Supporting Actors Pose Movie Woe by Bob Thomas, March 23, 1960 (The Corpus Christ Caller Times)
Hollywood – The Motion Picture Academy still hasn’t solved its supporting-actor problem.
The support category in the Oscar sweepstakes has vexed Hollywood ever since 1944. That was the year when Barry Fitzgerald was nominated for both star and support awards for his performance in “Going My Way.”
Absurd? Of course. The academy has kept changing its rules ever since (Fitzgerald finally won for support). For a while, actors in hit films permitted themselves to be demoted to supporting class to qualify in that less competitive race. Now the academy rules that any actor with star billing– usually denoted by having his name appear above the title — must compete in the star race.
That still isn’t the answer, as you can see in the case of Stephen Boyd. Recently he won the Hollywood foreign press award as best supporting player because of his work in “Ben-Hur.” 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 sequence, my role lasted only a half-hour on the screen. Now how can you call that a starring role?”
Boyd remarked that Hugh Griffith had a much larger role than he did. Yet Griffith was nominated for support, while Boyd remained a star.
“Nobody can tell me that Thelma Ritter is not a star, yet she was nominated for support for ‘Pillow Talk,” the actor added. That’s another incongruity. Some noted character performers never get star billing, though their roles are stellar. Yet some top names will accept minor roles as long as they get the balm of star billing. You figure it out.
Boyd has always managed to speak his mind in this town, and it made him a puzzle for his studio (20th Century Fox). For instance, the bosses were taken aback when he refused to take the role of Boaz in “The Story of Ruth.”
“It;s a good script, but I felt I couldn’t add anything to the role,” he remarked. “It wouldn’t have helped me and it wouldn’t have helped the picture.”
He was equally vocal about wanting to do “Let’s Make Love” with Marilyn Monroe after Gregory Peck walked out of the lead. But it went to Yves Montand instead.
“That was a part I would have done,” Boyd complained. “The studio didn’t think I could do comedy.
“Good lord, for about 10 years I played 50 different plays a year in repertory in England. About 10 of those would be dramas. I got my first big breaks in films doing comedy.”
Boyd takes rather a fatalistic view of his service with the 20th-Fox, which extends another two and a half years. He’ll stick it out – but in the roles he thinks he can do. During that time, he’ll make no move to change his citizenship.
“That’s a big step, and I’d never do it while I was under contract and had to stay in the country,” he reasoned.