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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Movieland Wax Museum “Ben-Hur” Display

Sadly, this iconic wax museum which had so many classic movie displays is no more (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Movieland_Wax_Museum), but I was able to find this awesome postcard on Ebay which must have been sold at their gift shop when they were in business. It shows in nice detail the amazing “Ben-Hur” wax display.  Messala (a very nice likeness of Stephen Boyd, I must say) can be seen in the foreground in his gold/black attire, bloodied and defeated as Judah Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston) rides by with his four white steeds in triumph. Messala’s toppled red and gold chariot can be seen prominently as well. What a nice display this was!

“One of the most dramatic new sets at Movieland Wax Museum “The Stars’ Hall of Fame” in Buena Park, is a startlingly realistic recreation of the famous chariot race scene from the 1959 Academy Award-winning motion picture, “Ben-Hur.” Charlton Heston, who won the 1959 Best Actor laurels for his portrayal of the film’s title character, drives a team of horses around the great track, speeding his chariot to victory. His friend-turned-enemy, portrayed by Stephen Boyd, lies bloody and broken next to his overturned chariot in the dirt of the ring. Thousands of citizens of Rome (portrayed on the elaborate backdrop) cheer the victor: “Ben-Hur.”

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Meet Stephen Boyd , the ‘Bad Boy’ of “Ben-Hur”

 

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Stephen Boyd Prefers Villain Role in ‘Ben-Hur’

According to legend, the actor who performs Hamlet on the stage or the tenor who sings Pagliacci in opera often as not is a happy-go-lucky, care-free fellow around the house. On the other hand, the show business comedian most like will be serious minded and unsmiling when his day’s work is ended.

By the same token, the villain who chases a virtuous heroine through thirteen reels of a movie might well be the personable boy-next-door type away from the job. Stephen Boyd, the rugged Irish actor who portrays Messala in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s Academy Award-winning “Ben- Hur,” is a case in point. In the spectacular film, based on Gen. Lew Wallace’s famous novel, Messala is just about as ornery a cuss as a writer could dream up. “Ben-Hur” is now playing at the Cameo Theatre.

He doesn’t bat an eye when he sentences his best friend to the galleys. Nor does he flinch as he condemns the friend’s mother and sister, both of whom helped nurse him through childhood. He is unmoved when, years later, he learns they’re in a leper colony. And in the climactic chariot race of “Ben-Hur,” Messala uses the foulest and most unsportsmanlike means at his command in an effort to emerge the victor. In short, he is not exactly the type a girl would want to take home to meet mother.

Yet Stephen Boyd, who enjoyed to the hilt playing the villain, was so popular with members of the film’s Italian-British-American crew in Rome that, when his assignment was completed they presented him with a gold clock emblematic of their affection.

Boyd is the kind of a man who was born to make friends and he has been doing it most of his life. Away from the job, that is. As an actor he has made villainy his specialty.

It was his portrayal of a conniving spy in “The Man Who Never Was” that brought him to the attention of Hollywood and of Brigitte Bardot almost simultaneously. The French actress wanted him for her leading man in “The Night Heaven Fell” and a Hollywood studio wanted to place him under long term contract.

Boyd first acted the part of a heel opposite Miss Bardot in her film, then went to Hollywood, where he now makes his home. He was signed by MGM for “Ben-Hur” after Director William Wyler has seen him acting mean in “The Bravados.”

“After all,” he says,”in most plays and movies it’s the villain who is the most interesting. Even in Shakespeare, except for Hamlet, the really meaty roles are those of the bad fellows.”

Boyd is a blue-eyed, curly-haired chunk of masculinity, who makes no attempt to hide the fact that he just plain likes people. On the set of “Ben-Hur” he rarely occupied the fancy portable dressing room set aside for his use. Instead, he spent his time between scenes sitting around and chatting with electricians, carpenters and his fellow actors. He will discuss any subject and enjoys a good argument. he can , like most Irishmen, sprinkle his talk with wit as well as sagacity.

Boyd began early in his life to talk his way in and out of situations. In fact, he talked his way into a job at the age of eight. Born in Belfast, the youngest of nine children, he began contributing to the family’s support when he appeared on a BBC radio broadcast.

The Evening Standard, October 14, 1960, Pennsylvania

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