The Ghost of Messala – 1962 Stephen Boyd Interview

Stephen Boyd Is Escaping Career in Costume Roles

Jan 7, 1962, The Reading Eagle

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Hollywood (UPI) – Stephen Boyd rode to fame on a chariot in “Ben Hur,” but the horse drawn buggy took his career so far off course it’s only now getting straightened out.

“I finished Ben Hur in July, 1959,” Boyd said. “The next picture I made was in May of 1960 and the next in May of 1961. It slowed me down from at least 2 1/2 pictures a year to one a year.”

In discussing “Ben Hur,” Boyd qas quick to explain he wasn’t critical of the film. He said his appearance in the epic affected his contractual obligations to 20th Century Fox. The problems were reflected in the amount of pictures in which he worked.

When Boyd played Ben Hur’s evil adversary,  Messala, in the Academy Award – winning movie, there were many picturegoers who thought the Irish actor should have won an Oscar. Charlton Heston was awarded one for his work in the title role.

“The miracle to me is that I’m still on my way,” said Boyd, lunching in the Metro-Goldwyn-Mater commissary during a break from his role in “Jumbo.”  “It didn’t give me the push that some people thought it would.”

In the first place, Hollywood producers were anxious to keep Boyd in costume pictures for the rest of his life, hoping to capitalize on the image he had in the film.

“It seemed that everybody who was making costume pictures wanted Messala,” he said. “They didn’t ask for Stephen Boyd, they wanted Messala. One studio planned to make a picture called The Life and Times of Messala.”

It has been more than three years since Boyd became associated with “Ben Hur” and it’s still the most discussed aspect of his career. It would be only natural if he despaired in mention of the picture, but he doesn’t.

“I think you have to live with any successful picture as long as it’s playing,” he said. “I’ll be reminded of Ben Hur as long as Francis X. Bushman was for his part in the silent picture version. I personally finished with the picture when it opened, like every other film. Ben Hur, made in 1958, won’t pay my rent in 1962.”

Since he finished that picture, Boyd admits his career went off course. It has taken almost three years for him to get back on the track.

Boyd renegotiated his contract with 20th Century Fox and now has a non-exclusive agreement with that studio which allows him to do pictures for other producers. In fact, he did “Ben Hur” for MGM even before the renegotiation.

“I think the career began to get on track when I started my role in The Inspector last May,” he said. “From now on, things will start buzzing. There will be a different driver on my train, and by that I mean different producers and studios.”

The handsome actor is taking roles now that indicate an artistic branching out for him. He’s doing his first TV filmed show in a segment of “G.E. Theater” and takes a crack at singing in “Jumbo.” Following that, he’s back in a period costume again for a Napoleonic picture to be filmed in Italy.

Stephen is the last to claim vocal talents. Even his accompanying press agent was honestly silent on that point.

“I wouldn’t call it singing,” he said candidly. “There are scenes that have to be played with music and I vocalize. Nobody is going to say Stephen Boyd is a singer. If they do, I’ve failed.”

Looking into the future, Boyd said he would like to appear in what he described as simple, ordinary pictures.

“Even Ben Hur was that,” he said, “You didn’t want to go see a psychiatrist after watching it.”

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