Stephen Boyd filming “Jumbo” at MGM Studios 1962 – The Circus Maximus

Below are some nice newspaper ads for “Jumbo” starring Doris Day and Stephen Boyd when the movie was released in December of 1962, and a few funny stories about the filming of the movie in early 1962 at the MGM Culver City Studio. The film was so big that it covered two enormous lots and two large stage sets at MGM!

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“MGM hasn’t seen anything like it since the Circus Maximus – if then. “Billy Rose’s Jumbo” (as they are calling it now) is all over the place…The elephants are housed on Lot 2; so are the horses being trained for Doris Day…The picture is spilling all over the sprawling Culver City studio. The main tent has been erected twice–on Lot 3, about a mile from the studio proper measuring 130×180 ft, and capable of seating 2,000 people, and on Stage 15, MGM’s largest. Here the actual circus acts, some 50 in number, will be shot, and here Miss Day Stephen Boyd and others will perform on trapeze and tightrope.

The big top on Lot 3 is surrounded by a menagerie, a mess tent, a wardrobe tent, wagons, and a sideshow, complete with a merry-go-round. Still another stage, 29, will be utilized for filming the close-up dramatic scenes.

The Los Angeles Times, Feb 7, 1962

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“On the set of MGM’s “Jumbo,” Stephen Boyd, who appears opposite Doris Day as a high-wire specialist and clown, recalled his own humble beginning as a London street busker, or funny man. He remembered that a Bobby watched him try to raise a crowd to earn a few pennies. The policeman sauntered over and said : “After you’re through bein’ funny, mate, you can join the mourners at St. Paul’s.”

The Los Angeles Times, Feb 25, 1962

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Stephen Boyd, co-starring with Doris Day in MGM’s “Jumbo,” discovered, much to his discomfort, that the sequence in which he goes into the cage and subdues a lion was scheduled for the last day of shooting. So Boyd went to the animal’s trainer to ask about the lions culinary habits. “Oh,” the trainer said nonchalantly, “I wouldn’t worry too much about Pete. He’s ferocious looking, but he’s from Italy, and over there he chomped up so many martyrs in those Italian movies that I don’t think he’d go for you.” Boyd retreated as gracefully as possible and was heard muttering: “I played Messala in ‘Ben-Hur’ and I don’t think you could call him a martyr.”

The Los Angeles Times, April 29, 1962

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“Jumbo” has completed filming at MGM, and a variety of amusing incidents during production have been noted here and elsewhere. There was one on the final day when Stephen Boyd was called upon to drive a farm wagon drawn by a spirited horse. After Boyd finished his rehearsals, director Charles Walters commented :”That’s great, Steve, but can you come around that curve a little faster?” The star answered with a question: “Didn’t you see ‘Ben-Hur’?”

The Los Angeles Times, August 26, 1962

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Stephen Boyd, a Rolls-Royce and a Chariot!

In early 1963 Stephen Boyd, a man who loved his automobiles, became the proud owner of a brand new Rolls-Royce, which apparently was delivered to him while he was filming “The Fall of the Roman Empire” in Spain. The two humorous anecdotes below about Boyd’s new car are from the Los Angeles Times.

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“Chariot Race Champ Drives Rolls-Royce”

Feb 17, 1963  Los Angeles Times

Stephen Boyd has become the unchallenged modern chariot champion. Because of his work in “Ben-Hur” and the currently shooting “Fall of the Roman Empire,” Boyd qualifies as the Sterling Moss of the chariot set and the Donald Campbell of the Roman racers. “Five years ago I made ‘Ben-Hur’ and people still call me ‘Messala,'” the actor said. “It makes you wonder how far you can go in life without a chariot. I figure they have taken me farther than a conscientious Roman Red Arrow messenger.”  A Rolls-Royce owner off the set, Steve says chariots compare favorably to modern vehicles as far as safety is concerned. “The auto driver forgets he has a hundred times more horses in his hands than the charioteer, but he isn’t one-tenth as careful.”

