have the feeling I’m a bit of an adolescent.” He never had a chance to knock around and get the growing kinks out of his system. There wasn’t time to do what the other guys did — play on soccer teams, dance, join a gang, mess around. All that time Billy never had a date. With all the chicks nipping around Stephen Boyd now it’s hard to believe, but in those days he couldn’t get to first base with the colleens. By North-of-Ireland standards, they figured him a kind of ‘kook.’ Steve still winces remembering one who gave him a specially hard time. Audrey was a dainty blonde doll he worshiped hopelessly. His big brother, Alex, took her out whenever he wanted to. But when Billy tried she just swished her skirts and snapped, “No!” “Lord knows I was persistent,” grins Steve. “I kept asking her for six straight years and I got the same answer every time.” Finally she told him, ‘Billy, you’re just too odd a one for me.”

While Steve was still on BBC, but fading, he entered Hughes Academy in Belfast, a business school. His aim was a white-collar job in an office. University was out of the question for the likes of the Millar kids. Billy always knew that — there wasn’t the money. But he didn’t want to steer a truck, or swing a pick. He hit typing and shorthand hard and got pretty sharp. He’d been there about a year when Martha Millar met him one day as he rolled in on his bike. “Let’s take a little walk, Son,” she said. And then she told him, “Things are bad with so many married and gone. We can’t keep it up with you in school and all.” Billy knew what she meant: That he had to start bringing in steady money. That’s what an Irish family’s son like Billy Millar had to do when it came time. He was fourteen. So. Billy got himself a job in a Belfast insurance office, “assistant in charge of motors,” he called himself dramatically. Actually, he was office boy. He got a better one soon at McCalla’s Travel Agency, earning $20 a week. For a fifteen-year-old in Belfast that was fabulous. His family and friends began thinking maybe Billy was going to amount to something in business after all. Billy told himself that was his one ambition. Now, Steve Boyd knows he just wanted to please his folks. Because, nights he joined up with an acting group called the University Players. After seven months at McCalla’s he faced his boss one day and announced that he was quitting. The boss almost fell out of his chair.

“What for?”

“I want to be an actor,” said Billy.

“Humph!” snorted the man, “Now listen, Lad — a rolling stone, y’know, gathers no moss.”

Maybe Billy had heard his snappy comeback somewhere. Anyway he said, “Sure, and who wants moss?” He applied to a professional acting company named the Ulster Group Theater, took an exam and got a job. Five dollars a week. He stayed there three years. At the end he was making $10.

“I’ll bet on the Irish”

But Billy swallowed his pride and stuck it. He’s never been sorry. He learned the tricks of his trade with the Ulster Group. Steve Boyd thinks there are few better places to learn them. He has great respect for America’s ‘Method’ actors like Brando and Newman. “But when it comes to tricks, acting or any other kind,” smiles Steve, “I ‘ll bet on the Irish!”

He learned more than tricks, of course. Starting on the ground floor, literally, sweeping out the house, Billy shifted scenery, hammered sets, stage managed, worked up from bits to character parts and then leads. Finally, he was playing eight shows a week, forty-eight weeks a year — Noel Coward, Bernard Shaw, Terence Rattigan, Sean O’Casey, J. M. Synge and all the modern playwrights. By the time he was twenty, Billy Millar figured he was a professional and he longed for the Big League — London.

Billy got there first in 1950 for the Festival of Britain. The Ulster Group sent over three plays for that, and Billy got a free ride as an understudy. He tried to stick around when the party was over to find a job. All he got was, “What’ve you done in England?” Since the answer was “Nothing,” they yawned, “Come back when you have.”

Instead, Billy went back to Ireland, broke and in the doghouse. The Ulster Group figured he’d deserted them, and the head director kicked him out, “To teach you a lesson.”

“He did,” says Steve grimly. “The lesson was that if you want to get anywhere you’d better not depend on anyone but yourself.” That fall he borrowed five pounds (about $15) from a Belfast pal and boarded a boat back to Liverpool, lugging a cheap guitar that was kicking around the house. The battered box occupies a place of honor by Steve’s fireplace today. In London it practically saved his life. He got there after hitching the long stretch from Liverpool. But he didn’t know a soul and his stake was all of ten shillings. He found a job at Lyon’s Corner House, a chain cafeteria on Piccadilly Circus, pouring coffee and carting out dirty dishes for four pounds a week, and a room for thirty shillings. The job was okay, although he worked twelve hours a day, but the room was pretty grim. It was actually a tiny hall, four by nine feet, “and you had to edge in sidewise or you’d step right into the bed,” recalls Steve. “There wasn’t a window, but there was a door out to the garden. The other roomers had to go through my place to get out.” That was bearable as long as he just slept there nights.

