Welcome the The Stephen Boyd Blog!
Stephen Boyd was like no other actor, in my opinion. He starred in some movies, but he was also a great ensemble player as well. But no matter what part you have seen Stephen in, you always remember him. He could cover a range of characters on screen–he could be handsome and brutal, feral and tender, romantic and sensual, serious and ironic. He could play a vibrant villain but also be a quiet hero. He was an actor who preferred to play character parts, but he had the look of a leading man. Off camera he was charming, open, friendly, and honest. Below are some details about Stephen’s life and career.
See also Modern Screen 1960 article, http://wp.me/p7nS70-cT
Stephen Boyd’s Wikipedia Page was updated by yours truly in Jan of 2016. All the writing and links below are from my own research.
Boyd was born William Millar in 1931 (some references say 1928). One of nine siblings, he attended Ballyclare High School. At the age of seven he became well known in Belfast for his contributions to the Ulster Radio’s Children Hour. At the age of sixteen, Boyd quit school and joined the Ulster Group Theater. Boyd learned the behind the scenes tasks of the theater, and eventually worked his way up to character parts and leads, touring both Canada and the United States with stock companies. By the time he was twenty, Boyd had a wide range of theater experience, but he longed for the big stage. In 1952 Boyd moved to London and worked in a cafeteria and busked outside a cinema in Leicester Square to get money as he was literally close to starvation. Boyd caught his first break as a doorman at the Odeon Theatre. The Leicester Square Cinema across the street recruited him to usher attendees during the British Academy Awards in the early 1950s. During the awards ceremony he was noticed by actor Sir Michael Redgrave, who used his connections to introduce Boyd to the director of the Windsor Repertory Group.
Boyd’s first role which brought him acclaim was as an Irish spy in the movie The Man Who Never Was, based on the book by Ewen Montagu. The movie was released in April 1956. Shortly thereafter he signed a ten year contract with 20th Century Fox studios , who began prepping him for Hollywood. But it would be a while until Boyd actually set foot on a Hollywood back-lot. Boyd’s next stop was Portugal to make Hell in Korea, which also featured future stars Michael Caine and Robert Shaw. . In June of 1956, Boyd was cast in the nautical, ship-wreck adventure Abandon Ship! for Columbia Studios starring Tyrone Power. This was filmed in the summer of 1956 in London where the British Navy apparently built a huge 35,000 gallon water tank for the movie.  In November of 1956, for Twentieth Century Fox, Boyd traveled to the British West Indies as part of a large ensemble cast in Darryl Zanuck‘s racially provocative film Island in the Sun, based on the Alec Waugh novel.  Boyd portrayed a young, English aristocrat who becomes the lover of Joan Collins. Recently signed by 20th Century Fox, Boyd would be loaned out to the J. Arthur Rank production of Seven Thunders (Beast of Marseilles), a World War II romance set in Nazi-occupied Marseilles.  This movie was filmed on location in Marseilles and at Pinewood Studios in London in the spring of 1957, and featured Boyd in his most prominent starring film role yet.
Around the same time French sex kitten/actress Brigitte Bardot was given the opportunity to cast her own leading man in her next movie after her success in Roger Vadim‘s And God Created Woman, and she chose Boyd. From August to October of 1957,  Bardot, Boyd and Alida Valli filmed the lusty romance The Night Heaven Fell, directed by Roger Vadim, in Paris and in the region of Málaga, Spain, specifically the small, white-washed town of Mijas. Being in the Bardot spotlight added much to Boyd’s film credit, in addition to bringing him notice in Hollywood.
Stephen Boyd finally arrived in Hollywood in January of 1958 to take on first true Hollywood role as a renegade cowboy in the Fox western The Bravados, which starred Gregory Peck and Joan Collins. Even though this was a Hollywood production, the actually filming took place in Morelia, Mexico.  After the filming of The Bravados was complete in late March of 1958, Stephen Boyd returned to Hollywood to audition for the coveted role of Messala in MGM’s upcoming epic Ben-Hur. Many other actors, including Victor Mature. Kirk Douglas, Leslie Nielsen and Stewart Granger had been considered for the part, , but Stephen Boyd’s screen test convinced director William Wyler that he had found the perfect villain for his epic, along with Wyler’s admiration for Boyd’s performance in The Man Who Never Was from the previous year. Boyd was hurried off to join actor Charlton Heston in Rome in May of 1958 to learn the chariot racing aspect of his role. Heston had already been practicing behind the chariot for weeks, so Boyd needed to learn the sport quickly. Boyd was also required to wear brown contact lenses as Messala, which irritated his eyes and caused vision problems for a few months after the movie was completed. Despite this, Boyd described the filming experience of Ben-Hur (which took place in Cinecittà Studios in Rome), as the most exciting experience of his life.
After Ben-Hur filming was completed, Boyd starred with Academy Award winner Susan Hayward in the California-based drama Woman Obsessed. Some advertisements for this movie labeled Boyd as “The New Gable.” He was then part of another excellent ensemble cast in the adaptation of Rona Jaffe‘s novel The Best of Everything, filmed in early 1959.
Ben-Hur was released in December 1959 and made Boyd an international star overnight. His portrayal of the Roman tribune Messala brought in rave reviews. Press columnist Erskine Johnson wrote, “A brass hat and the armor of a Roman warrior in Ben-Hur does for Stephen Boyd what a tight dress does for Marilyn Monroe.” Ruth Waterbury, in her Boyd feature in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, would describe Boyd’s character as “the dangerously masculine and quite magnificent Messala.” Modern Screen magazine in 1960 stated that Boyd’s ruthless Messala had “lost the chariot race but captured the sympathy and sex appeal of Ben-Hur.” He was featured in the popular TV program This Is Your Life on 3 February 1960, a show which featured many of Boyd’s family members and acquaintances (including Michael Redgrave) telling stories about his early life and film career. This should be some indication of how “Stephen Boyd fever” was catching. Newspaper columnists were getting swarmed with letters from female fans of all ages wanting to know more about Boyd. He was being sent dozens of starring roles, which most he had to turn down due to other obligations, or he himself turned down. He opted out of the biblical epic The Story of Ruth, which didn’t please Fox studios, and he was one of the front-runners to star with Marilyn Monroe in her picture Let’s Make Love.
