The Adventure of filming The Big Gamble

‘The Big Gamble’ was a great adventure movie, but the adventure in making the movie almost certainly tops the movie itself. The film was made in various locations – Ireland,  Southern France, and the Ivory Coast during the spring and early summer of 1960. During the film process, Darryl Zanuck (who was dating Juliette Greco at the time), accompanied the crew to some of these locales. While in Africa, the film crew had numerous hair-raising stories to tell. Stephen Boyd recalled dining at an African Hotel and was sure he’d been served human flesh! The owner of the hotel wouldn’t deny it. In another story, when the crew stayed in their tents, they were guarded by men who had been previously arrested for cannibalism!  Here’s an article from 1961 about the filming of the ‘Big Gamble.’


HAZARDS GANG UP ON ZANUCK ABROADFeb 18, 1961, The Spokesman Review

HOLLYWOOD – Against innumerable odds, Darryl F. Zanuck has wound up a 150,000 mile trek with cast and crew to film ‘The Big Gamble.’ Covering great hunks of land and water, he and stars Juliette Greco, Stephen Boyd, David Wayne, Dame Sybil Thorndike and Gregory Ratoff have just finished the picture, which required filming in Ireland, France and Africa.

 While filming in Dublin, the weather changed so frequently during the course of a day that arrangements were made with the city to have two fireman and a firehose with the unit at all times when filming street scenes to provide man-made weather as needed. Often when a sequence was about to begin a sudden shower would send everyone under cover. Within a few minutes the weather would clear, but rather than wait for the sidewalks and pavement to dry, the scene would start at once and as the action progressed, the special fireman would keep the street within camera range hosed down to maintain its glistening wet appearance until the sequence was completed.


 More urgent action was necessary when the company was in the southern part of France. Stephen Boyd narrowly escaped death in the Ardeche river and was saved only by the quick reaction of fellow-star  David Wayne. The scene being filmed concerned the attempts of Boyd and Wayne to free their 10-ton truck mired in the middle of a raging mountain stream before it is swept away in the flood swollen current. During the taking of the scene, Boyd lost his footing and banged his head against a metal projection of the truck. Unconscious, he was swept by the swift current into a deep pool just below the fording place. Wayne, an excellent swimmer, managed to reach him and hold his head above water until members of the production crew could pull the two men to safety.

In Africa the company was very much on its guard, because the Ivory coast was celebrating its newly acquired independence. The bridge which connects Awidjan ,the new republic’s capital city, and the native quarters at the port across the river where the company was working, was closed at 6am each morning and kept closed for the day.


 A more imminent threat occurred when the film unit was marooned for 11 hours on a small island off the Ivory Coast near Sasandra. The company had been taken to the island in naïve pirogues – the only available transportation in the primitive area – but were unable to return that evening when a sudden storm and riptide made it impossible for the small pirogues to reach the mainland. The stars and the company spent the night looking out for deadly brown vipers.

 Juliette Greco, as Marie Brennan, the bride of Stephen Boyd, slim, sultry and smoky-voiced, is a ‘new’ Greco. This former favorite singer and personality of the existentialists in Paris reveals a delightful and totally unsuspected talent for comedy. Stephen Boyd, as the Irish ex-seaman Vic Brennan, who is determined to build a trucking business in Africa, is properly handsome and rugged, and in this role is provided with an opportunity to enhance the popularity he holds since his portrayal of Messala in ‘Ben Hur.’ David Wayne, currently starring on Broadway in ‘Send Me No Flowers,’ has no trouble at all in perfecting an Irish dialect for his role of Samuel Brennan, the meek bank clerk cousin of Stephen Boyd. His is a hilarious and touching characterization.

‘The King must Die’ – Stephen Boyd as Theseus…what might have been!

During the late 1950’s, peplum films were all the rage. Stephen Boyd was a little paranoid about being typecast as a sword-and-sandal B movie actor, and after his success in Ben-Hur, he was looking for more modern roles to fill in his repertoire (although he showed no hesitation about being type-cast as a Roman in Cleopatra and Fall of the Roman Empire!). The one movie I wish had come to fruition was a 20th Century Fox production idea for Mary Renault’s excellent novel, ‘The King Must Die.’ Mary Renault was the premiere novelist about Ancient Greece. She had written some excellent books about Ancient Greece and Alexander the Great. ‘The King Must Die’ is the story of Theseus, the ancient Greek hero who sought out his parentage (the King of Athens), and ended up going to Crete to live among the bull-dancers and kill the infamous Minotaur (who in Renault’s book is an actual person – not a mythical creature). He also wooed and abandoned Ariadne, who in Renault’s book is also an earth-goddess priestess in Crete. Stephen was immediately cast in the role by 20th in early 1959 (just after he finished ‘The Best of Everything’). Ariadne was slated to be played by new Fox star Elena Eden. Ironically, Stephen and Elena actually dated each other in early 1960.

 The movie version of ‘The King Must Die’ most likely would have turned out to be a low-budget production had it actually come to reality- fulfilling all of Stephen’s worst fears. But if Fox had committed the funds to make this worthwhile, it could have been spectacular epic. Since we’ll never know how this would have looked on the big screen, I highly recommend reading the novel and imaging Boyd and Eden in the starring roles!



