Stephen Boyd (as Messala) talks about that famous chariot race in “Ben-Hur”

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

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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.”

ArticleMovie Stars TV Close Ups July 1960 (1)

“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 relieves 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.”

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Stephen Boyd attends the Academy Awards, April 4, 1960

Stephen Boyd attended the 32nd Academy Awards on April 4, 1960 at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/32nd_Academy_Awards)

On his arm that evening as his date was a young woman named Romney Tree, who was a Belfast socialite whom Steve had met at a Christmas party given by Vincent Price. The two realized they had met before four years earlier in Belfast, according to Screenland Magazine (Nov 1960).

This was a HUGE night for Stephen as Ben Hur was nominated for 12 Academy Awards that evening, and by the end of the night it had won 11 of those awards, including Charlton Heston for Best Actor. Sadly, Stephen was not even nominated for his performance as Messala, even though he had won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor.  Apparently that fact was the elephant in the room that night. Hedda Hopper was puzzled, as were several other Hollywood press writers. This was Hedda’s comment:

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Apparently the studio had forbidden Boyd to pick up Griffith’s award in person should Griffith not attend the ceremony:  Hugh Griffith was nominated for the Best Supporting Actor for Ben Hur instead of Boyd. Griffith was on hand to receive this award, so that awkwardness was avoided.

Stephen took the evening in stride, however, and was the first to congratulate Charlton Heston on his award at the after parties.  Here was a few pics of Stephen that evening.

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Can you find Stephen Boyd  in the crowd?

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Photos of Stephen Boyd from “Ben Hur”, 1959

Easter is almost upon us, and that means it’s Ben Hur time! TCM will be airing Ben Hur on Sunday afternoon, April 16th, 2017. To celebrate, here are some pictures of Stephen Boyd during the filming and promotion of the epic classic, Ben Hur, from 1959.

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Stephen Boyd and Charlton Heston in the  ‘Circus’ at Cinecitta Studios, Rome.

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A tall order –  Six footer Stephen Boyd gets to test out a plumed Roman helmet for size.

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Ready for the cameras to roll – Messala comes to life!

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Stephen Boyd as Messala

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Friendly adversaries : Heston and Boyd pose for the press on a Vespa in the back lot of Cinecitta Studios in Rome.

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American actor Charlton Heston and British actor Stephen Boyd, wearing stage costumes, having fun in riding a Vespa and a bicycle on the set of the film ‘Ben Hur’ in the studios of Cinecittà. A background actor is with them. Rome, 1958
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Heston offers his help to Boyd, who has fallen off the overturned Vespa.
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Stephen chatting with the Roman Centurion extras of Ben Hur.
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An iconic Messala pose- whip in hand.
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Heston, director Wyler, and Boyd are ready for the chariot race.

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The magnificent chariot race of Ben Hur!
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Messala (Stephen Boyd) takes a soda-pop break during the chariot race.
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Boyd and Heston are prepped by director William Wyler for their initial meeting.
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Stephen Boyd : ready to ride into cinema history as the Roman Tribune Messala
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Hail Caesar! Messala (Stephen Boyd) makes the Roman salute before the chariot race begins.

Brigitte Bardot’s famous first meeting with Stephen Boyd

Stephen Boyd spent most of 1958 talking about Brigitte Bardot to the press. The world was fascinated by the French sex-kitten, and the simple fact that Stephen had starred in a movie with her at the apex of Bardotmania did not hurt his career in the slightest. Bardot had hand-picked Boyd to be her co-star, so she truly did help kick start his career. Boyd would have a continued friendship with the French superstar through his life, even into the 1970’s, but the initial filming of “The Night Heaven Fell” was not easy. Boyd supposedly lost 20 pounds trying to keep up with whirlwind temper and pace of Miss Bardot. He also had to had a 5 day break from the filming of the picture because he was ‘a wreck.’  Their initial meeting was a headline itself.  Apparently Brigitte greeted Stephen in her Paris apartment completely naked with a big hug and kiss before Stephen could even say hello. Apparently it was a joke which Bardot had planned with some friends in order to impress Boyd. And it got his attention!

As Stephen would explain it :

“This is what really happened: When I arrived in Paris, Brigitte’s husband picked me up at the airport, and took me directly to their apartment to meet my new leading lady. When we got there, he asked me to be patient a moment while he told his wife I had arrived. A few minutes later, Brigitte, wearing nothing but what nature had endowed her with, stormed into the room, threw her arms around me and told me how delighted she would be to work with me. (MOVIELAND Interview, Stephen Boyd, May 1961).

“I was so flustered after is happened – and it happened even before we were introduced- that all I could say was:

“My name is Stephen Boyd”  (Austin Daily Herald, June 21 1958)

In another interview, Boyd would have this to say about Brigitte.

“I never enjoyed anything more in my life. This lady is so vibrant and that just working with her in a scene overwhelms you. She is childlike mentally but she is like a stalking panther physically.” (Salt Lake Tribute, June 24, 1958)

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Stephen Boyd talks about kissing Sophia Loren

“Kissing Sophia Tough When You’re In Armor”

February 16, 1964 (The Bridgeport Post)
Hollywood- – (AP)

Stephen Boyd tells the hard luck story of the year even thought it involves kissing Sophia Loren in “Fall of the Roman Empire.”

“Wouldn’t you know it?” asks the Irishman now an American citizen. “I’m wearing medieval armor. Now kissing Sophia is a rare pleasure – but in steel armor?

“As you lift up your arms, the neck of the armor goes up and presses on your Adam’s apple. At the same time, the helmet comes down on your head.

“You try to look romantic but actually you’re choking to death. The kiss becomes a gasp because you’re trying to get from air into you.

