Oscar Awards : Shouldn’t Stephen Boyd have been nominated for his role in “Ben-Hur”?

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Stephen Boyd…outspoken Irishman

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.”

Changing Rules

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.”

Fatalistic View

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.

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Stephen Boyd attends the Academy Awards, April 4, 1960

Stephen Boyd attended the 32nd Academy Awards on April 4, 1960 at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/32nd_Academy_Awards)

On his arm that evening as his date was a young woman named Romney Tree, who was a Belfast socialite whom Steve had met at a Christmas party given by Vincent Price. The two realized they had met before four years earlier in Belfast, according to Screenland Magazine (Nov 1960).

This was a HUGE night for Stephen as Ben Hur was nominated for 12 Academy Awards that evening, and by the end of the night it had won 11 of those awards, including Charlton Heston for Best Actor. Sadly, Stephen was not even nominated for his performance as Messala, even though he had won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor.  Apparently that fact was the elephant in the room that night. Hedda Hopper was puzzled, as were several other Hollywood press writers. This was Hedda’s comment:

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Apparently the studio had forbidden Boyd to pick up Griffith’s award in person should Griffith not attend the ceremony:  Hugh Griffith was nominated for the Best Supporting Actor for Ben Hur instead of Boyd. Griffith was on hand to receive this award, so that awkwardness was avoided.

Stephen took the evening in stride, however, and was the first to congratulate Charlton Heston on his award at the after parties.  Here was a few pics of Stephen that evening.

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Can you find Stephen Boyd  in the crowd?

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