But after he’d saved up ten pounds, Billy quit his bus-boy job to make the agent’s rounds, with plenty of no luck. He was about broke again when that fog rolled in. Undernourished anyway, Billy was a set-up for pneumonia-flu. He was desperately sick for a whole month. In the midst of this his landlady demanded her rent and when he couldn’t come up with it, ordered him out. Next day was the dead-line. “It’s funny what you can do,” reflects Steve Boyd, “when you have to.” What he did was to somehow drag himself and his guitar down to Leicester Square that night. In front of the Empire Theater long lines of ticket buyers queued up. Billy Millar started ‘busking.’ Whanging his guitar, he croaked out the folk songs he knew from childhood, Star of the County Down, Just a Poor Way- farin’ Stranger and such. People tossed him pennies and sometimes a shilling. That was Stephen Boyd’s first London performance, and for him it was a big success. “Not because of my music,” admits Steve, “but because I looked like I’d drop dead if they didn’t tip me. I probably would have, too.”

But a nice little racket like ‘busking’ was not overlooked in crowded London. There were pro ‘buskers;’ they even had a union. Pretty soon a goon squad chased wobbly Billy Millar off the Square. By then he had enough for his first meal in a week, and a pound to stall off the land- lady. He bolted the meal — veal schnitzel and beer — bought a small bottle of brandy and a packet of aspirin. Back in his room he downed those and crawled in between the sheets. Twenty hours later he woke up in a sea of sweat. But he’d had that wonderful dream. He felt just great.

From that low point the only way Billy could go was up. Not very far up, at first. But the doorman’s job he snagged next at the Odeon Theatre, with its gorgeous uniform, triggered the break he was hunting. Billy was so impressive in the glittering rig that, when they staged the British Academy Awards at the Leicester Square Cinema across the way, someone grabbed him to usher in the winners. Billy took stars up to emcee Michael Redgrave, all that evening. At the end Redgrave, a star himself in London, politely inquired just what the hell Billy was doing in that field marshal’s uniform parking cars and opening doors?

“You’re an actor, aren’t you?”

“How did you know?”

“I can tell,” said Mike, “by the way you handle yourself. Why aren’t you acting?”

So Billy told him his sad story: Nobody would give him a job. After a chat, Redgrave said maybe he could fix that. He gave Billy a note to the director of the Windsor Repertory Group, and Billy took a train up the next day. Luckily, they were just casting a play and needed a boy for — of all things — Little Women. He hired Billy for the part of Laurie, and, says Steve, “Was I ever lousy!” But they kept him on and, after a few plays, his second good luck angel zeroed in. This one was Derek Marr, a London agent. Before, whenever Billy Millar had busted into London agents’ offices they’d practically called the bobbies to boot him out. Of course, Marr hadn’t come to Windsor to see Billy. He had a client who starred in the show. But, like a lot of other people since, he saw something in the handsome young Ulsterman that Billy couldn’t see in himself. The day Marr took on Billy as a client things began to change. “In fact,” says Steve, “everything good that happened to me up to Ben-Hur I owe to him.”

Derek switched Billy’s name to Stephen Boyd, for one thing. He lent him money to operate. He took him to West End tailors and taught him how to dress, tamed his wild Irish mop at the barber’s. He calmed him down, took his dreamy head out of the clouds and planted his feet on the ground. Best of all, he forced out Stephen Boyd’s thunderclap personality. “It was the turning point for me,” Steve believes. “Until then I kept myself inside myself. I wouldn’t let anything out to hit people with, on stage or off.” In no time he was hitting them hard. At both the Guildford Repertory and Midland Group in Coventry, where Marr steered Steve, he played leads and collected rave notices. When he came back to London he took on TV and soon could pick and choose his scripts. “So I picked and I chose,” grins Steve, “and I starved.” Not like he had that time before, of course; what Steve means is that he was stubborn about doing the right ones, and you don’t get rich saying “No.” “I didn’t care,” he says. “I developed almost a religious feeling about what I did. I guess you’d have called me a long-haired actor. Maybe I was. But it was the happiest time of my life.” And in the end, it paid off. Steve took on a job in a TV play called Barnett’s Folly, which no other London actor would touch with a ten foot pole. He played an idiotic weakling. Well, it just won him a nomination for an English Emmy, and a contract with Sir Alexander Korda for movies. In fact, it pointed Stephen Boyd toward Hollywood, although he certainly didn’t know that then.

