Stephen Boyd gives a fun, facetious account of how Messala should have run that famous chariot race!
Stephen Boyd Interview from The Miami News July 10, 1960
The Good Guys Finish Last
by Art Buchwald
Paris – The greatest race of the year was in the motion picture “Ben Hur.” The winner of the race was Charlton Heston, who received an Academy Award for it. The loser was Stephen Boyd, who, as Messala, was the favorite until he got knocked out in the seventh round. Mr. Boyd is now in Paris making a filme called “The Big Gamble” for Darryl F. Zanuck. The picture stars Mr. Boyd, David Wayne and Juliette Greco.
When we saw Mr. Boyd on the set he still felt he should have won the race. He believes that if he had won, things would have been a lot different for him now.
“I should have used my spikes sooner,” he said. “It was my fault.”
For those who haven’t seen the picture, the chariot race, which goes on for about fifteen minutes, is its establishing feature. Messala has challenged Ben-Hur and, unbeknownst to Ben-Hur, has fitted a razor-sharp spike to this chariot to cut the spokes of Ben-Hur’s wheel. This, according to the Imperial Chariot Jockey Club, was fair.
“What went wrong?” we asked Mr. Boyd. “Did your trainer give you bad advice?”
“No,” he replied, “I never took orders from anyone. I had won my last seven races and I figured this would be a piece of cake. I bet more money on myself than I had ever bet before. The only thing that bugged me was that Ben-Hur intended to ride a clean race, which is much more dangerous. I should have fixed his chariot before the race, but I was over-confident.”
“It happens a lot with Romans.”
“My strategy was perfect,” he said. “I was running second on the first round on the outside, an excellent position. If anyone tried to pass me I could knock him against the Spina, the giant inside wall of the track.
“I wasn’t worried about the other chariots. Most of them were dogs and broken-down pace-setters. But my big mistake was the way I played it when Ben-Hur made his move.”
Mr. Boyd relives it as if it had only happened yesterday. “I should have gone for his wheel with my blade. Instead, I decided to close in and whip him. I had ripped open the side of his chariot, and instead of concentrating on his axle, I tried to pull his wheel off. It was a great mistake, because I pulled off mine instead.
“But everyone had complained over the fact that I used my whip on Ben-Hur. Why don’t they mention that he used his whip on me? My trainer complained to the stewards after the race was over, but even after viewing the film they gave Ben-Hur the race.”
Mr. Boyd said he had an opportunity to do away with Ben-Hur in the third round, but he became overconfident. “I should have killed when I had the chance. Maybe then I would have gotten the Academy Award.”
Instead Ben-Hur killed Mr. Boyd, this ruling out a chance for a rematch.
“What is your advise to other young charioteers?” we asked.
“If you’ve got a blade on your wheel, use it. If you try to use your whip on the other guy, you don’t have enough control of your horses. Chariot racing is a dirty business and the good guys finish last.”