Stephen Boyd Talks about “Slaves” , Civil Rights, Scientology and Cleopatra!
August 1, 1969, Detroit Free Press by Bruce Vilanch
For a man who made his name getting dragged through the mud, Stephen Boyd is surprisingly clean.
His teeth really sparkle, his eyes shine bright, he appears to have full power in all his four limbs- he’s in great shape.
This will assure the thousands who became concerned when Boyd spent the better part of 15 minutes under the hoofs of eight galloping stallions pulling his chariot to oblivion in “Ben-Hur.”
A sizeable portion of skin and bone was sliced off the Boyd body during that scene, all so Charlton Heston could go on to victory in Rome and and Oscar in California.
Undaunted, Boyd picked up his pieces and headed for Hollywood, and Irish heartthrob-in-a-toga, to star in such treasures as “The Fall of the Roman Empire,” “Caper of the Golden Bulls” and America’s trash classic, “The Oscar.”
He married (a whirlwind union of 23 days), divorced and was quoted as proclaiming “the only difference between Doris Day, Sophia Loren and Brigitte Bardot is their hair styles.”
He walked out of “Cleopatra” and into “Jumbo” (in which he shared billing with an elephant) and “Fantastic Voyage” (in which he plunged lymph gland rapids with Raquel Welch).
He even played the heavy in “Genghis Khan.”
It has not been a dull life for Stephen Boyd.
The new Boyd, minus the blue eyes (they were contact lenses) and the massive shoulders (that was padding), stands over six feet tall and is dashingly handsome, but in a decidedly un-Hollywood, non-glamour-boy way. He is finished with Biblical pictures, gladiator spectacles and other trappings of imperial majesty and, in his latest film, plays an enigmatic, yet evil plantation owner in Mississippi circa 1850.
The picture, “Slaves” and was shot on what in movies they call “a shoestring” (small fortune.) Boyd says no one would back “Slaves” until he signed on as its star. “That helped them raise at least some of the money,” he says.
“No one would back ‘Slaves’ because it is about an explosive situation which is explosive only because no one understands it.”
The picture tries to make a statement all about Now and how voices in the black community clamor alternatively for blood and quiet. Stephen Boyd thinks this is the value of “Slaves.”
“Civil rights 100 years from now should not be discussed. Civil rights of today is what is important. I joined the civil rights movement years ago,” the former British subject, now American citizen says. “I gave my word years ago to help. Now I want to find out if their programs are getting to the people they’re supposed to be getting to.”
“I feel a picture like ‘Slaves,’ which addresses itself to some of America’s current problems, is something of a moral obligation for me. As soon as I have fulfilled some of my moral obligations, I can begin making money doing other things so I can have time to fulfill some more.”
The whole idea of moral obligation and responsibility for one’s fellow man, as well as responsibility to oneself, fills up a great deal of Boyd’s conversation. He speaks of co-workers as if they were close relatives, not just contractual partners.
“I was a guest on one of those New York radio panel shows and they were talking about Judy Garland,” he says, “one fellow, I won’t mention his name its so sickening, was carrying on about how she was a no-talent, a faggot hero. It’s disgusting what some people will say in public.”
In an attempt to find his own mind amidst such goings-on, Boyd has turned to scientology, a voguish new faith whose speakers turn up regularly on college campuses to lecture for $2.50 a throw.
“I don’t think anything should be suspect because it costs money,” he says. He calls scientology “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.”
Basically, scientologists meditate, usually in the presence of a spiritual supervisor, teaching themselves to be open in order to learn. One who has truly opened himself can be elevated to the position of Clear. Stephen Boyd has elevated himself to OC 6, a position beneath that of Clear. It took him nine months.
“Slaves” did not take him quite so long to accomplish, and, hopefully, it will give him equal peace-of-mind. What it certainly will not do is anything big for Stephen Boyd’s career. This he knows and accepts, as he has accepted everything since he walked away from the most expensive movie of all time.
“It was in the original version of ‘Cleopatra,’ the one to be shot in London. I was to play Marc Antony opposite Elizabeth Taylor, with Rouben Mamoulian directing, but Elizabeth got sick and everything stopped.
““I was outside the hospital door that day with Eddie (Miss Taylor’s fourth husband, singer Eddie Fisher) when the doctors came out and told us her had one hour to live. It was one of the saddest, most pathetic moments I can recall. But somehow she pulled through – nothing ever stops her when she wants something.
“Unfortunately, I couldn’t wait around until they decided to shoot. The script was being rewritten, there was a new director, the whole Shaw and Shakespeare concept of a personal drama was being thrown out in favor or spectacle. So I left. They gave my part to a fellow named Richard Burton. They even gave him my costume, and to this day every time he sees me, he says ‘Jesus, you’ve got big feet!”
