This is a fascinating article released just as Boyd’s career was rocketing at the opening of Ben Hur in late 1959. Famed columnist Hedda Hopper, always a major fan of Boyd’s, highlights some of Stephen’s persistent characteristics – specifically his desire to have more character roles instead of leading men parts. Hedda describes Boyd has having “terrific screen impact and vitality beyond any actor I know.” That is certainly high praise! This article also includes Boyd’s notorious comment that “I won’t work in a brass hat to the end of my days,” a comment which did not please his studio Twentieth Century Fox, as they had several ‘brass hat’ roles lined up for him, including “The Story of Ruth”, “The King Must Die”, and perhaps even an off-shoot Messala project. Stephen had already talked to the studio about playing Mark Anthony at this point (late 1959) for the upcoming Cleopatra. It was a role he would eventually sign up for. This is also the comment which may have in fact prevented Stephen from even being nominated for an Oscar for his performance as Messala in Ben Hur. Stephen did win the Golden Globe as Best Supporting Actor for Ben Hur, but he was strangely overlooked for an Academy Award. See below for Stephen’s opinion about being overlooked as a Supporting Actor by the Academy for Ben Hur (See below article “Supporting Actors Pose Movie Woe”.) Stephen also mentions, interestingly, that he would have liked to have played a few famous Lawrence Olivier roles for live TV -including Rebecca and Wuthering Heights. I have always wished that Stephen could have played Heathcliff! I am surprised this movie never got remade in the 50’s or 60’s. Stephen would have been a perfect choice!
Released by the Chicago Tribune, November 29, 1959
Even the mainstream press was shocked that Boyd was overlooked for his performance as “Messala” in Ben Hur by the Academy. He wasn’t even nominated. Stephen was quite outspoken at the time, and this article by Bob Thomas is full of rebellious Boyd quotes such as this.
Yet he drew no Oscar nomination, because he had star billing in the film. “Ridiculous!” declares the outspoken Irishman, “I was a supporting player in the picture. Every other role in Ben Hur was in support of Chuck Heston. Why, not counting the chariot scene, my role lasted a half-hour on the screen. Now how can you call that a starring role?”
Luckily for us, Ben Hur still is well known by movie-goers, and Stephen’s amazing performance as Messala sometimes still gets referred to (mistakenly) as an Oscar winning performance! Frankie Fane would be proud.
Corpus Christi Caller Times 23 March, 1960