In early 1960 Boyd won the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture for his performance in Ben-Hur. He made a guest appearance alongside the silent-era Ben-Hur stars Francis X. Bushman and Ramon Novarro on Hedda Hopper‘s special television programme Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood. In February 1960 he starred in the Playhouse 90 television performance called The Sound of Trumpets with Dolores Hart, which garnered good reviews. He also appeared as a singing guest on The Dinah Shore Chevy Show special on March 13, 1960, where he performed two Irish folk songs with Dinah Shore, “The Leprechaun Song”  and “Molly Malone”, and an Irish step dance. 
Boyd himself chose to do roles which he felt comfortable in. His next choice was The Big Gamble, which featured Darryl F. Zanuck‘s current paramour and French icon Juliette Gréco. It was filmed on the Ivory Coast of West Africa, Dublin and the Southern Part of France in the spring and summer of 1961. The adventure of making this film almost outdid the adventure in the film itself as the crew slept in tents in the jungle that were guarded by natives on parole for cannibalism. Boyd nearly drowned in the Ardèche river during the making of the film. Luckily he was saved by his co-star and excellent swimmer David Wayne. Boyd spoke about this incident during his appearance on the popular TV programme What’s My Line?, which aired on 11 December 1960.
Boyd was originally chosen to play Mark Antony opposite Elizabeth Taylor in 20th Century Fox’s epic production of Cleopatra (1963) under the direction of Rouben Mamoulian. He began film work in September 1960 but eventually withdrew from the problem-plagued production after Elizabeth Taylor’s severe illness postponed the film for months. (Cleopatra was later directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, and the role of Mark Antony went to Richard Burton.)
After several months without active work, Boyd was thrilled to finally get his first post-Cleopatra role. The film was The Inspector, renamed Lisa for the American release. It was based on the novel by Jan de Hartog and co- starred actress Dolores Hart. The film was made in Amsterdam , London and Wales during the summer of 1961. On January 9, 1962, Boyd was featured in a television film from General Electric Theater called The Wall Between, co-starring Ronald Reagan and Gloria Talbott.  Next, Boyd was again loaned out to MGM Studios to star with Doris Day in the circus-musical Billy Rose’s Jumbo, filmed during the early part of 1962; the role earned Boyd a nomination for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy. Boyd flew back to Rome in the summer of 1962 to act with Italian superstar Gina Lollobrigida in her long-time pet project Imperial Venus, a romantic epic about the many loves of Pauline Bonaparte, the sister of Napoleon. This film was the first film to be banned by the Motion Picture Association of America for male nudity. Boyd appeared in a humorous bedroom scene, naked, but covered by a sheet. The suggestion of nudity was too much for the censors and the movie was never released in the United States. Boyd returned to the States briefly after finishing Imperial Venus, where he appeared for the second time on The Dinah Shore Chevy Show, which aired on November 11, 1962, singing with Shore and entertainer Dean Martin. 
Boyd arrived in Spain in early 1963 to begin work on Samuel Bronston‘s massive production of theThe Fall of the Roman Empire, directing by Anthony Mann. This was filmed during a severely cold winter in Europe, and the production of the movie in the Sierra de Guadarrama in Spain encountered several challenges.  Boyd’s co-star was another Italian legend, Sophia Loren. Boyd also had the opportunity to ride another chariot in this film. Boyd flew back to Hollywood in the summer to star in a Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre TV Program with Louis Jourdan called War of Nerves, which aired on January 3,1964. He then returned to Europe to film the suspenseful The Third Secret (film) starring Pamela Franklin and Sean Connery’s wife, Diane Cilento.
On December 23, 1963, Stephen Boyd became a naturalized U.S. citizen during a ceremony at the Federal Building in Los Angeles, California. 
Throughout 1964 Boyd continued to make films in Europe, traveling to Yugoslavia to star as the villain Jamuga in the epic Genghis Khan. Boyd was the top billed and therefore the top paid star in the epic, and this apparently caused friction with up-and-coming star Omar Sharif. After completing Genghis Khan, Boyd trekked to Cairo, Egypt for a short stint in yet another epic, The Bible.
After all this globe-trotting, the world weary Boyd was very happy to return to the United States to start work on the Twentieth Century Fox science fiction adventure Fantastic Voyage, co-starring with soon-to-be icon Raquel Welch. This was filmed in the early part of 1965. In the summer of 1965, Boyd joined German star Elke Sommer and music legend Tony Bennett to film the Hollywood drama The Oscar, based on the eponymous Richard Sale novel. The movie was a popular success, but maligned by film critics. The producer of the film, Joseph Levine, however, was so pleased with Boyd’s performance that he hired him for his next project as well, The Caper of the Golden Bulls. This film was made in Spain in the summer of 1966, and the actors took part in the famous Feria del Toro de San Fermin festival in Pamplona (known as the Running of the Bulls). Next, Boyd starred in a James Bond-like spy thriller Assignment K with Swedish model/actress Camilla Sparv, which was filmed in Germany and London during the winter of 1966.
In 1967 Boyd was excited to get back to the stage to star in a play called The Bashful Genius, about Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw. The play had a very brief run during the summer of 1967. Boyd was cast opposite Sean Connery in the western adventure Shalako, which was based on the Louis L’Amour novel. It also cast him opposite Brigitte Bardot again, 10 years after the first film they made together. Shalako was filmed in the early part of 1968 in Almería, Spain. Returning to the United States, Boyd was cast as the cruel slave master Nathan MacKay in the Southern “Slavesploitation” drama Slaves, also starring Ossie Davis and songstress Dionne Warwick. The film was loosely based on the famous Harriet Beecher Stowe novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It was filmed during the summer of 1968 at the supposedly haunted Buena Vista plantation near Shreveport, Louisiana . The film was released during the volatile civil rights era and in May 1969 Boyd attended the premiere alongside Dionne Warwick in Baltimore, Maryland Closely following Slaves, Boyd starred in another story about racial tension, this time a World War II made-for-television drama called Carter’s Army (or Black Brigade) which aired in August 1970, featuring a young Richard Pryor.
