Stephen Boyd was no stranger to biblical epics after his experience in Ben-Hur in 1959. John Huston’s quasi- psychedelic and beautifully filmed 1966 epic The Bible…In the Beginning was Stephen’s last venture into ancient times on the movie screen. Boyd’s segment in this film occurs just after the intermission and it contains a truly mesmerizing movie moment with an astonishing Tower of Babel in the desert with thousands of extras climbing to the top and all around. There are so many extras that they look like ants from the top of this tower! Stephen Boyd as a very regal Nimrod strides slowly onto the screen in an elaborate costume and golden/black eye makeup which would make Cleopatra envious. As he slowly mounts the winding staircase of the Tower of Babel, his minions and wives cower in his footsteps. As he reaches the top, he seems overcome with pride and he asks for his bow. Aiming it high into the sky, he shoots an arrow which becomes lost in the clouds it goes so far. Immediately after doing this the ground begins to rumble and the wind blows as God disapproves of this vanity. Once the dust clears, Nimrod is shocked to find that he can no longer understand any of his entourage. Their words make no sense as God has confounded their language. Everyone rushes around in confusion and they flee out into the desert. Nimrod surveys his now empty Tower in defiance and angry dismay.
Then, as quickly as it had started, this story line ends. Why?
Well, a reporter in 1969 asked Stephen this very question :
I asked him about some of his earlier films, about his brilliant but aborted Nimrod in John Huston’s “The Bible.” The role ended in the middle of nowhere.
“I had just made the test of Huston and had been on the film for only a couple of days when Fox yanked me off to make ‘Fantastic Voyage.’”, Boyd said. “I assumed they were going to junk what I did or do it over with someone else, but later on, Huston decided to use what little he had, so of course, the actor is blamed for it. You have to make compromises all the way. Big ones on the big picture, smaller ones on the smaller ones, you even have to make them on the good pictures, and I say the hell with it. You can make a lot of stupid pictures that make a lot of money, so why eat your heart out?”
I, for one, am so pleased that Huston left this scene in the movie even though it is incongruously placed and appears like a mini vignette. Stephen’s appearance was brief but he was still listed as one of the main stars. The movie was a box office success (it was the top grossing movie of 1966), and it is still played frequently on television today.
To film his brief scene, Stephen luckily missed an airplane crash in Rome and then got lost driving himself to the movie location in Egypt!
I reported back here for “Voyage” to learn it was postponed a month, so accepted John Huston’s offer to play Nimrod, which fitted neatly into the interval. Just before I was to leave, Saul David, my producer, said he and Dave Fleischer must have some huddles with me first. So I canceled the flight and took tickets for a plane four days later. It saved my life. I was booked on Flight 800 which went down with everyone aboard lost. (For more about TWA 800 Crash, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TWA_Flight_800_(1964) )
“We were rained out when I first hit Cairo,” Steve continued, “Huston was working in the Moadi desert 50 miles outside the city, and I got lost heading for location. Nothing but sand in all directions, not even a mirage in sight. I was done up in a fantastic costume of gold metal eyebrows and helmet, tight black leather pants and fur chaps. A man appeared out of nowhere and thrust his arm inside the car. I thought I’d be shot on sight, instead he shook hands, said something in Egyptian and pointed out the direction of our company.” Hedda Hopper, Hollywood, Dec 28, 1964.
Below are some pictures from the movie and promotional film booklet with some information about how they filmed this unforgettable scene of Nimrod and the Tower of Babel. The Tower itself was built on a back-lot set in Rome as solidly as any modern structure in order to allow hundreds of people on it during the filming. Some people thought it looked like new skyscraper! The framework was made of steel tubular pipes covered with plaster and anchored in a concrete setting. The outside was artistically made to look like ancient bricks. It rose 120 feet and cost $375,000 to create. (Jan 5, 1965, Tucson Daily Citizen, “Tower rises–and so does the cost”)
Historically speaking, King Nimrod himself was a somewhat mysterious figure who was the grandson of Noah’s son Ham. He ruled over Mesopotamia after the Flood, and his Kingdom was enormous, covering parts of Babylonia and Assyria. He was a renowned hunter and is said to have been the first to eat meat and make war, which may explain some of the production photos of Stephen on horseback in costume doing some hunting with his bow and arrow. These were probably the scenes filmed in Egypt as well but abandoned in the final cut.
Who can bend the bow of Nimrod?
Or put strength into the arrow like unto his strength?
Nothing is too mighty for him to do!
No power is greater than his!
For he has taken the earth and made it his own.
He stores up the thunder and wears the lightning like a jewel.
The glory of Nimrod shines beyond the sun.
There is none greater than he in earth or heaven.