Because, after a couple of break-in movies for Korda, Steve played an Irish spy in a war thriller, The Man Who Never Was. and that put him up for a British Oscar, only three years after he’d ushered other winners in his doorman’s rig. Then Korda died and Twentieth Century-Fox inherited Steve’s contract. But it took them two years to get him to Hollywood. Most of that time, Steve Boyd played loan out jobs in England and around Europe. And in that time, there were more changes made. With a decent income, he moved into a Kensington flat, built up a smart wardrobe, even bought himself a second-hand Vauxhall to run around in. He got away from London for some trips to Italy and “the South of France. A picture in Paris helped his education along. So did women.

He made a picture called Seven Thunders with French actress Anna Gaylor and lightning struck them both. Anna, -who still acts in Paris, is in Steve’s words, “beautiful, fascinating and a true artist.” The liaison lasted for 18 months and Steve still hasn’t forgotten Anna. In fact, he still writes her now and then. Like all romantic involvements since, it ended without hard feelings. “It always comes to the point where either you do or you don’t,” explains Steve simply. ”Anna and I reached that point and we made the right decision. But she was very, very good for me.”

Steve signed for The Night That Heaven Fell before he’d laid eyes on Brigitte Bardot. When he did, he got an excellent view. Roger Vadim. Bardot’s first husband, took Steve to Brigitte’s Paris apartment to meet her. She met them wearing only a smile. “I know,” announced BB in her cutest English, “that I’m going to enjoy working weeth you varee mooch.” All Steve could stammer was, “My name’s Stephen Boyd.”‘ But Brigitte was right: she thoroughly enjoyed working with Steve —and it was very much vice versa.

Steve and Brigitte

They shot most of the film in Spain, and Steve says frankly, “She’s a great companion. Around Brigitte you feel more alive than you normally do. She has the most animal in her of any woman I’ve ever known. As a person, I’m still a fan. She’s a remarkable girl,” he confesses. Brigitte was so remarkable that, after five months as her leading man, Steve had to take a vacation in Wales to recuperate. He was finally summoned by Fox to Hollywood, in January, ’58. Once he started making movies. Steve had always itched to come to America, but the closest he’d got was the West Indies with Island in the Sun. “I had a special reason,” reveals Steve, “and it wasn’t money. I thought American writers turned out the kind of things that were right for me. Americans and Irish have a close affinity. They’re both gutsy.”

If Steve longed for the gutsy bit in Hollywood, he got it, pronto. To prepare him for that western badman the studio sent Steve out to Fat Jones’ riding stable. Steve’s rear was just getting used to riding Western style down in Mexico, when Derek Marr cabled him about Ben Hur. He barely had time to collect his things in Hollywood before he was back in Europe. He reported to Rome in April, 1958. this time to learn how to drive horses instead of ride them — four big, black ones from Yugoslavia. Several times they bolted away, once crashing Steve through a high fence. That was just a sample of things to come. Making Ben Hur was “a fabulous experience” for Steve Boyd. In fact, plenty of times he felt as did General Lew Wallace, who wrote the epic, “My God. did I set all this in motion?”

Each morning Steve had to sweat out having his dyed hair curled. All day he had to bear the cutting pain of contact lenses to tint his blue eyes brown. He could see only straight ahead through a tiny peephole, so he was always bumping into things and had to be led around the huge Cinecitta studio sets. The armor he wore was heavy steel. Under the sizzling Italian sun it got so hot that wardrobe boys had to wear gloves to remove it, so you can imagine how Steve fried underneath. What was left of Steve’s skin got peeled when they plastered him with blood-and-muck makeup for his death scenes. It took three men three hours each time to strip off the rubber adhesive and red goo. Today his skin still bleeds when- ever he gets run down. As for the risky chariot spills — Steve figures he’s alive today only because Yakima Canutt, Hollywood’s stunt wizard, taught him tricks to stay in one piece.

But while Steve Boyd kept his life those six months in Italy, he lost his heart almost the day Ben Hur started. Mariella di Sarzana was Rome representative for MCA, the big talent agency. MCA handles Steve, so Mariella had instruction from Hollvwood to “take good care of Stephen Boyd.” She did. Steve often worked from six o’clock in the morning until nine at night. But afterwards and on weekends he viewed the beauty and grandeur of Rome through the eyes of romance. Mariella, in Steve’s words, is “a beautiful, sophisticated, intelligent woman. She speaks eight languages, has great taste, sense of values and understanding of artists. She’s full of entertainment and charm.” He concludes, “Ours was a wonderful courtship of two people in love.”