During this time, or earlier, is when Boyd began his interest in L. Ron Hubbard‘s Church of Scientology, which would make him one of the first Hollywood stars to be involved in it. Boyd had always expressed an interest in esoteric religions. In an interview in August 1969 with the Detroit Free Press, he said that Scientology helped him through the filming of Slaves, and that it is “a process used to make you capable of learning. Scientology is nothing. It means only what you want it to. It is not a church you go to to pray, but a church that you go to to learn. It is no good unless you apply it. It is the application”. Boyd apparently had been elevated to a Scientology Status of OC 6, a position beneath that of Clear. Boyd would actually go on to star and narrate a Scientology recruiting film called Freedom in 1970. A copy of this film can be found at the Library of Congress, but it is not available online via any Scientology resource, which may indicate a falling out Boyd had with Scientology using his name for recruiting purposes. There is no documentation of his later involvement with it.
During the 1970s demand for Boyd in Hollywood had diminished, so he focused his attention on European films and several television pilots and shows. He made three films in Spain with director José Antonio Nieves Conde, including Marta in 1970, The Great Swindle in 1971, and Casa Manchada in 1975. He worked with cult director Romain Gary in the drug thriller Kill! in 1971. He also made several Westerns, including Hannie Caulder with Raquel Welch in 1971, The Man Called Noon in 1973, Those Dirty Dogs in 1973 and Potato Fritz in 1976. He also kept travelling to exotics destinations to act, including Australia for The Hands of Cormac Joyce in 1972, South Africa for Control Factor and The Manipulator in 1972-1973, Jamaica for the scuba diving adventure The Treasure of Jamaica Reef in 1972, Florida for the television pilot Key West in 1973 and Hawaii in his last acting stint as a guest star on the popular television show Hawaii Five-O in 1977. The episode Up the Rebels was the premiere episode of Hawaii Five-O‘s tenth season, and it aired after Boyd’s death on 15 September 1977. His most critically acclaimed role during the 1970s was as a colourful Irish gangster in the UK crime thriller The Squeeze in 1977.
A letter from film producer Euan Lloyd (who produced such films as Shalako, The Man Called Noon and The Wild Geese), states that “Stephen Boyd was one of the nicest, kindest people I have met in my lifetime, rare in this profession.”
Although Boyd spent most of his adult life traveling abroad for film work, he made his permanent home in southern California. At one point in the 1960s, he had three homes there— one above the Sunset Strip, one in Tarzana and another in Palm Springs, where he enjoyed his favorite pastime, golf.  He would make frequent trips back to his hometown of Belfast in Northern Ireland. to visit his family. On one particular visit to Belfast in 1971, Boyd exclaimed his dismay about the situation in Northern Ireland at that time: “Because of the divisiveness, the potential for displaying to the world all that is good in that lovely land is lost, perhaps even destroyed.” Boyd was valued so highly by his native city of Belfast that during his visits he was always given a military escort from the airport to his home for security reasons.
Boyd died of a massive heart attack on June 2,1977 at the age of 45 while playing golf with his wife Elizabeth Mills at the Porter Valley Country Club in Northridge, California. “Stephen and Elizabeth were in a golf cart between the fifth and sixth tees when suddenly he said. ‘I don’t feel well,’ and slumped over. Elizabeth dragged him out of the cart and gave him artificial respiration, but it was too late.”  He was in talks to play the role of the Regimental Sergeant Major in Euan Lloyd‘s The Wild Geese before his death. Boyd was interred in Oakwood Memorial Park Cemetery in Chatsworth, California.. His wife Elizabeth Mills Boyd was interred with him at the time of her death in 2007.
Silver Screen Magazine in 1960 wrote this about Boyd:
A supreme individualist, like most Irishman, he has a wonderful actor’s face that easily switches from an engaging smile to sinister menace. Far handsomer in person than on the screen…Stephen Boyd is a lean (180 pounds), well built (six-foot-one) charmer of 31, with a dazzling dimple, light brown curly hair, fair skin, and the kind of gray eyes which take on color from what he is wearing. A man of tremendous vitality, moody and volatile, a typical Celt, he veers from humor to anger in the wink of an eye. He dresses conservatively; speaks wittily, and extremely well, though he confesses that he’s had almost no formal schooling; is genial and friendly (‘I have my brooding hours which wipe that grin off my face’).
Boyd was first married in 1958 to Italian-born MCA executive Mariella Di Sarzana during the filming of Ben-Hur. They separated after just three weeks. Concerning his short-lived marriage to Sarzana, Boyd would explain, “It was my fault. I’m an Irish so-and-so when I’m working. I hadn’t been married a week when we both knew we had made a mistake. She is a nice girl but we were just not meant for each other. I suppose I wasn’t ready for marriage. Maybe I was still too much of an adolescent.”  They officially divorced in early 1959.
Boyd lived as a bachelor for most of his life and was wary of marriage after his first experience. His secretary Elizabeth Mills was a permanent resident at his Tarzana home during these years though the two did not marry until 1974.  He was very popular with the Hollywood columnists, including his friend Hedda Hopper and her rival Louella Parsons due to his honest, open comments and sense of humor.
He dated some very prominent women in Hollywood, including Anna Kashfi (Marlon Brando’s ex), Belfast socialite Romney Tree, actress Joan Collins, TV star and Playboy centerfold Marilyn Hanold and Israeli actress Elena Eden. Hollywood columnists would also make note of Boyd’s flirtation with Hope Lange. Hope Lange would later say in a Vanity Fair interview about The Best of Everything: “During the film we had a great camaraderie. He had that wonderful Irish charm, and wonderful humor. And anyone who has humor I’m a sucker for.” Boyd was rumored to have been a romantic interest of Doris Day during the filming of Jumbo, which Boyd vehemently denied. Boyd seems to have been much enamored of his co-star Sophia Loren during the filming of the epic The Fall of the Roman Empire. Boyd said during an interview in 1963 that “I wouldn’t die exactly for Sophia, but I’d come close to it.”. He would also comment in an interview in 1976 that Sophia was “the most beautiful person I’ve ever met”.
Raquel Welch would claim in 2013 that during the filming of Fantastic Voyage in 1965, she became infatuated with Boyd, who rejected her advances. In her comments she would imply that Boyd was gay. No evidence of Stephen Boyd being a homosexual exists.  However he possibly did play his most famous character Messala in Ben-Hur with a homosexual twist as instructed by screenwriter Gore Vidal. In Gore Vidal’s autobiography “Palimpsest”  Vidal describes his discussion with Boyd concerning the character Messala’s underlying motivation. This was based on an idea by Vidal to enhance the tension between the two main antagonists . Vidal would subsequently argue years later with director William Wyler and actor Charlton Heston about Boyd’s performance and the implications surrounding Ben-Hur. Neither Wyler or Heston believed that a homoerotic undertone existed in Ben-Hur‘. 
