The Fall of the Roman Empire
He Roamed With Gypsies
Detroit Free Press, March 11, 1960
Stephen Boyd, a rugged, good-looking actor with dark wavy hair and blue eyes, will try anything once – even to joining a group of Romany Gypsies with whom he traveled, ate and slept for three months when he was 17. Born in Belfast, Ireland in 1928—Stephen’s mother was Irish and his father Canadian and from early childhood he cherished the ambition to act.
He began his career with the Ulster Theatre Group under Joseph Tomelty and remained with them two years until he went to Canada at the age of 18, where he joined the summer stock companies and did a lot of broadcasting, before moving to the United States. Once in this country he joined the Clair Tree Major Co. and made a coast to coast tour in1950, playing the lead in ‘Streetcar Named Desire.’ He returned to Ireland at the end of 1950, and remained there doing theater work for two years. He moved on to Britain, and experienced a very bleak period. He took on a variety of jobs, including being a cafeteria attendant. This last job was sufficient to try even Boyd’s sense of humor, and he now says ruefully, “I NEVER want to pour another cup of coffee.”
He even resorted to playing his guitar in London’s Leicester Square. Stephen says this endeavor bought him a pound and six-pence for a matter of two hours. He then blew his whole ‘bundle’ on a meal, and even now he claims that meal lives in his memory as the most memorable one in his life.
Later he found job in another part of Leicester Square as a cinema commissionaire. Michael Redgrave happened to speak to Boyd one day, and with that intuition typical of the profession, guessed that he was an out-of-luck actor, and on Redgrave’s introduction, Boyd joined the well-known Windsor Repertory Co. and within a fortnight was rehearsing the lead in a play,
Through this experience and some London TV work he was given a seven year contract by London Films and made his first important screen appearance as the Irish agent in ‘The Man Who Never Was.” The very impressive list of screen credits followed that with his memorable performance as Messala in ‘Ben Hur ‘topping them all. Six feet two inches tall and well-built with a strong face that can switch from an engaging smile to sinister menace, Boyd is an actor with a future rich in promise.
Birthplace- Belfast, Ireland
Birth-date – 1928
Hair- Dark Brown
Eyes – Blue
Height – 6 feet 2 inches
Motion Pictures – ‘The Man Who Never Was’; ‘Island in the Sun’; ‘The Bravados’; ‘Woman Obsessed’; ‘The Night Heaven Fell’; ‘The Best of Everything’ and ‘Ben Hur’
Photo below may have been taken during Stephen’s performance in ‘A Streetcar Named Desire.”
April 17, 1960 by Myles Standish, St, Louis Post-Dispatch
The handsome villain of Ben Hur is slated for a second Roman epic—but he’s proving he can handle other kinds of roles, too.
By Peer J. Oppenheimer
The Evening Review Jan 12, 1963
Stephen Boyd thundered into the movie spotlight as the villainous chariot driver Messala in ‘Ben Hur.’ But, to the distress of himself and his newly won fans, he thundered right out again in a series of unspectaculars that gave him little chance to prove his acting ability. There was new hope for stardom when the handsome Irishman landed another Roman role, that of Mark Anthony in ‘Cleopatra.’ But the production of that picture dragged on endlessly, and when the film was finally made, Richard Burton- as everyone knows by now- played the starring role opposite Liz Taylor.
Now, however, Steve’s career looks promising again. He is about to don a toga to portray the lead in a multi-million-dollar production of ‘The Fall of The Roman Empire’ opposite Sophia Loren. After that he will return to Hollywood to make ‘The San Franciscans.’
The later will be his second film for Joe Pasternak. The first is the newly released ‘Jumbo,’ a circus musical in which Steve shows talent as a song-and-dance man. Actually, his musical accomplishments came as no surprise to those who remembered that he is a skilled guitar player who once sang for his meals!
“When I was broke, I used to walk along the queues outside the theaters in London singing folk songs to my own accompaniment and then pass around my cap to collect coins. We call this ‘busking’ at home. I did all right till the buskers’ union caught up with me and chased me away from my favorite spot- thus cutting short my musical career!”