“He doesn’t even mention my chest,” Stephen Boyd says, with that serene scientologist’s smile.
How the ancients’ love of chariot racing became a metaphor for the human condition.
♥️ A little philosophy about Love and the Soul for Valentine’s Day!
The amazing cast of The Fall of the Roman Empire. From left to right; Anthony Quayle, Mel Ferrer, James Mason, Stephen Boyd, Alex Guiness, Sophia Loren, Christopher Plummer, Omar Sharif and John Ireland
The Fall of the Roman Empire was produced by Samuel Bronston, directed by Anthony Mann (el Cid) and filmed in Spain in the winter and spring of 1963. This is my favorite movie of all time, so I will say emphatically that I cannot be objective about it. I simply love it too much. The film not only has an outstanding international cast, incredible performances and an amazing musical score by Dmitri Tiomkin (that pipe organ introduction still gives me goose-bumps each time I hear it!), but it also features some absolutely stunning set pieces, realistic Roman battles, Roman architecture and stunning scenery. The Fall of the Roman Empire is actually a favorite flick among Roman scholars because it truly captures the mood and tone of Gibbon’s dark second century Rome brilliantly. Gore Vidal, in his book Palimpsest, says “the only ‘accurate’ Roman film that I’ve ever seen- in appearance that is- was The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.” In fact historian Will Durant was on-set to offer his advise about the script. I’m sure he received a handsome paycheck to overlook some of the historical inaccuracies. Nevertheless this film is as close as you can get to a true depiction of Roman Imperial life in the 2nd century A.D (at least, Hollywood-style). It is full of quandaries and conflicts, none of which are truly resolved. In my opinion it is a film that reflects a Stoic perspective on life itself.
It contains an assorted of characters, all of which are flawed in one way or another; the philosophic emperor (Alex Guinness) who is idealistic and grand yet the father of a profligate son (Christopher Plummer); the daughter of the emperor (Sophia Loren) who is beautiful yet bitter and hateful towards her mother; the imperial son (Commodus) who not worthy of his father but who ends up ruling anyway, only to discover he is the bastard son of a gladiator (Anthony Quayle); the emperor’s advisor (James Mason) who is a philosopher himself despite being born a slave; and finally the Roman General (Stephen Boyd) who is loved by the emperor, his son and his daughter because he is a moral man and the ideal stoic Roman, but yet is a tacit force in the downfall of the Empire he so loves. Livius is powerless to control the events taking place around him, or at least unwilling to take power himself until no options are left. He walks away from his chance to become Emperor…twice! But after we see the kind of conniving and evil men in the political machine, do we blame him for giving up and walking away at the end of the film? Its questions like these which make me watch this movie over and over again. Besides that, it perfectly captures the Roman world teetering on the brink of the “Time of Chaos”, which would take place at the end of the Severan era around 235 AD, 55 years after the death of Marcus Aurelius.
To summarize the movie, Marcus Aurelius, played superbly by Sir Alex Guinness, prefers to have the morally upright Livius to his corrupt son Commodus. Livius is in love with the Emperor’s daughter, and his is good friends with the Emperor’s son as well. The Emperor reveals his desire to name Livius his heir to become the next Emperor. Livius i stunned – if not downright shaken by the prospect. He reveals this turn of events to none other than Commodus himself, who has just arrived from Rome. The revelation sinks into Commodus and produces taut friction between the two men. A stunning chariot race is the product of this tension which careens down the road of a steep mountain and alongside a rushing river. It has the shades, of course, of the famous “Ben-Hur” race, especially seeing Stephen Boyd in the mix, but this time he is driving the team of white horses!
However, when the Emperor dies abruptly due to poisoning by a scheming haruspex (Mel Ferrer) without officially declaring Livius to be his heir, Livius is presented with a huge quandary. Should he stage a takeover and risk an ugly civil war and at the same time marry the woman he loves, keeping her from the King of Armenia? The risk is paramount: he would be doubted as the legitimate heir. ‘Caesar must be undoubted Caesar,’ he gently tries to explain to his love, Lucilla. So instead Livius does the only thing left for him to do. He presents the logical successor to Marcus Aurelius – his friend and already co- emperor Commodus – the the troops as Caesar. This ensures continued peace in the Empire and the undying loyalty of Commodus as well. Unfortunately, this choice comes at a huge cost; Livius loses Lucilla to an Armenian Prince (Omar Sharif) and he puts the power of the Empire into hands of the unstable and reckless Commodus. As Livius states: “There are only two possibilities, and both are impossible. That is a dilemma.”