Boyd had a deep and lasting friendship with actress and French icon Brigitte Bardot. Boyd starred in two movies with Bardot – The Night Heaven Fell in 1958, and Shalako in 1968. During the filming of Shalako in Almeria, Spain, Bardot and Boyd’s close relationship and open affection for each other sparked numerous rumors of a possible affair.  the filming of Shalako in Almeria, Spain, Bardot and Boyd’s close relationship sparked numerous rumors. It even caused Brigitte’s husband at the time, Gunther Sachs, to ask for a divorce. In Bardot’s autobiography, she described the events and states that Boyd “was never her lover, but a tender and attentive friend.” In an interview with Photoplay Film in 1968, Boyd said, “Bardot is always Bardot. She’s marvelous. She’s an enormous star and she’s a unique, marvelous woman. I adore her.” 
Boyd also had a close relationship with actress Dolores Hart. Dolores Hart describes what would be her only romance with a co-star in her autobiography The Ear of the Heart. Boyd eventually rejected her advances, but they remained close friends even after she turned to the cloistered life of a nun in 1963. He visited her in 1966 at the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Connecticut and remained in communication with her up until the early 1970s.
Stephen Boyd’s most passionate affair seems to have been with beautiful Austrian actress Marisa Mell.; They met while filming the movie Marta in 1970. Boyd initially dodged Marisa Mell’s amorous advances, but during the second film they made together, The Great Swindle, the two became inseparable lovers. They married in a gypsy camp on the outskirts of Madrid in late 1971. The ceremony included a wrist cutting exchange of blood to seal their bond.  The marriage was not considered legal, but Marisa Mell said, “Who cares? In our minds it will be real.” According to Marisa Mell, their affair was so intense that while living in Rome they made a trip to the Italian town of Sarsina for a ritual exorcism at the Cathedral of St. Vicinius. A short time later, Boyd became physically ill over the intensity of the affair, and abruptly left Rome to return first to Belfast, then onto Jamaica to begin filming The Treasure of Jamaica Reef in early 1972.
Boyd’s last marriage took place in 1974 to Elizabeth Mills ), a secretary at the British Arts Council, whom he had known since 1953. Elizabeth Mills followed Boyd to the US in the late 1950s and was his personal assistant, secretary and confidante for many years before marrying him in the mid-1970’s.
Modern Screen April 1960 Stephen Boyd Feature
The London fog of ’52 was a killer. It rolled in from the sea, ghostly and poisonous, shrouding the city and choking the weak who breathed it. Thousands died before it blew away. One who almost did was a sick and lonely youth from Belfast, Ireland, named Billy Millar. Shivering one minute and burning the next, Billy huddled in a drafty hall of a cheap rooming house. He’d come to London to act. Instead, he was bedded with a dangerous flu, flat broke and starving. All he’d had for a week was water. In his delirium, Billy dreamed : He was stand- ing over a deep, deep well. Inside it were all the emotions and feelings of the world. He could reach down at random, lift them up, take them in and give them out. When he dreamed that, Billy Millar didn’t care if he ever got well.
But, of course, he did. Because today Billy Millar is Stephen Boyd. He has a different name but often the same wonderful dream, asleep or awake. And he believes it as firmly as he believes in leprechauns. That is one big reason why Irish Steve Boyd is the honest new he-man star in Hollywood.
Since his ruthless Messala lost the chariot race but captured the sympathy and sex-appeal of Ben-Hur, Steve has had to turn down eleven juicy offers that could make him rich — if he were a foot- ball squad instead of just one man. Steve missed starring with Marilyn Monroe in Let’s Make Love by a flick of her false eyelash — but he’s up for Marc Antony with Liz Taylor’s Cleopatra. After that they’re talking Valentino’s sexy part in Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse for Steve. Critics are already running out of five- dollar adjectives describing Steve’s virile authority, and even tough-minded Willie Wyler, Ben-Hur’s director, calls him a young Clark Gable. Wherever Steve goes, girls break out in goose pimples. Some reasons why are obvious. Steve Boyd is a gorgeous broth of a boy with a wavy, red-glinted mop of hair. Celtic blue eyes and a rocky, deep-dimpled chin. He’s loaded with genuine Irish wit and charm and there’s nothing wrong with his six-foot-plus,180-pound hunk of muscle, either. But there the standard Hollywood hero portrait stops, and Steve’s dream takes over. All he really cares about is acting.
For himself, handsome Steve Boyd has absolutely no admiration. “I’m not very fond of myself,” he’ll tell you. “but I’m all wrapped up in the people I play.” Fame leaves him cold. He doesn’t care about being a star. He can skip fun, too, and even money. “I’ll work for nothing.” he’s offered, “if I like the part. But I’ll go out of my mind if I don’t.'”
Nothing besides his job.
Steve has even less interest in sports, social life, politics, business or much of anything besides his job. If people ask him about them he has a stock answer: “I don’t know. I’m an actor.” Not long ago an interviewer dreamed up a fancy quote: “If I have one cause in life,” he had Steve say grandly, “it is to fight for the freedom of Ireland;” When that hit his home town, Belfast people who knew him laughed out loud, along with Steve Boyd. For one thing, they’re all loyal subjects of the Queen. Corrected Steve, “The only cause I’ve had to fight for all my life is my own freedom. That’s a battle that keeps on and on.”