Filming ‘The Bible’ in Cairo- 1964

Stephen Boyd had the opportunity to visit Egypt in 1964 to film a short scene in John Huston’s ‘The Bible’ as King Nimrod. Here is a fun anecdote about the filming of the movie. Stephen was thinking of Elizabeth Taylor on the Nile from his hotel suite…which is ironic since he wore about as much eyeliner in this movie as Taylor did as ‘Cleopatra’! Below are some early costume pics of Taylor in 1960, when Boyd was cast as Anthony; a photo of Boyd’s hotel from the 1960’s; and Boyd himself during the filming of ‘The Bible.’

Article, November 1964 by Louella Parsons

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“He shoulda read his Horoscope” – Stephen Boyd 1967 Interview

Stephen Boyd expounds on marriage

By Roderick Mann

London Express Service

El Paso, Herald Post, Saturday Jan 26 1967


LONDON — I have always felt that Stephen Boyd deserved to do well. For did he not essay his first star part opposite Brigitte Bardot- and if that isn’t learning to swim at the deep end, I don’t know what is.

I saw a lot of him at that time in Southern Spain. He was in despair and Bardot was in what is euphemistically referred to as the altogether. The altogether what? (“She is delighted with CinemaScope,” Boyd said at the time. “It means she can start off fully clothed at one side of the screen and be nude by the time she gets to the other.”)

I told him then that things could only get better. And get better they did. He went on to make the Roman epic ‘Ben Hur’ oh, all of IX  years ago now. He filmed with Sophia Loren, with Doris Day, with Gina Lollobrigida. What more could a boy from Ulster ask? He also, it should be noted, set something of a record in the brevity of if marriage stakes. For his wedded sojourn with Miss Mariella de Sarzana lasted exactly 19 days.

And from that time Mr. Boyd has backed to the full that old line about marriage being a wonderful institution, but not everybody wanting to live in an institution. Indeed, when it comes to prolonged contact with the female sex, Mr. Boyd has given an entirely new meaning to the expression Get-away People. As he is in London for a new film to be directed by Val Guest – Department K – I took the opportunity of calling round to wish him well. I also told him that I hoped his next marriage might last a little longer – otherwise with the delays in deliveries it was hardly worth while writing to congratulate him.

“My next marriage!” said Mr. Boyd, looking as if I’d struck him a blow beneath the emotional Plimsoll line. “Are you mad. I wouldn’t consider marriage again for two seconds. The one thing that marriage taught me was that I don’t want to live with another person. Ever. I tried it, and it didn’t work, and all my logic tells me it wouldn’t work a second time either. So I plan my life accordingly.” He rallied bravely. “And I have a great time.”

Perhaps 19 days wasn’t long enough to find out about marriage, I suggested.

“Long enough, “ echoed Mr. Boyd. “Nineteen minutes was long enough. As soon as we were married we loathed each other. It was as simple as that. Marriage is an attitude of mind, and I’ve obviously got the wrong attitude. I’m just not suited to live with other people.”

“My horoscope indicates marriage, but marriage not carried out. Unfortunately, I didn’t check up on my horoscope before I got married. I’ve become interested in astrology only recently, you see. I’m Cancer, with Leo rising, and if you want to get a clue to my character you must read up on Cancer and Leo and combine the two.”

Do you read your fortune each day in the pages? I inquired. Are you THAT interested?

“ I’m that interested I don’t read my fortune each day in the papers,” said Mr. Boyd blithely. “I take it quite seriously. We Cancers tend to attract strong people. We open ours arms to them, and then strangle and crush them. They can’t breathe. Look–”

He slowly lowered his steel hotel key into a tumbler of water, “ The water is Cancer, see. It embraces the key, but the key can’t breathe.”  Together we watched the key struggling for life. Mr. Boyd rescued it with a flourish.

Did nobody warn you that you weren’t cut out for marriage at the time?

“Well, a fortune teller friend sent me a wire to Fulham register office where we were married with one word. ‘No.” That should have given me a clue. And when I thanked my brother for coming along to act as best man and witness he said : ‘Any time.” I might have realized.”

So it was a bachelor life from now on?

“Right you are. Anyway, California is a good place to be a bachelor. You can pick up the telephone for everything you need. And there are plenty of women out there. One doesn’t have to make too much if an effort, either. They always do the talking. You just stare back at them and they take it as a reply.”

In the past Mr. Boyd had been positively glowing in his praise for life in California. He obviously didn’t agree with Fred Allen that to be really happy out there you had to be an orange.

“It was partly a question of self-hypnosis on my part,” said Mr. Boyd. “You see I was under contract out there and I know I was stuck with it so I had to convince myself  I liked it. But the truth is I’ve always preferred London. Here there’s so much to stimulate one; out there there’s nothing.”

Now that the contract was finished, would he be here more often?

“I certainly hope so. After nine years of being told what to do by a studio, I’m relishing my freedom. I don’t regret taking the contract. At the time I did sign it everything that was happening in films was happening in Hollywood. Now it’s all changed. This is where things are being done.”