Once Commodus has consolidated his power, a battle of wills ensues between his favorite General – our Livius- and Timonides (James Mason) and the Senate concerning the settlement of German tribes within the territory of Rome and offering them citizenship. Timonides and Livius win the Senate, the barbarians are settled, but Livius’s defiance of Commodus’ wishes create a discord between himself and Commodus, especially with Lucilla’s scheming as well. Livius is banished to a lonely patrol back up in the Danube. Commodus softens his stance after a while as a plague ravishes Rome. He invites Livius back to his confidence and construes upon him the task of quelling an Eastern Rebellion (which Livius will soon find out has been instigated by Lucilla herself, along with her Armenian husband (Omar Sharif). Livius is relectant (once again) to accept a position of high authority and tells Commodus, prophetically, “Do not give me this power.” Commodus disregards the warning, fatefully.
After defeating a rebellion of the Eastern Provinces, Livius himself turns his army against Rome and ends up confronting his friend Commodus in a riveting hand to hand javelin battle in the midst of the Roman forum. Commodus dies while embracing Livius in a touching reflection of their earlier friendship. Livius rescues Lucilla from the flames of the burning sacrificial pier and carries the dead Commodus with dignity (and ease) up the steps to the Roman altar. Livius is offered the chance to be Caesar once again by the same men who had rallied around Commodus. In one of the best last lines of any film, Livius turns to them and says, “I don’t think you’d find me suitable, for my first official act would be to have you all crucified.” Fin!!! Queue the dark pipe organ music again as the camera sweeps upwards, following the billows of smoke carrying the ashes of Germanic people being burned alive at the stake, their cries of “Wotan Avenge Us!” echoing the revenge Germany will have in the final days of Rome starting with the Battle of Adrianople in 378 AD and ending when the Visigoths sacked Rome in 410 AD, the beginning of the end for the Western Roman Empire. How can you not love this?
The Fall of the Roman Empire is dark movie with a pessimistic, albeit epic ending. The marketing for the film was astounding – see here for all the many beautiful slides and booklets! It even had a theme song performed by none other than 1960’s top crooner Johnny Mathis. Because of its tone, or perhaps because of audience burn-out for Roman epics (the ‘Cleopatra” hullabaloo had just been released less than a year before), it failed at the U.S. box office, although it did well internationally. Another perspective is that the film was was released in April of 1964, just shy of five months after the John F. Kennedy assassination. A dark epic about the slow decline and collapse of Western Civilization did not serve as a good touchstone for the American public at this point!
With his blond locks and blue eyes, Stephen Boyd really does look amazingly handsome in this film. Boyd is more muted than usual in his screen performance here and some people would probably say it is a dull performance (compared to Messala in Ben-Hur) but I disagree. I have always loved Stephen’s quiet, thoughtful and powerful performance in this movie. Maybe it’s the blond hair; maybe it’s the regal way he carries himself in the Roman armor (has anyone ever looked more handsome in a Roman helmet?); maybe it’s the soft, gentle way he speaks; or maybe it’s the way he seems totally in awe of Sophia Loren. He has some truly tender and touching scenes with Italian super-star Sophia Loren. They look absolutely stunning together on screen as well.
The script has its good and bad moments. Most of the actors were displeased, especially coming at the heels of some really excellent epic scripts like “Lawrence of Arabia”. Some of the dialogue reminds me of ‘George Lucas speak’. In fact some of the lines (especially in the romantic scenes) are used almost verbatim in Star Wars- Attack of the Clones and Star Wars – Revenge of the Sith. And the fact that you have Alec Guinness being about as Jedi as a Roman-philosopher-Emperor could be, I can’t help but see Star Wars-isms in The Fall of the Roman Empire as well.
It’s very fitting that The Fall of the Roman Empire, which essentially ended the ‘sword-and-sandal’ film era, would be the tacit inspiration 36 years later for Ridley Scott’s Oscar winning epic Gladiator, which kick started a whole new era of ‘sword-and-sandal’ movies in the 2000’s like The 300, Alexander and Troy! Gladiator seems to owe more to Spartacus than The Fall of the Roman Empire, but nonetheless it is a fitting conclusion to the amazing inspiration of The Fall of the Roman Empire.
Enjoy Turner Classic Movie’s airing of The Fall of the Roman Empire on January 17th, 2019!!!
HOLY CAESAR!! Alert to all Stephen Boyd fans. Finally TCM is airing my favorite all time movie The Fall of the Roman Empire this month on January 17th. Ben-Hur is airing again on January 3rd as well! Strap on your Roman helmets and get ready to watch some amazing peplums. Maybe FOTRE will gather a few more fans….!
