Stephen filmed “Woman Obsessed’ with Academy Award winning actress Susan Hayward at 20th Century Fox Studios in the early months of 1959, very soon after he had finished working on “Ben Hur” at Cinecittà Studios in Italy for MGM. It is a movie based on a novel by John Mantley called “The Snow Birch”. It was directed by Henry Hathaway (“Niagara” and “True Grit”). It was more of a ‘hunky’ role for Boyd, but he definitely made the most of his time on screen. Working with an A list actress like Hayward was also a benefit. Susan Hayward had just won the Academy Award for her role in the dramatic film “I Want to Live!” Hayward was 14 years older than Boyd. Apparently Hayward started to pick up Boyd’s Irish accent during their scenes together. Boyd would later say that Hayward was one of the sexiest actresses he ever worked with; “She was really attractive. She threw a few tantrums if someone on the crew did something stupid but she was really sexy, really high-charged.” (Photoplay, 1976) For her part, Susan would describe Stephen Boyd as having “the virility of thunder.” (Cinémonde, 1964, “Stephen Boyd, Le Don Juan Invisible!”) No wonder these two charge up the screen with their chemistry!
During the filming at Fox Studios, Boyd was asked by a roving reporter if he had ever done any hunting in England since he was playing a rough outdoors man in the film. Boyd’s response : “No – even as a boy, I’m afraid all I ever hunted were girls.” (Lancaster Eagle Gazette, Feb 19, 1959) Boyd was also in the midst of his awkwardly painful divorce from Italian Music Corp. of America agent Mariella di Sarzana, whom he had wed the previous year in August of 1958.
As far as reviews, Stephen also received high marks for stealing the film. “Boyd, given the chance, made the most of it with a convincing portrayal of a semi-literate, hard working lumberman who moved in as the handyman a young widow’s farm.” (Times Daily, June 14, 1959). “Stephen Boyd plays a role midway between Tarzan and Marlon Brando.” (Cincinnati Enquirer, May 29, 1959) Some reviews considered this movie was below both Hayward and Boyd’s caliber. “Rugged Stephen Boyd, with dimple in the chin as well as those in his cheeks, has an uphill battle to overcome the animosity of the boy and the over-protection of Robbie’s mother. Dialog is banal and the situations are obvious.” (Detroit Free Press, 1959). Interestingly, and maybe perhaps due to Hedda Hopper’s powerful influence, Boyd was labeled “the New Gable” in the ads for the film. This was also one of the few movies Stephen made where he watched actually it all the way through (the director apparently insisted!). Boyd was very uncomfortable watching himself on-screen. He found watching “Woman Obsessed” to be agonizing and tried never to see one of his own movies again! Watching this film today, Boyd and Hayward have great chemistry. Boyd’s character is a perfect mix of quiet charm and brooding, underlying danger. It makes me think how marvelous the two of them would have been in a version of D. H. Lawrence’s “Lady Chatterly’s Lover”.
B2HM56 Boyd, Stephen, 4.7.1931 – 2.6.1977, American actor, portrait, with Susan Hayward, PR photo for movie, “Woman Obsessed”, USA 1
It’s fairly safe to say that without Sir Michael Redgrave, we may never have had the joy of watching Stephen Boyd on the movie screen! Michael Redgrave basically discovered Stephen when the later was down and out in London trying to kick start his acting career. Stephen was asked to serve as an usher during the British Academy awards in the Leicester Square Theatre. During the ceremony, Michael noticed Stephen- undoubtedly looking handsome in his usher uniform – and asked him what he was doing up there as “certainly, he was a actor!” Stephen replied, “Yes, I am an actor”, but explained he had been unable to find work. Thanks to Michael Redgrave, Stephen was able to make some good connections with Theater Companies in London, and this eventually led to his successful movie career.
Stephen truly appreciated Redgrave’s role in sparking his career.
Yet an actor, Michael Redgrave, did more for his career than anyone. He was working as a doorman at the Odeon Theater in London when the cinema theater across the way was having its Academy awards event and wanted someone to present the stars to Redgrave. Boyd was chosen for the job. Redgrave recognized his quality and put him in the way of getting work.