When fans mobbed Steve for his auto- graph recently in New York he was equally amazed. “Why should anybody want anything from me?'” he puzzled, “What have I got to do with that guy in Ben-Hur?” To him Steve Boyd and Messala were two entirely different people. A character like that can be hard to figure in a town where the first person, singular, is almost holy writ. Steve Boyd is hard to figure. You have to start all over again with each part he plays. As long as two years ago, when Steve first came to Hollywood to play a ‘bad guy’ in The Bravados, the impact was baffling to all concerned. In fact, when Steve showed up at Twentieth Century- Fox to draw his wardrobe, Mickey Sherrard, in charge, took one look at him and exploded. “My God — they’ve gone out of their minds:” Steve’s Savile Row clothes and London accent seemed about as right for a western heavy as David Niven’s. Furthermore, Steve cheerfully admitted he didn’t know how to strap on his guns, shoot them or straddle a horse. But he learned — and he was perfect in the picture. As for Steve’s experiences — he took a walk from his hotel the first night and got stopped by the cops. “It’s not safe to walk in Beverly Hills.” they told him cryptically, escorting him back. When he got his hotel bill, each day nicked him for more than his dad earned in Ireland for a week’s labor. The apartment he fled to promptly stuck him for six months’ rent, even though almost all that time he was in Mexico and Rome! “I found it all pretty confusing,” says Steve.
He could say the same thing today, because the truth is that Stephen Boyd doesn’t fit the Hollywood pattern, or any pattern for that matter. He doesn’t because with him reality always takes second place. Acting comes first and it always has. But it hasn’t made things easy for Steve. This kind of schizophrenia is nothing new to Steve Boyd. He’s been dreaming as much as waking and, in one way or another, acting as often as living, ever since he was born on the Fourth of July, 1928, in Glen Gormley, outside of Belfast. His mother, Martha Boyd, who traced back to the Bally Castle Boyds. was the youngest of thirteen children, and William Millar, as Steve was christened, was her last baby. “The last child of a last child,” says Steve, “and they’re always queer ones.” Besides, Martha had “a poison in her stomach” most of the months she carried Billy and even the doctor didn’t expect much of value to be delivered. “I’m inclined to think he was right,” grins Steve today.
Stacked against his husky brothers, it’s true. Billy was no prize. They took after their dad, James Millar, a mountain of a man who drove a truck for a living, who could down a mug of beer at a gulp and who, even today. Steve proudly claims, “can wipe up the floor with me any time he feels like it.” The brothers, from James, twenty years older, to Alex next above, were buckos so famous for their brawn and red tempers that one was called “Blow” at school, because he blew his top and clobbered anyone who crossed him. Billy wasn’t like that. He was solid and strong enough, a “Billy Bunter” kid, as they said around Belfast. He could run like the wind, rough it up in soccer and hockey, but fighting, which was glorious sport for his brothers, made him feel cheap. But once, when an American boy named Eugene challenged him on the school grounds Billy fought desperately, “and I beat the tar out of him.” says Steve. “But I was sorry afterward. The master bent us both over and whacked our bottoms with a paddle.” Billy never hit any- one after that. Sometimes Billy Millar couldn’t understand himself, but he didn’t try too hard. He was too busy being something else.
He was a steamship, usually the Queen Mary, blowing foghorn blasts through his fingers and sailing up and down the side- walk. He was a racing automobile, ripping down the hills in a skateboard, once clear under the wheels of a passing car. The driver only jumped angrily out at the bump, yelling “You little so-and-so!” and chased him up the street. He roamed the woods outside of town and up on the Cave Hill, alone — being whatever came to his imagination — Robin Hood. Brian Boru. a deer, fox, or even a tree. Later, when he grew up enough, he’d set out on solitary hikes through the Mourne Mountains, singing Irish ballads . . . “where the mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea . . .” and staying at youth hostels. “I was a dreamer,” admits Steve. “And the things I liked best I liked to do alone.” That was hard to manage the way the Millars lived in Glen Gormley. They rented a tiny house, smaller than the modest apartment Steve has in Hollywood to- day, for $1.10 a week. All eleven crowded inside, and a succession of cats who inevitably met sad ends. The main support for this brood was James Millar’s salary of $18 a week. Sometimes Martha worked and each Millar kid, girl or boy, found a job as they grew up to help. Billy pulled potatoes on farms nearby. Once he tried a job in a garage, until a towed tractor he was steering tipped over on the slippery road to Belfast and almost killed him.
Ireland was poor and the Millars were poor Irish. The world-wide depression in Steve’s boyhood didn’t help, and then came the war to make things desperate. Food was scarce and the Nazis plastered the port of Belfast regularly, leaving incendiaries and delayed action bombs that blew up without warning and killed plenty of kids Billy knew. Some families moved out into the hills but the Millars stayed where they were, thinking themselves lucky compared to Jack, Billy’s brother, who joined the Navy and stuck out the war on Malta, the heaviest bombed spot of all. Despite all this and his poverty, Steve Boyd calls himself lucky to have had the boyhood he had.
He likes to go back home today. “In fact,” says Steve, “I need to. It gets my feet back on the ground.” When he does his mother tells him, “Now, there’ll be none of that Stephen Boyd business around here, boy. You’re still Billy.” Sometimes she calls him “Poison,” from the recollection of his birth. And his dad who, after thirty-two years, drives the same trucks for the same company and makes about the same pay, teases him roughly. “How’s the head, Billy — swelling up? I’ll get a bucket of water!” His brothers are all men who work with their hands. He has twenty-two nephews and nieces. Nobody’s impressed.
Stephen Boyd prizes this and even envies them. “My father and mother,” he believes, “are both remarkable people. At an early age they made and kept their happiness. If I could ever achieve what they have,” he muses wistfully, “I’d be content.”
Back then contentment didn’t mix with Billy Millar’s dreams any more than it does today. But he’s grateful that some virtues and values of respectable poverty rubbed off and clung to him. “Life was a struggle,” as he puts it. “But a cheerful struggle. We never had a shilling ahead but I don’t remember any feeling of fear or insecurity. There was always life and excitement in our house, always love, always humor and always pride.”
At school Billy Millar had a nickname. “Smiler.” “I was a serious kid,” he explains, “but happy serious.” From the minute he trotted off to classes, at the age of four, he liked everything about school. But he was always speaking his mind. He’d argue until they shut him up. “I was sure hard to convince,” says Steve. At the Scottish Presbyterian church he even argued with the Reverend Nicholson about his sermons. “It amazed me.” states Steve, “that a man could read a text from the Bible and then have the nerve to tell others what it meant. Why, it means some- thing different to everyone who reads it!” He’d tell the good man this and they’d have word battles after church, to the preacher’s delight. But later, when Billy Millar briefly thought he’d like to study theology and be a minister himself, Reverend Nicholson shook his head.