Steve’s trying years in London began when he arrived there at 20, fresh from his native Belfast in Northern Ireland. Life had been difficult at home for the youngest of nine children of a poor truck driver- but it turned out to be even more difficult in the big, impersonal British capital. Steve wanted to find theatrical work, but it wasn’t to be had, so he took whatever odd jobs he could get. At one time his invoice was so low that he became ill from malnutrition. Yet it was one of his odd jobs that finally got him a break as an actor.
He was working as an usher at the theater where the British Film Annual Awards were presented. When he helped Sir Michael Redgrave on stage, the well-known British star smiled and said, “I’m not sure that you aren’t one of the best actors on the stage tonight…”
“I am an actor,” Steve replied promptly.
“So what are you doing as an usher?” Redgrave asked.
Steve told him he was out of work. For the first time in his life, Redgrave backed a hunch by recommending someone for a job whom he had never seen act. The result was several weeks of work with a theatrical stock company, which soon was followed by bit parts in movies and tv plays.
The turning point of Steve’s career came in 1958 when he won the part of Messala in ‘Ben-Hur’ – a role that almost cost his life when he insisted on doing 90 percent of the chariot racing himself rather than use a stunt man. “I did my own dragging, and at one point I had the chariot right on top of me. We were going about 30 miles an hour at the time. A good part of the skin came off my back.”
But after “Ben Hur’, the parts that followed did not live up to expectations. “So when Joe Pasternak offered me the lead in ‘Jumbo’ opposite Doris Day, I jumped at the opportunity- particularly since it was a musical and offered me a change of pace, “ Steve said.
Steve is not bitter about his struggle in Hollywood. His life has conditioned him to hard work and patience. He likes to tell of his first visit home after his success in ‘Ben Hur’. When he arrived at the Belfast airport, his father approached him, held out his hand, and said simply, “Nice to see you.” Steve leaned over to kiss his mother. “From then on, “ he recalled, “everything was back to normal, just as if I’d never left home.”
“To an outside this may seem formal, “Stephen admitted, “But it’s characteristic of the Irish. We don’t believe in a show of emotion, but affection is there and open to you when you want it and need it. I prefer this kind of attitude to that which I feel is so typical of Hollywood. Putting up a front to impress others can never have any meaning to me. Not the way I was raised!”
The 31-year-old bachelor puts into practice the philosophy he inherited from his parents. In spite of his success, he lives in a modest home, drives a rented compact car, associates primarily with non-movie people, and shows a disinterest in worldly goods that is particularly surprising considering the poverty he knew as a youth.
Boyd’s Aim: Shine in Scene- and Save Skin, Too!
Salt Lake Tribune Nov 16, 1963
Stephen Boyd is at his physical peak for the most important role of his career. And the virile actor proved it by staging an impressive demonstration of muscle-taut fitness on the snow-blanketed mountain slopes near Madrid where Anthony Mann is directing the popular Hollywood actor in the Samuel Bronston production “The Fall of the Roman Empire.”
With fellow cast members Alec Guinness, James Mason, Christopher Plummer and mel Ferrer watching anxiously from behind cameras, Boyd opened his seven-month film assignment braced firmly in a quarter-ton chariot as he galloped up the treacherous trails of the Sierra Guadarrama range, rendered almost impassable by snow and ice.
Heightening the visual excitement, the rugged star then raced his stallion team up the slippery ramps of the fortified Castrum Romanum to make a dramatic bow in a role he believes will dwarf his outstanding effort as Messala in ‘Ben-Hur.’
Boyd attributes his opening day chariot performance to an intensive preproduction training program he initiated a month and a half before shooting started. Mornings were devoted to chariot racing and horseback riding; afternoons were given over to swordplay and physical exercise. At every stage of training, he called on specialists to perfect technique and to supervise progress.
“Chariot racing,” Boyd says, “cannot be mastered without complete muscular control. Enormous pressures challenge the driver every second of the way. To pull of galloping horseflesh, the weight of the Roman two-wheeler and unpredictable terrain features constantly threaten the charioteer. He must be prepared to react with violent resourcefulness to stay alive.”
In writer Gore Vidal’s memoir ‘Palimpsest’, he describes in detail how he developed the renowned homoerotic angle in the Ben Hur script that was used to develop the tension between the hero, played by Charlton Heston, and his nemesis, played by Stephen Boyd. It’s fascinating to read and it’s also very interesting to see how Stephen and Gore conspired to pull this off.