Stephen Boyd used to joke that he should have been invited to Elizabeth Taylor’s wedding with Richard Burton. If it wasn’t for Stephen, the biggest celebrity couple of the 1960’s might never have met! Boyd, as many of his fans know, was chosen to be the original Marc Anthony in the Twentieth Century Fox mega-production of “Cleopatra”. Boyd had spoken to a Fox producer as early as late 1959 about the role, which Boyd seemed predestined to play.
“(Walter) Wanger talked with me about the role of Marc Anthony to ‘Cleopatra’…I told him I thought I was too young to play Anthony, who was 48 by the time he got together with Cleopatra. I’ve played it on stage, though.” (Hedda Hopper interview of Stephen Boyd from January 31, 1960, “Hollywood’s New Gable?”, https://stephenboydblog.com/2016/07/09/hollywoods-handsomest-hibernian-may-be-is-stephen-boyd-the-new-gable/)
Boyd was signed as Anthony in early 1960. “She (Taylor) had the approval of all the stars who were going to work with her, ” Boyd said proudly in a Film Show Annual interview in 1964, ” She approved of Peter Finch and myself…” (Sunday Express London Interview, August 11, 1963)
In late June, Taylor was struggling with acute bronchitis which left her unable to attend a lavish New York ‘Roman orgy’ party held by the studio. The worst was yet to come. When the movie began filming in October of 1960 with director Rouben Mamoulian, the film work was taking place at Pinewood Studios in London under cold, damp conditions. Almost immediately, the bronchitis Taylor had in June flared up again in and she was confined to bed with pneomonia. By November, she was rushed to the hospital because of an infected tooth which had caused a viral infection of the tissue at the base of her brain (‘meningism‘). The movie was postponed in December of 1960. But Taylor had more drama to come. On March 4 of 1961, with heavy lung congestion and double pneumonia, she was again rushed to the hospital in grave condition for an emergency tracheotomy.
Stephen Boyd : “I was outside the hospital door that day with Eddie (Miss Taylor’s fourth husband, singer Eddie Fisher) when the doctors came out and told us her had one hour to live. It was one of the saddest, most pathetic moments I can recall. But somehow she pulled through – nothing ever stops her when she wants something.” (Detroit Free Press, “Screen Star Stephen Boyd Since That Chariot Race”, August 1, 1969)
The Pinewood Studio Production of “Cleopatra”, 1960, directed by Rouben Mamoulian, Costumes by Oliver Messel, starring Peter Finch as Caesar, Stephen Boyd as Marc Anthony and Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra
Stephen’s one regret about missing out on “Cleopatra” was not getting to work with Elizabeth Taylor.
“I think she’s marvelous. I remember one day when several of us were reading for the part, and Elizabeth was ill, and we went around to her house when she was just, as it were, getting up. And God! She’s the most beautiful thing. You know what you look like getting up? …Not Elizabeth. This vision came out of the bedroom.” (Sunday Express London Interview, August 11, 1963)
“I think she’s a dream.” (Asbury Park Press, July 3, 1964)
“The only thing I didn’t like about Elizabeth Taylor in ‘Cleopatra’ was her make-up – all that heavy eye-shadow and stuff.” (Sunday Express London Interview, August 11, 1963)
“She’s more sensational in her beauty, her lavender eyes, without make-up, just being her natural self.” (Valley Morning Star, Sep 18, 1966)
“Unfortunately, I couldn’t wait around until they decided to shoot. The script was being rewritten, there was a new director, the whole Shaw and Shakespeare concept of a personal drama was being thrown out in favor or spectacle. So I left. They gave my part to a fellow named Richard Burton. They even gave him my costume, and to this day every time he sees me, he says ‘Jesus, you’ve got big feet!” (Detroit Free Press, “Screen Star Stephen Boyd Since That Chariot Race”, August 1, 1969)
Boyd and Burton- sharing Roman costumes other than footwear!
Burton and Boyd were no strangers to epics: Burton in Alexander the Great (1956) and Boyd in The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964)
Boyd was also apparently mistaken for Burton occasionally in Hollywood, which caused Boyd to explain himself once : “He’s Welsh, I’m Irish. He sings Welsh songs, I sing Irish songs. He drinks, I don’t drink.” (Tintypes, Stephen Boyd, by Sidney Skolski)
Boyd also gave his opinion at the time about the most infamous love affair in the world between Taylor and Burton, and about his own lost chance with Taylor.
“Why, you know, they were starting rumors about Liz and me before we’d even met! I think Burton is a fine actor and I like Elizabeth as an actress – during the time I spent on the picture, she was marvelous – but I think Burton would be foolish to leave Sybil. I was amused by his reply when asked if he was going to divorce her and marry Liz; ‘It’s not bloody likely.'” (Hedda Hopper Interview, June 16, 1962)
“She’s not my type, and I don’t think I’m hers…I’m sure the reason she fell in love with him (Burton) is because he has the strength of mind and body of Mike Todd….True, Richard Burton became a big star in Rome, because of all the gossip and slander. He’s one of the finest actors, but he was not important until his love affair with Elizabeth. I find that shocking. “ (Courier Journal Dec 30, 1962, ‘ Stephen Boyd is Glad he Escaped Cleopatra Role with Liz Taylor)
Stephen Boyd: “My only regret is not getting a chance to be on screen with Elizabeth Taylor…the fact the I dropped out allowed them to meet, and Richard makes a great Anthony” (The ABC of Stephen Boyd interview, 1965)
More about Cleopatra
For more about Cleopatra the Movie, see this excellent website, http://www.elizabethtaylorthelegend.com/Elizabeth%20Taylor%20-%20Cleopatra%20Contents.html
For more about Cleopatra the Historical Person, I have found that there is almost too much information out there about her and it is hard to find the best fit. For an excellent historical novel about Cleopatra, I highly recommend Margaret George’s “The Memoirs of Cleopatra” . Having just started reading it recently, I find that it really brings the character to life instead of just a caricature.