“I know your mind, Billy,” he counseled. “And you won’t do for organized religion. You’d never accept it.”
By then Billy Millar was already a veteran in a profession where it didn’t hurt a bit to have ideas of your own. But it did hurt to have your voice change. At fourteen, Billy was a has-been kid actor. It had all begun when he was eight with a little school play in Glen Gormley, something about Scotland Yard, as Steve remembers. He played a policeman and he can still rattle off his opening lines, “Look — Maggie and Jim are comin’ down the street. She’s grumblin’ like me grand- mother’s parrot — and he’s gone all red in the face!” A scout from the British Broad- casting company was combing the schools for a kiddie talent and he snapped Billy right up for the Children’s Hour program. A kid who was always being something else anyway found this a pushover. For most of the next six years Billy was either rehearsing or happily being everybody but himself over radio.
Into the family pot
The good part was the expressive out- let for imaginative Billy Millar — and maybe even more than that — the money. For a skit he collected the equivalent of $16, a decent week’s wages for any grown working man in Ireland. For a play he got $25, more than his own dad earned. All of it went into the family pot, which could use it. But it was bad being cut off from his age group at a time when Billy Millar, particularly, needed them. “Sometimes,” glooms Steve Boyd today, “I still have the feeling I’m a bit of an adolescent.” He never had a chance to knock around and get the growing kinks out of his system. There wasn’t time to do what the other guys did — play on soccer teams, dance, join a gang, mess around. All that time Billy never had a date. With all the chicks nipping around Stephen Boyd now it’s hard to believe, but in those days he couldn’t get to first base with the colleens. By North-of-Ireland standards, they figured him a kind of ‘kook.’ Steve still winces remembering one who gave him a specially hard time. Audrey was a dainty blonde doll he worshiped hopelessly. His big brother, Alex, took her out whenever he wanted to. But when Billy tried she just swished her skirts and snapped, “No!” “Lord knows I was persistent,” grins Steve. “I kept asking her for six straight years and I got the same answer every time.” Finally she told him, ‘Billy, you’re just too odd a one for me.”
While Steve was still on BBC, but fading, he entered Hughes Academy in Belfast, a business school. His aim was a white-collar job in an office. University was out of the question for the likes of the Millar kids. Billy always knew that — there wasn’t the money. But he didn’t want to steer a truck, or swing a pick. He hit typing and shorthand hard and got pretty sharp. He’d been there about a year when Martha Millar met him one day as he rolled in on his bike. “Let’s take a little walk, Son,” she said. And then she told him, “Things are bad with so many married and gone. We can’t keep it up with you in school and all.” Billy knew what she meant: That he had to start bringing in steady money. That’s what an Irish family’s son like Billy Millar had to do when it came time. He was fourteen. So. Billy got himself a job in a Belfast insurance office, “assistant in charge of motors,” he called himself dramatically. Actually, he was office boy. He got a better one soon at McCalla’s Travel Agency, earning $20 a week. For a fifteen-year-old in Belfast that was fabulous. His family and friends began thinking maybe Billy was going to amount to something in business after all. Billy told himself that was his one ambition. Now, Steve Boyd knows he just wanted to please his folks. Because, nights he joined up with an acting group called the University Players. After seven months at McCalla’s he faced his boss one day and announced that he was quitting. The boss almost fell out of his chair.
“I want to be an actor,” said Billy.
“Humph!” snorted the man, “Now listen, Lad — a rolling stone, y’know, gathers no moss.”
Maybe Billy had heard his snappy comeback somewhere. Anyway he said, “Sure, and who wants moss?” He applied to a professional acting company named the Ulster Group Theater, took an exam and got a job. Five dollars a week. He stayed there three years. At the end he was making $10.
“I’ll bet on the Irish”
But Billy swallowed his pride and stuck it. He’s never been sorry. He learned the tricks of his trade with the Ulster Group. Steve Boyd thinks there are few better places to learn them. He has great respect for America’s ‘Method’ actors like Brando and Newman. “But when it comes to tricks, acting or any other kind,” smiles Steve, “I ‘ll bet on the Irish!”
He learned more than tricks, of course. Starting on the ground floor, literally, sweeping out the house, Billy shifted scenery, hammered sets, stage managed, worked up from bits to character parts and then leads. Finally, he was playing eight shows a week, forty-eight weeks a year — Noel Coward, Bernard Shaw, Terence Rattigan, Sean O’Casey, J. M. Synge and all the modern playwrights. By the time he was twenty, Billy Millar figured he was a professional and he longed for the Big League — London.
Billy got there first in 1950 for the Festival of Britain. The Ulster Group sent over three plays for that, and Billy got a free ride as an understudy. He tried to stick around when the party was over to find a job. All he got was, “What’ve you done in England?” Since the answer was “Nothing,” they yawned, “Come back when you have.”
Instead, Billy went back to Ireland, broke and in the doghouse. The Ulster Group figured he’d deserted them, and the head director kicked him out, “To teach you a lesson.”
“He did,” says Steve grimly. “The lesson was that if you want to get anywhere you’d better not depend on anyone but yourself.” That fall he borrowed five pounds (about $15) from a Belfast pal and boarded a boat back to Liverpool, lugging a cheap guitar that was kicking around the house. The battered box occupies a place of honor by Steve’s fireplace today. In London it practically saved his life. He got there after hitching the long stretch from Liverpool. But he didn’t know a soul and his stake was all of ten shillings. He found a job at Lyon’s Corner House, a chain cafeteria on Piccadilly Circus, pouring coffee and carting out dirty dishes for four pounds a week, and a room for thirty shillings. The job was okay, although he worked twelve hours a day, but the room was pretty grim. It was actually a tiny hall, four by nine feet, “and you had to edge in sidewise or you’d step right into the bed,” recalls Steve. “There wasn’t a window, but there was a door out to the garden. The other roomers had to go through my place to get out.” That was bearable as long as he just slept there nights.