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Stephen Boyd shows off his chariot riding skills during the making of “The Fall of the Roman Empire” in early 1963 in Spain.

May 19, 1963  Los Angeles Times

Hardy passers-by braving a rugged location of Samuel Bronston’s “Fall of the Roman Empire” in the Guadarrama mountains of Spain, witnessed the arrival of a brand new Rolls-Royce from which alighted two royal Romans in full regalia and a man in a red snow suit. They were actors Stephen Boyd, owner of the car, Christopher Plummer and director Anthony Mann. En route, Boyd had extolled the virtues of his new auto, not even sparing that bit about hearing only the clock. As he and Plummer mounted their chariots, Mann growled to Boyd : “This AD 180, two horsepower, no stand-up top sports coupe is hardly as smooth running as your Rolls. But if you don’t give me a more exciting ride in it than you just did in that gold-plated hearse, I’ll let you lose this one too…just as you did in ‘Ben-Hur.'”

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Boyd, Mann and Plummer in snow-bound Spain during the filming of “The Fall of The Roman Empire”

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Stephen Boyd (as Messala) talks about that famous chariot race in “Ben-Hur”

Stephen Boyd gives a fun, facetious account of how Messala should have run that famous chariot race!

Stephen Boyd Interview from The Miami News July 10, 1960

The Good Guys Finish Last

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by Art Buchwald

Paris  – The greatest race of the year was in the motion picture “Ben Hur.” The winner of the race was Charlton Heston, who received an Academy Award for it. The loser was Stephen Boyd, who, as Messala, was the favorite until he got knocked out in the seventh round. Mr. Boyd is now in Paris making a filme called “The Big Gamble” for Darryl F. Zanuck. The picture stars Mr. Boyd, David Wayne and Juliette Greco.

When we saw Mr. Boyd on the set he still felt he should have won the race. He believes that if he had won, things would have been a lot different for him now.

“I should have used my spikes sooner,” he said. “It was my fault.”

For those who haven’t seen the picture, the chariot race, which goes on for about fifteen minutes, is its establishing feature. Messala has challenged Ben-Hur and, unbeknownst to Ben-Hur, has fitted a razor-sharp spike to this chariot to cut the spokes of Ben-Hur’s wheel. This, according to the Imperial Chariot Jockey Club, was fair.

“What went wrong?” we asked Mr. Boyd. “Did your trainer give you bad advice?”

“No,” he replied, “I never took orders from anyone. I had won my last seven races and I figured this would be a piece of cake. I bet more money on myself than I had ever bet before. The only thing that bugged me was that Ben-Hur intended to ride a clean race, which is much more dangerous. I should have fixed his chariot before the race, but I was over-confident.”

“It happens a lot with Romans.”

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“My strategy was perfect,” he said. “I was running second on the first round on the outside, an excellent position. If anyone tried to pass me I could knock him against the Spina, the giant inside wall of the track.

“I wasn’t worried about the other chariots. Most of them were dogs and broken-down pace-setters. But my big mistake was the way I played it when Ben-Hur made his move.”

Mr.  Boyd relives it as if it had only happened yesterday. “I should have gone for his wheel with my blade. Instead, I decided to close in and whip him. I had ripped open the side of his chariot, and instead of concentrating on his axle, I tried to pull his wheel off. It was a great mistake, because I pulled off mine instead.

“But everyone had complained over the fact that I used my whip on Ben-Hur. Why don’t they mention that he used his whip on me? My trainer complained to the stewards after the race was over, but even after viewing the film they gave Ben-Hur the race.”

Mr. Boyd said he had an opportunity to do away with Ben-Hur in the third round, but he became overconfident. “I should have killed when I had the chance. Maybe then I would have gotten the Academy Award.”

Instead Ben-Hur killed Mr. Boyd, this ruling out a chance for a rematch.

“What is your advise to other young charioteers?” we asked.

“If you’ve got a blade on your wheel, use it. If you try to use your whip on the other guy, you don’t have enough control of your horses. Chariot racing is a dirty business and the good guys finish last.”