“Another thing. If you’re under contract, you never get the best films your company is making. If they do finally hand it to you, it’s because 10 or more outside stars turned it down. At six-thirty in the morning, which is the time special delivery arrives in Los Angeles, a package would come with a script and a memo from Casting which read: ‘You have been assigned such-and-such a role.’ That would be Saturday sometimes, and you’d have to start Monday. Not very encouraging, would you say?”

But the one film he’d done since coming off contract – ‘The Oscar’- had been ruthlessly panned?

“That was because nobody could believe Hollywood was really like that. And it is. Every major critic said that it was overdone –that scene at the end where, having tried to rig the awards, I stand up when my name is called as a nomination, thinking, I’ve won. But that has happened every year since I’ve been in Hollywood. The producer and director of one film actually began to walk down the aisle when their names were called among the nominations. Actually, they had won, so it was all right. But overdone: not a bit of it.”

Stephen’s Outrageous Patter – 1965 Interview

Stephen’s Outrageous Patter

Boyd, the Actor and the Lover

Stephen Boyd, of ‘Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’ fame, will be seen on Detroit screens this week as Jamuga, the hated enemy of ‘Genghis Khan’, opening Wednesday at neighborhoods and drive-ins. Boyd was lined up for the Mark Anthony role in ‘Cleopatra,’ but that was aborted during production troubles and the part finally was filled by a man named Burton.

By Susan Hopper, Detroit Free Press August 26, 1965

Special to the Free Press


HOLLYWOOD —  What kind of fellow is this Stephen Boyd? Listen to him talking:

Why he won’t look at his own movies:

“I’m not the kind of actor I want to watch.”

On Doris Day, Sophia Loren and Brigitte Bardot”

“The only difference between them is their hair style.”

One who are the greatest lovers”

“I doubt that Latins or Frenchman are the greatest lovers. Their women are all right: they’re pliable. But I’d rather have an Anglo- Saxon.”

On this marriage, which quickly ended in divorce:

“I was in love with the girl I married. I’d been with her four months.  We married and stayed together 19 days, which was too long. We were fine before marriage, but immediately you sign that little paper marking it legal…I’m not altar shy, but I’m not making it legal again.”

Why he became an American citizen:

“I wanted to say thank you for a way of life. I want to give something back to America, and you can only do it if you’re a citizen and can vote and take part in community affairs.”

Some of the things Ulster-born Boyd has done in recent years include going to Hollywood in order to make his fortune and making it—and setting some sort of record in the brevity-of-marriage stakes.

“When I left Britain in 1956, “ he said, “they  were making the kind of pictures which were surface. I’m not a surface actor. Cary Grant is and a brilliant one. David Niven is.”

“I’m a naturalistic actor of the Irish and French schools. In a film, if I go up to someone and say something to her, she either slaps my face or we have an affair. In English films, actors go up to a girl and say these same things and she’s supposed to laugh. I can’t say it that way. I can never stop being myself when I’m acting.”

Boyd explained what he meant by himself.

“I can only play a man who’s between 25-45. He’s got to be physically sort of—well he’s got to look strong. Don’t you think?”

Boyd leaned across the restaurant table and lifted his sunburned brows high over his round, blue eyes—somehow managing to look quizzical and good-natured and leering all at the same time.

“There’s a limit to what I can play. No matter what I do, I’m gonna look like me. You know?”

When he feels like it, Boyd speads in an accent which 99 percent of the Enlgish assume is a typical American accent; ‘going’ becomes ‘gonna’, ‘something’ becomes ‘sumpin,’ etc.

“Since I’ve been back in Britain, I keep being told I sound American. But when I go home to Northern Ireland, my mother says, ‘I see you haven’t lost your accent,’ And she’s right. The American accent is based on the Irish one.”

Another theory of Boyd’s concerns British actresses and why they often lament being underrated internationally;

“I think there are quite a few girls in Britain who could make international stars. I met Samantha Eggar the other day. She looks beautifully sexy and alive. You know? But the awful thing about it is the majority of the girls in Britain really have got to do something about their accents if they want to be in international films. They all sound so national….so terribly, terribly, terribly. You know what I mean?  They’ve got to learn to speak English—which is a beautiful language—not English that is only understood in one little community like Oxford. You know, I’ve never liked a lot of make-up on women. You don’t know how to break through. It’s almost like being in prison. You know? Let-me-know-when-I-touch-skin. What do they put so much on for? Huhh? It takes longer to take off. And time is a very important thing.”

Boyd did not waste a minute of it in his marriage to film agent Mariella di Sarzana.

“When you legalize something, it becomes a great big fight to hold the romance. Almost the biggest problem in life becomes this damn search for the romance you had—just five minutes before you signed the register. To hell with that lark. Marriage is a very strange thing. I don’t like organizations.”

I asked Mr. Boyd if he ever grew irked at being organized by agents and producers and directors. He looked at me in astonishment.

“Hell, no,” he said simply, “They’re running around trying to organize themselves. While they’re trying to do that, I do my work and walk away with the money.”