But after he’d saved up ten pounds, Billy quit his bus-boy job to make the agent’s rounds, with plenty of no luck. He was about broke again when that fog rolled in. Undernourished anyway, Billy was a set-up for pneumonia-flu. He was desperately sick for a whole month. In the midst of this his landlady demanded her rent and when he couldn’t come up with it, ordered him out. Next day was the dead-line. “It’s funny what you can do,” reflects Steve Boyd, “when you have to.” What he did was to somehow drag himself and his guitar down to Leicester Square that night. In front of the Empire Theater long lines of ticket buyers queued up. Billy Millar started ‘busking.’ Whanging his guitar, he croaked out the folk songs he knew from childhood, Star of the County Down, Just a Poor Way- farin’ Stranger and such. People tossed him pennies and sometimes a shilling. That was Stephen Boyd’s first London performance, and for him it was a big success. “Not because of my music,” admits Steve, “but because I looked like I’d drop dead if they didn’t tip me. I probably would have, too.”
But a nice little racket like ‘busking’ was not overlooked in crowded London. There were pro ‘buskers;’ they even had a union. Pretty soon a goon squad chased wobbly Billy Millar off the Square. By then he had enough for his first meal in a week, and a pound to stall off the land- lady. He bolted the meal — veal schnitzel and beer — bought a small bottle of brandy and a packet of aspirin. Back in his room he downed those and crawled in between the sheets. Twenty hours later he woke up in a sea of sweat. But he’d had that wonderful dream. He felt just great.
From that low point the only way Billy could go was up. Not very far up, at first. But the doorman’s job he snagged next at the Odeon Theatre, with its gorgeous uniform, triggered the break he was hunting. Billy was so impressive in the glittering rig that, when they staged the British Academy Awards at the Leicester Square Cinema across the way, someone grabbed him to usher in the winners. Billy took stars up to emcee Michael Redgrave, all that evening. At the end Redgrave, a star himself in London, politely inquired just what the hell Billy was doing in that field marshal’s uniform parking cars and opening doors?
“You’re an actor, aren’t you?”
“How did you know?”
“I can tell,” said Mike, “by the way you handle yourself. Why aren’t you acting?”
So Billy told him his sad story: Nobody would give him a job. After a chat, Redgrave said maybe he could fix that. He gave Billy a note to the director of the Windsor Repertory Group, and Billy took a train up the next day. Luckily, they were just casting a play and needed a boy for — of all things — Little Women. He hired Billy for the part of Laurie, and, says Steve, “Was I ever lousy!” But they kept him on and, after a few plays, his second good luck angel zeroed in. This one was Derek Marr, a London agent. Before, whenever Billy Millar had busted into London agents’ offices they’d practically called the bobbies to boot him out. Of course, Marr hadn’t come to Windsor to see Billy. He had a client who starred in the show. But, like a lot of other people since, he saw something in the handsome young Ulsterman that Billy couldn’t see in himself. The day Marr took on Billy as a client things began to change. “In fact,” says Steve, “everything good that happened to me up to Ben-Hur I owe to him.”
Derek switched Billy’s name to Stephen Boyd, for one thing. He lent him money to operate. He took him to West End tailors and taught him how to dress, tamed his wild Irish mop at the barber’s. He calmed him down, took his dreamy head out of the clouds and planted his feet on the ground. Best of all, he forced out Stephen Boyd’s thunderclap personality. “It was the turning point for me,” Steve believes. “Until then I kept myself inside myself. I wouldn’t let anything out to hit people with, on stage or off.” In no time he was hitting them hard. At both the Guildford Repertory and Midland Group in Coventry, where Marr steered Steve, he played leads and collected rave notices. When he came back to London he took on TV and soon could pick and choose his scripts. “So I picked and I chose,” grins Steve, “and I starved.” Not like he had that time before, of course; what Steve means is that he was stubborn about doing the right ones, and you don’t get rich saying “No.” “I didn’t care,” he says. “I developed almost a religious feeling about what I did. I guess you’d have called me a long-haired actor. Maybe I was. But it was the happiest time of my life.” And in the end, it paid off. Steve took on a job in a TV play called Barnett’s Folly, which no other London actor would touch with a ten foot pole. He played an idiotic weakling. Well, it just won him a nomination for an English Emmy, and a contract with Sir Alexander Korda for movies. In fact, it pointed Stephen Boyd toward Hollywood, although he certainly didn’t know that then.
Because, after a couple of break-in movies for Korda, Steve played an Irish spy in a war thriller, The Man Who Never Was. and that put him up for a British Oscar, only three years after he’d ushered other winners in his doorman’s rig. Then Korda died and Twentieth Century-Fox inherited Steve’s contract. But it took them two years to get him to Hollywood. Most of that time, Steve Boyd played loan out jobs in England and around Europe. And in that time, there were more changes made. With a decent income, he moved into a Kensington flat, built up a smart wardrobe, even bought himself a second-hand Vauxhall to run around in. He got away from London for some trips to Italy and “the South of France. A picture in Paris helped his education along. So did women.
He made a picture called Seven Thunders with French actress Anna Gaylor and lightning struck them both. Anna, -who still acts in Paris, is in Steve’s words, “beautiful, fascinating and a true artist.” The liaison lasted for 18 months and Steve still hasn’t forgotten Anna. In fact, he still writes her now and then. Like all romantic involvements since, it ended without hard feelings. “It always comes to the point where either you do or you don’t,” explains Steve simply. ”Anna and I reached that point and we made the right decision. But she was very, very good for me.”
Steve signed for The Night That Heaven Fell before he’d laid eyes on Brigitte Bardot. When he did, he got an excellent view. Roger Vadim. Bardot’s first husband, took Steve to Brigitte’s Paris apartment to meet her. She met them wearing only a smile. “I know,” announced BB in her cutest English, “that I’m going to enjoy working weeth you varee mooch.” All Steve could stammer was, “My name’s Stephen Boyd.”‘ But Brigitte was right: she thoroughly enjoyed working with Steve —and it was very much vice versa.
Steve and Brigitte
They shot most of the film in Spain, and Steve says frankly, “She’s a great companion. Around Brigitte you feel more alive than you normally do. She has the most animal in her of any woman I’ve ever known. As a person, I’m still a fan. She’s a remarkable girl,” he confesses. Brigitte was so remarkable that, after five months as her leading man, Steve had to take a vacation in Wales to recuperate. He was finally summoned by Fox to Hollywood, in January, ’58. Once he started making movies. Steve had always itched to come to America, but the closest he’d got was the West Indies with Island in the Sun. “I had a special reason,” reveals Steve, “and it wasn’t money. I thought American writers turned out the kind of things that were right for me. Americans and Irish have a close affinity. They’re both gutsy.”
