In 1967, 50 years ago this July, Stephen Boyd happily returned to the stage again. Of course Stephen had started on the stage, but after coming to Hollywood in 1958, movies had obviously taken priority. After completing his Twentieth Century Fox obligation, Stephen was excited to look for new projects, and “The Bashful Genius” soon followed. In the spring of 1967, Boyd started to grow a beard for the role and dyed his hair red. “With his two-month growth of beard for his role as George Bernard Shaw in the Broadway play, “The Bashful Genius,” Stephen Boyd made the mistake of walking along the hippie Sunset Blvd. section. One of the hippies asked Boyd to help sell their underground newspaper for three hours a day.” (Honolulu Star Bulletin June 28, 1967)
This play ran for a short time in the summer of 1967, being featured at the well known Playhouse in the Park in Philadelphia from July 31- August 5th, in Denver, Colorado (my hometown!) from August 7-12th at the renowned Elitch Theatre Company, and ending at the Fallmouth, Massachusetts Playhouse in mid-August. Unfortunately it didn’t make the cut to appear on Broadway. It was a comedy about Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw written by Harold Callen. The fact that Boyd would be portraying a famous Irishman certainly must have appealed to him! The play had originally debuted in London at the John Neville Nottingham Playhouse in 1964, with John Neville in the title role. On a side note, a young Ian McKellen had acted a minor role in one of the original performances in London (http://www.mckellen.com/stage/00025.htm). The play was now revamped for Boyd as an American production.
As with all his projects, Stephen studied very thoroughly for the role.
“I play Shaw at the age of 40. At that time he had four flops on stage, five failures as an author, was a complete washout as a painter and a failure as a councilman. Then he met Charlotte Payne-Townsend, the woman who was to organize his life and remain his wife for 40 years.”
The film star recently completed a picture in London – “Assignment K.” “I decided to come back to Los Angeles the long way. The play was sent to me on my holiday in Hong Kong. By the time I reached Tokyo there was a cable: “You have to say Yes or No.” I said “No!”” (Philadelphia Daily News, July 27, 1967)
Boyd did, however, eventually say “Yes!”
Stephen was interviewed by the Philadelphia Enquirer and had this to say:
“Even if the play is a flop I don’t care. Success for me is within me. Audience reaction is only an ego thing. I have had more personal satisfaction from this in the last 10 days than I’ve had in the last 11 years. There’s not much room for personal satisfaction in movies because you’re not really in control of your own performance.
“What appeals to me about this play is said in the title, ‘The Bashful Genius.’ Inside, Shaw was really the Marchbanks of ‘Candida’, not the Dick Dudgeon as he would have like everyone to believe. The role is a complete alphabet of emotion and range.”
The comedy mostly involves Bernard Shaw’s fear of marriage to a woman called Charlotte Payne-Townshend. I’m sure Boyd could relate to this aspect of the story as well, considering his own caution about wedding bells! It sounds like it was a fun play from the review in Philadelphia Enquirer as well. Boyd himself received great reviews.
“Britain’s Stephen Boyd, in his American stage debut, scores solidly in the title role. His is a carefully drawn portrait, retaining an air of spontaneity in making Shaw a believable human being. He is matched by the performance of Nancy Wickwire (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nancy_Wickwire) as the faithful Charlotte, who loses her cool only when their engagement of a few minutes seems to be broken.” (Philadelphia Enquirer, August 1, 1967)
“A red-haired Irishman, Stephen Boyd, is cast as another redheaded Irishman, George Bernard Shaw, in “The Bashful Genius,” which opens tonight…Boyd wears a flowering beard grown especially for the production, stands 6-foot-1, which was Shaw’s exact height, weighs five pounds less than the master playwright when he was 35, the period in the Irish dramatist’s life with which the play is concerned.”
“The time is the 1890’s in London, and the story concerns the fulminating but shy writer and the wealthy and clever woman who persuaded him that, with her money and his talent, they could break into Britain’s literary establishment.”
“The comedy’s idea is the persuasive one that only Miss Payne-Townsend recognized the bashful, even timid, poet that was hidden beneath all the red-headed one’s buffoonery and opinionated intimidation.” (Philadelphia Daily News, July 31, 1967)
A review by critic-at-large Otto Dekom from at the time criticized the play itself and the amateur cast, but had high praise for Boyd’s portrayal.
“This is English drawing room comedy and requires a very special kind of production and cast. There must be the charm and quality of the English, their gentility and particular quality of speech. Without these essentials, the play makes no significant impression…indeed, amateur night at the Playhouse.”
“The one significant exception is Stephen Boyd, the well-known movie star, who plays Shaw.”
“Despite the phony Irish brogue (Phony? I wonder if this critic knew Boyd was Irish!), he comes through with a great deal of fire and authenticity. That grin and wide-eyed look of self satisfaction are typical of Shaw. They are to be found in most photographs and motion pictures of him.”
“One cannot help but enjoy Boyd’s characterization, all the more because it comes as a surprise. Some of his pretty-boy movie roles were not intended to inspire confidence in his acting ability. Boyd appeared on Sunday evening on television on a replay of a motion picture with Doris Day. It was not possible to endure much of it.” (The Morning News, Delaware, Aug 2, 1967)