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Stephen Boyd: IRISHMAN IN A TOGA

The handsome villain of Ben Hur is slated for a second Roman epic—but he’s proving he can handle other kinds of roles, too.

By Peer J. Oppenheimer

The Evening Review Jan 12, 1963

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Stephen Boyd thundered into the movie spotlight as the villainous chariot driver Messala in ‘Ben Hur.’ But, to the distress of himself and his newly won fans, he thundered right out again in a series of unspectaculars that gave him little chance to prove his acting ability. There was new hope for stardom when the handsome Irishman landed another Roman role, that of Mark Anthony in ‘Cleopatra.’ But the production of that picture dragged on endlessly, and when the film was finally made, Richard Burton- as everyone knows by now- played the starring role opposite Liz Taylor.

Now, however, Steve’s career looks promising again. He is about to don a toga to portray the lead in a multi-million-dollar production of ‘The Fall of The Roman Empire’ opposite Sophia Loren. After that he will return to Hollywood to make ‘The San Franciscans.’

The later will be his second film for Joe Pasternak. The first is the newly released ‘Jumbo,’ a circus musical in which Steve shows talent as a song-and-dance man. Actually, his musical accomplishments came as no surprise to those who remembered that he is a skilled guitar player who once sang for his meals!

“When I was broke, I used to walk along the queues outside the theaters in London singing folk songs to my own accompaniment and then pass around my cap to collect coins. We call this ‘busking’ at home. I did all right till the buskers’ union caught up with me and chased me away from my favorite spot- thus cutting short my musical career!”

Steve’s trying years in London began when he arrived there at 20, fresh from his native Belfast in Northern Ireland. Life had been difficult at home for the youngest of nine children of a poor truck driver- but it turned out to be even more difficult in the big, impersonal British capital. Steve wanted to find theatrical work, but it wasn’t to be had, so he took whatever odd jobs he could get. At one time his invoice was so low that he became ill from malnutrition. Yet it was one of his odd jobs that finally got him a break as an actor.

He was working as an usher at the theater where the British Film Annual Awards were presented. When he helped Sir Michael Redgrave on stage, the well-known British star smiled and said, “I’m not sure that you aren’t one of the best actors on the stage tonight…”

“I am an actor,” Steve replied promptly.

“So what are you doing as an usher?” Redgrave asked.

Steve told him he was out of work. For the first time in his life, Redgrave backed a hunch by recommending someone for a job whom he had never seen act. The result was several weeks of work with a theatrical stock company, which soon was followed by bit parts in movies and tv plays.

The turning point of Steve’s career came in 1958 when he won the part of Messala in ‘Ben-Hur’ – a role that almost cost his life when he insisted on doing 90 percent of the chariot racing himself rather than use a stunt man. “I did my own dragging, and at  one point I had the chariot right on top of me. We were going about 30 miles an hour at the time. A good part of the skin came off my back.”

But after “Ben Hur’, the parts that followed did not live up to expectations. “So when Joe Pasternak offered me the lead in ‘Jumbo’ opposite Doris Day, I jumped at the opportunity- particularly since it was a musical and offered me a change of pace, “ Steve said.

Steve is not bitter about his struggle in Hollywood. His life has conditioned him to hard work and patience. He likes to tell of his first visit home after his success in ‘Ben Hur’. When he arrived at the Belfast airport, his father approached him, held out his hand, and said simply, “Nice to see you.” Steve leaned over to kiss his mother. “From then on, “ he recalled, “everything was back to normal, just as if I’d never left home.”

“To an outside this may seem formal, “Stephen admitted, “But it’s characteristic of the Irish. We don’t believe in a show of emotion, but affection is there and open to you when you want it and need it. I prefer this kind of attitude to that which I feel is so typical of Hollywood. Putting up a front to impress others can never have any meaning to me. Not the way I was raised!”

The 31-year-old bachelor puts into practice the philosophy he inherited from his parents. In spite of his success, he lives in a modest home, drives a rented compact car, associates primarily with non-movie people, and shows a disinterest in worldly goods that is particularly surprising considering the poverty he knew as a youth.