“His advice and criticism- sometimes scathing but always brilliant – helped me overcome my awkwardness and mistakes,” Boyd said. (Hedda Hopper, Chicago Tribune Feb 22, 1959)
Redgrave would proudly observe Stephen’s rise to stardom. He even appeared on on the TV Program “This is Your Life” via a recorded message when the program featured Stephen as the main guest. The two actors would only appear on the big screen once together – in the spy film “Assignment K” in 1967. It is special to see the two of them together, and to think about that first moment they met back in the early 1950’s. All we can really say is – thank you Michael Redgrave!
Only the British could make a movie like this! Part comedy, part musical, part romance, and all of it revolving around a pet alligator names ‘Daisy’ who wears a pink bow tied around her neck! This was one of Stephen’s first roles. It is a classic Rank production with many familiar faces, including Donald Sinden and James Robertson Justice who both starred with Dirk Bogarde in the classic Rank comedy Doctor in the House. Boyd shows up about 10 minutes before the movie is over. Chaos is about to ensue as all the prize alligators run for a local pond. Boyd hasn’t had the Hollywood fix-up yet, but he still looks very handsome and very Irish with his reddish hair. The best part about this silly movie is Stephen’s five minutes on screen with British glamour girl Diana Dors- especially when he valiantly rescues the leggy blonde out of the alligator pond!. Both Boyd and Dors would appear in another movie together 15 years later when they each had a cameo in Rachel Welch’s film Hannie Caulder in 1971.
The filming of “The Fall of the Roman Empire” started in late 1962 and continued on into early 1963. It was filmed just outside of Madrid and in the Sierra de Guadarrama mountains during one of the worst winters Europe has seen in decades. Tents collapsed and actors had to wrap up tightly in rain and snow to film scenes for the portrayal of the ‘Marcomanni War’ in the forests of Germania. The later scenes were filmed on a set outside Madrid which literally replicated the Roman Forum. Christopher Plummer tells some fun stories in his autobiography, including a hilarious Stephen Boyd story which you can read on this previous Blog, https://stephenboydblog.wordpress.com/2016/04/10/christopher-plummer-tells-a-story-about-filming-the-fall-of-the-roman-empire/amp/.
Sophia Loren took over the kitchen of the hotel where the cast was staying and cooked delicious pasta for her fellow actors. “All’s going as scheduled, no delays, no scandals, no prima donna stuff – like a certain other Roman film (“Cleopatra”)! Sophia Loren, Stephen Boyd and the rest couldn’t be more cooperative with the visiting (perhaps bothersome) press…”
(Indianapolis Star, May 26 1963).
Actor Peters Sellers can be seen hanging around the set; he was trying to woo an already married Sophia Loren. Sophia Loren herself was being extra cautious around her co-star Stephen Boyd so as to not jeopardize her marriage to Carlos Ponti. Stephen was very, very fond of Sophia as interviews during this time (and even later on) confirm. Stephen said – “I wouldn’t exactly die for Sophia, but I’d come close to it.”
Christopher Plummer gives Lena Von Martens a lesson in fencing during the filming of THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE, 1964
One of Stephen’s most interesting ‘what could have been’ cinema moments was his chance to star with Hollywood’s biggest star – Marilyn Monroe. Stephen was one of many actors who tried out for the part opposite the famous blonde in Let’s Make Love. the auditions took place in early 1960. Boyd was just coming off his huge success in MGM’s Ben Hur, but he was signed to a different studio, 20th Century Fox, who wanted to maximize his current popularity quickly. Around that same time, Boyd had bowed out of the part of Boaz in the Fox biblical epic with Elana Eden, the Story of Ruth.
“I wanted very much to play the role of the billionaire in “Let’s make Love” with Marilyn Monroe. It’s a wonderful role. But I knew I wasn’t ready for the role of Boaz. Maybe a year from now I’d feel differently. I know now that I’m not right for a milk-and-water juvenile roles. I must have something with guts and vitality.” (Silver Screen June 1960)
Needless to say, 20th Century Fox was not happy with Boyd’s decision to refuse the role. Fox assigned actor Stuart Whitman to the part, and Boyd did not get the part he wanted with Monroe. This part went to French actor Yves Montand instead. Most likely the Studio was putting its foot down to let the somewhat strong-willed actor know he was still under obligation to their wishes. Boyd was eventually assigned to his next role- the African adventure “The Big Gamble” with Juliette Greco.
All we can do now is imagine how Boyd and Monroe magic would have been on screen together!