If Steve longed for the gutsy bit in Hollywood, he got it, pronto. To prepare him for that western badman the studio sent Steve out to Fat Jones’ riding stable. Steve’s rear was just getting used to riding Western style down in Mexico, when Derek Marr cabled him about Ben Hur. He barely had time to collect his things in Hollywood before he was back in Europe. He reported to Rome in April, 1958. this time to learn how to drive horses instead of ride them — four big, black ones from Yugoslavia. Several times they bolted away, once crashing Steve through a high fence. That was just a sample of things to come. Making Ben Hur was “a fabulous experience” for Steve Boyd. In fact, plenty of times he felt as did General Lew Wallace, who wrote the epic, “My God. did I set all this in motion?”
Each morning Steve had to sweat out having his dyed hair curled. All day he had to bear the cutting pain of contact lenses to tint his blue eyes brown. He could see only straight ahead through a tiny peephole, so he was always bumping into things and had to be led around the huge Cinecitta studio sets. The armor he wore was heavy steel. Under the sizzling Italian sun it got so hot that wardrobe boys had to wear gloves to remove it, so you can imagine how Steve fried underneath. What was left of Steve’s skin got peeled when they plastered him with blood-and-muck makeup for his death scenes. It took three men three hours each time to strip off the rubber adhesive and red goo. Today his skin still bleeds when- ever he gets run down. As for the risky chariot spills — Steve figures he’s alive today only because Yakima Canutt, Hollywood’s stunt wizard, taught him tricks to stay in one piece.
But while Steve Boyd kept his life those six months in Italy, he lost his heart almost the day Ben Hur started. Mariella di Sarzana was Rome representative for MCA, the big talent agency. MCA handles Steve, so Mariella had instruction from Hollvwood to “take good care of Stephen Boyd.” She did. Steve often worked from six o’clock in the morning until nine at night. But afterwards and on weekends he viewed the beauty and grandeur of Rome through the eyes of romance. Mariella, in Steve’s words, is “a beautiful, sophisticated, intelligent woman. She speaks eight languages, has great taste, sense of values and understanding of artists. She’s full of entertainment and charm.” He concludes, “Ours was a wonderful courtship of two people in love.”
From May until August they visited the Colosseum in the moonlight, prowled the museums and ruins, the Vatican. St. John’s Lateran and such. On weekends they drove in Steve’s little MG down to Anzio and Naples or up to Florence. With Mariella Steve saw sights tourists never see because Rome was her home. Special views from hilltops, hidden cafes, quiet gardens and fountains off the beaten path. And sometimes just quiet dinners alone together at Steve’s apartment in the Termecaracaldi section or at Mariella’s in the Parioli. One blue sky day in Sperlonga, a beautiful seaside village. Steve asked Mariella to marry him and got the right answer — or so they both deeply believed then. When he had five days off, they flew to London and were married. Steve’s British citizenship made arrangements faster there.
Back in Rome, Steve and Mariella lived together exactly one month to the day. When Ben Hur ended, he flew off to London alone. Every night for two weeks they talked long distance trying to find out what had gone wrong. They never did. Then Steve flew to Hollywood to make Woman Obsessed with Susan Hayward. Last February Mariella travelled there, too — to get a divorce.
Stephen Boyd still struggles to explain to himself what happened. “I really don’t know for sure,” he admits. “I suppose I wasn’t ready for marriage. Maybe I was still too much of an adolescent. There are so many things to think about before you take that step and I didn’t think them through. I wish to hell it had worked.”
Steve Boyd carries no torch. But after his experience he thinks another marriage is a long way off for him, even though he’ll be a free man this March. “I’ll get married again,” he promises himself. “I think I need marriage. But I’ve got to come to terms with myself and my work first.” Meanwhile, he’s playing the field, if you can call it that. The only framed photograph Steve keeps in his apartment is one of a fascinating blonde named Valerie Till. Steve helped her father, Antony, come over from England and establish himself in Hollywood in the auto business. Recently, Valerie got a job as a model. She’s five vears old.
In Hollywood, Steve Boyd leads the life of a typical bachelor, but not a typical Hollywood bachelor. His pad is a comfortable old, pink-tinted duplex in the unfashionable part of town. Since Ben-Hur a secretary comes in some days to handle his ballooning fan mail, but that’s about his only luxury. The small Falcon he owns is the first new car he’s driven and he still wears the tailored suits he bought in London. He drinks only beer, skips parties and night clubs and squanders $25 a week that his business manager doles out. Partly, this is because in some years, 87 per cent of Steve’s four-figure paycheck vanishes with double taxes — to Britain and Uncle Sam, too. Partly, it’s because he likes to send money home. Besides, there’s still a lot of Irish in Steve Boyd and he can’t forget his poor Belfast beginnings. He has bought his mother and father a house in Belfast.
But mainly, the reason Steve operates quietly despite the furor of his big hit, is that that’s the way he likes it. “I’m often alone,” he’ll confess, “but I’m never lonely.” Steve still has his dream to keep him company. Most nights Steve Boyd settles down to work on that at home. He shuts off the phone, turns on the hi-fi for background music, gets out his tape recorder and stack of scripts. Any part will do. He’s still working on Messala, for instance, although Ben-Hur has been playing for months. For that matter, he’s still polishing up his drunk in The Best of Everything, the spy in The Man Who Never Was — and back beyond. Sometimes he forgets the clock and it’s daylight before the well runs dry. Then Steve blanks out on his king-size bed and it might be midnight again before his belly feels like an empty mail sack and wakes him up. He goes out, wolfs a big steak and feels fine. If some people think him crazy, that’s okay with Steve. He thinks they’re nuts when they call him “another Gable”.
Because Stephen Boyd knows, only too well, that he’s nobody but himself. Yet sometimes he’s not sure who that is, either. “All I’m really certain about,” he says, somewhat pensively, “is that it’s getting to be a very complicated world.” That it is for Stephen Boyd, since Ben Hur. And the plot seems due to thicken, day by day. But, thick or thin, five will get you ten that Mrs. Millar’s boy, who still believes in leprechauns, keeps the luck of the Irish, enough of their tricks — and, above all, his right to dream.
Stephen is currently co-starring in Ben-Hur, MGM.