From May until August they visited the Colosseum in the moonlight, prowled the museums and ruins, the Vatican. St. John’s Lateran and such. On weekends they drove in Steve’s little MG down to Anzio and Naples or up to Florence. With Mariella Steve saw sights tourists never see because Rome was her home. Special views from hilltops, hidden cafes, quiet gardens and fountains off the beaten path. And sometimes just quiet dinners alone together at Steve’s apartment in the Termecaracaldi section or at Mariella’s in the Parioli. One blue sky day in Sperlonga, a beautiful seaside village. Steve asked Mariella to marry him and got the right answer — or so they both deeply believed then. When he had five days off, they flew to London and were married. Steve’s British citizenship made arrangements faster there.

Back in Rome, Steve and Mariella lived together exactly one month to the day. When Ben Hur ended, he flew off to London alone. Every night for two weeks they talked long distance trying to find out what had gone wrong. They never did. Then Steve flew to Hollywood to make Woman Obsessed with Susan Hayward. Last February Mariella travelled there, too — to get a divorce.

Stephen Boyd still struggles to explain to himself what happened. “I really don’t know for sure,” he admits. “I suppose I wasn’t ready for marriage. Maybe I was still too much of an adolescent. There are so many things to think about before you take that step and I didn’t think them through. I wish to hell it had worked.”

Steve Boyd carries no torch. But after his experience he thinks another marriage is a long way off for him, even though he’ll be a free man this March. “I’ll get married again,” he promises himself. “I think I need marriage. But I’ve got to come to terms with myself and my work first.” Meanwhile, he’s playing the field, if you can call it that. The only framed photograph Steve keeps in his apartment is one of a fascinating blonde named Valerie Till. Steve helped her father, Antony, come over from England and establish himself in Hollywood in the auto business. Recently, Valerie got a job as a model. She’s five vears old.

In Hollywood, Steve Boyd leads the life of a typical bachelor, but not a typical Hollywood bachelor. His pad is a comfortable old, pink-tinted duplex in the unfashionable part of town. Since Ben-Hur a secretary comes in some days to handle his ballooning fan mail, but that’s about his only luxury. The small Falcon he owns is the first new car he’s driven and he still wears the tailored suits he bought in London. He drinks only beer, skips parties and night clubs and squanders $25 a week that his business manager doles out. Partly, this is because in some years, 87 per cent of Steve’s four-figure paycheck vanishes with double taxes — to Britain and Uncle Sam, too. Partly, it’s because he likes to send money home. Besides, there’s still a lot of Irish in Steve Boyd and he can’t forget his poor Belfast beginnings. He has bought his mother and father a house in Belfast.

But mainly, the reason Steve operates quietly despite the furor of his big hit, is that that’s the way he likes it. “I’m often alone,” he’ll confess, “but I’m never lonely.” Steve still has his dream to keep him company. Most nights Steve Boyd settles down to work on that at home. He shuts off the phone, turns on the hi-fi for background music, gets out his tape recorder and stack of scripts. Any part will do. He’s still working on Messala, for instance, although Ben-Hur has been playing for months. For that matter, he’s still polishing up his drunk in The Best of Everything, the spy in The Man Who Never Was — and back beyond. Sometimes he forgets the clock and it’s daylight before the well runs dry. Then Steve blanks out on his king-size bed and it might be midnight again before his belly feels like an empty mail sack and wakes him up. He goes out, wolfs a big steak and feels fine. If some people think him crazy, that’s okay with Steve. He thinks they’re nuts when they call him “another Gable”.

Because Stephen Boyd knows, only too well, that he’s nobody but himself. Yet sometimes he’s not sure who that is, either. “All I’m really certain about,” he says, somewhat pensively, “is that it’s getting to be a very complicated world.” That it is for Stephen Boyd, since Ben Hur. And the plot seems due to thicken, day by day. But, thick or thin, five will get you ten that Mrs. Millar’s boy, who still believes in leprechauns, keeps the luck of the Irish, enough of their tricks — and, above all, his right to dream.

Stephen is currently co-starring in Ben-Hur, MGM.

Modern Screen April 1960 Stephen Boyd Feature

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