“Only Sophia makes it worthwhile.”

Stephen Boyd in Westerns : “Hannie Caulder”, 1971 (Raquel Welch)

 

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Stephen Boyd spent the better part of 1971 making films in Spain. It’s a little difficult to track the order of the movies, but it seems like he started with “Marta”, visited the set of “Hannie Caulder” for literally two days, filmed “Kill!” and “The Great Swindle”.

“Hannie Caulder” was the second time Stephen worked with Raquel Welch – the first time, of course, being the science-fiction movie “The Fantastic Voyage.”  This is one of my favorite westerns of the 1970’s.  Stephen’s role is almost a cameo as he wasn’t even listed as a member of the cast in the credits or on the movie poster.  I think it’s gorgeously filmed, and I think it’s one of Raquel Welch’s best roles. It was directed by veteran Western director Burt Kennedy. The story truly places Raquel Welch as one of the first female action stars of cinema, along with blax-sploitation star Pam Grier, in my opinion. The poster’s announce the arrival of “The First Lady Gunfighter!” Welch portrays Hannie Caulder, a woman who loses her husband to a band the three renegade Clemens brothers, portrayed with equal depravity by actors Ernest Borgnine, Jack Elam and Strother Martin. Hannie endures a horrific rape and loses everything she has when the Clemens brothers set fire to her homestead. Left to die, Hannie attaches herself to a wandering bounty-hunter, the mellow Robert Culp, and learns how to become a gunfighter herself, wearing a poncho which barely manages to cover her most revealing curves.   She eventually kills all three brothers in her passion for revenge. Amidst all of this, we see a bearded Christopher Lee show up as a serene gunsmith, British sex-queen Diana Dors as a local town Madame, and Stephen Boyd as a mysterious character called the Preacher, dressed in black, who acts as Hannie’s guardian angel of sorts. With the Preacher’s tacit assistance, Hannie gets the chance to kill off the final Clemens brother. In the end, Hannie rides off into the desert with the Preacher as her companion and the body of the slain Clemens, suggesting that Hannie herself will become a bounty-hunter. Sequel anyone?

The Evening Herald had this to say about Stephen’s lack of prominence in the movie credits; “Irish actor (a good one) Stephen Boyd’s in Raquel Welch’s Hannie Caulder film with Raque’s name and cantilevered statistics emblazoned circus style over everything: longtime star Boyd’s not even billed.”

From Joe Cushnan’s unofficial Boyd biography, “Stephen Boyd: From Belfast to Hollywood,” Boyd is quoted from the Sunday Express saying this about his role.

“In Hollywood, if an actor plays a tiny part in a film just because he fancies the role, everyone thinks he’s on the skids. I was offered such a part in Hannie Caulder, two days work played a preacher. I said yes and everyone thought I was mad. So I played it under the name Nephets Dyob, which is more or less my name spelled backwards.”

Cushnan goes on to say this about Boyd’s performance;  “…he maintained a strong presence on screen in his scenes, despite his character’s silence and he exuded enough earnest menace via his facial expressions to make the audience take notice of him.” I agree. Boyd’s scenes are very cinematic, and his mystery truly makes one want to know who this character is.  Stephen Boyd’s Preacher has a sexy,  sinister appeal. He is dapperly dressed in black and he doesn’t speak a word. The only communication is a few meaningful glances which he aims in Hannie Caulder’s direction. In the movie- tie in novel by William Terry, The Preacher (or rather Boyd) is aptly described:

 “He was handsome, with clear blue eyes and a generous mouth above a strong jawline, but the basic good looks of his features were offset by a rugged toughness, the effect exaggerated by the two day’s stubble that sprouted across his lower face. His all black attire, relieved only by a white shirt, gave him a ministerial effect. But this was immediately erased by the long barreled Baily pistols which he wore, hung at each hip from an ornate gun belt.”

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Stephen Boyd as The Preacher in “Hannie Caulder”, 1971

I enjoy seeing Welch and Boyd on-screen together, albeit briefly, from having been co-stars in “The Fantastic Voyage” at the very start of Welch’s career.  Welch looks absolutely stunning and voluptuous as always in this role. Welch has since admitted to having a huge crush on Boyd during the filming of “The Fantastic Voyage.” One wonders what the feelings were during this brief meeting about 6 years later. It is also awesome to see Stephen Boyd and Hammer- Dracula star Christopher Lee in the same slice of film, in addition to having Boyd confront his old “Oscar” nemesis Ernest Borgnine.

As to the filming of the project, it took place mostly around Almeria, Spain, which has become quite a filming hot spot. Boyd had been there previously for “Shalako” in 1968, and had worked close to that area way back in 1957 on “The Night Heaven Fell.” Apparently the filming of “Hannie Caulder” was somewhat tumultuous.  Raquel Welch was quite the diva, with her entourage rather rudely chasing away Spanish photographers and creating tension on the set, causing one crew member to comment; “Ernie Borgnine’s a better actor in a bathtub than Raquel Welch is out of one.” Ouch!  The actors split into two camps – Raquel and her publicity people on one side, and on the other, Borgnine, Elam, Martin and the Director. “It’s like a circus sometimes, but you know, I think, or hope, that we will have a good movie,” said Director Burt Kennedy.  Who knows where Robert Culp ended up, other than he was injured by a poison sea urchin during the film project and also battled Welch in an apparent clash of personalities. To top it off, Raquel Welch divorced her husband Patrick Curtis shortly after the filming of this movie was a wrap.

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Star power! Hammer Horror veteran Christopher Lee meets Stephen Boyd as the mysterious Preacher in 1971’s  “Hannie Caulder”

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