Boyd Back to ‘Civvies’
from the Republican and Herald, Pennsylvania, March 26, 1965
GOODBY TOGAS, HELLO PANTS, SAYS STEVE
by Armand Arched
HOLLYWOOD – It’s a pleasure to track down Stephen Boyd on a movie set. The search can take you anywhere from Rome for “Ben-Hur” to downtown Los Angeles for his current “Fantastic Voyage.” But it’s a long time between his Hollywood-made films. And he’s one of those rare guys who’d like to stay at home in sunny Southern California and leave the driving (or flying) to other guys.
The last time we spoke to Boyd on the set of a Hollywood made film was “Jumbo”, on the back lot at MGM studios in Culver City. Since that time, he’s been to Italy (a couple of times), Spain, Yugoslavia, England, Egypt and Ireland.
“It seems I do nothing but travel,” he smiled. “And, as you know, I originally came to Hollywood to make my home here and to work here. But since that time, there’s been an influx over to Europe and unfortunately I’ve been a member of that group.”
Boyd wasn’t kidding about making his home in the sunny Southern California clime. The eligible bachelor, instead of making his pad one of those super-glamor places above the Sunset Strip, chose to buy his own home in the San Fernando Valley where such established family men like John Wayne live. Sure, the house has a pool- he’s a sun-lover. (One of those reasons he left the British Isles).
“I’m a true-blooded American citizen,” Boyd noted (he’s had his citizenship papers over a year), “and also a true- blooded California citizen.” He credits the last status in view of his always-handy golf clubs. Like thousands of Los Angelenos, Boyd is a golf nut. Whenever and wherever possible, he’s out pounding the turf.
“Fantastic Voyage” is a pleasure for Boyd on another count. It gives him a chance to work in civvies for a change. “I’d almost become used to getting up in the morning and putting on a dress- a toga, that is, ” he laughed. “It’s nice to be wearing long pants. I feel like a man again.”
In the film, he plays a secret service man –“a good full-blooded American,” he reiterated. But before this epic, Boyd was again in a toga, or baggy dress, playing “Nimrod” in the biggest epic of them all, “The Bible” by Dino de Laurentiis.
Boyd toils in the Tower of Babel sequences. Although he was again in biblical dress, Boyd admits the film was a great experience.
“But it’s a different-looking Steve Boyd,” he warned. “My make up took three hours every morning– false beard, false eyebrows, false eyelashes, false hair. Everything about me is false – except my heart, ” he laughed. These sequences were filmed outside Cairo as well as in the studios near Rome.
We were talking with Boyd inside the giant Los Angeles Sports Arena. As we looked down from the upper levels at the floor below (being readied for a basketball game that night), it was hard to believe Hollywood’s craftsmen had transformed the place into a Pentagon-type building for super-secret activities of deterrent force of men who could make themselves small enough to enter the human blood stream – of the enemy, that is.
It’s a super-futuristic film, of course. It’s not outer space, we were told, but inner, inner space. Some of the equipment rented is also used in plants doing secret government work. Some of the machines are creations of the 20th-Fox engineers. It’s super-science-fiction stuff.
Talking to Steve and looking down at the floor of the Sports Arena, we wondered if he and pal Charlton Heston could run a chariot race here. “It would be kind small,” he laughed. “If Chuck Heston and I got in here we’d have to expand it five or six times the size. We’re a little too fast for these guys.”
We could testify to that – we once stood on the sidelines of the “Ben-Hur” arena in Rome when they filmed their chariot race and we still shudder, recalling those charging steeds tearing around the track a few yards away from our reporting post.
Yes, we agreed with Boyd, it’s a pleasant change to see him working in civvies – and in modern civilization again.
The Leaf- Chronicle, Clarksville, Tennessee – Jan 22, 1965
A tender moment for Sophia Loren and Stephen Boyd in the Samuel Bronston epic production for Paramount, “The Fall of the Roman Empire” which opens Sunday at the Sunset Theatre. Boyd plays Livius, a Roman military tribune and Miss Loren is Lucilla, daughter of Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Also included in the cast are Alec Guinness, James Mason and Christopher Plummer.
“THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE”
The long awaited Samuel Bronston epic spectacular, “The Fall of the Roman Empire,” opens Sunday at the Sunset Theatre. Starring such outstanding names as Sophia Loren, Stephen Boyd, James Mason, Alec Guinness and Christopher Plummer, “The Fall of the Roman Empire” is destined to become one of the great film re-creations of all time.
The story begins approximately 180 years after the birth of Christ. The Roman Empire is at the height of its glory under Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Alec Guinness), but after several years of warfare, Aurelius feels that his time to live is short and he must find a new heir to his throne.
Under normal circumstances the new Caesar would be Commodus (Christopher Plummer) his son, but Aurelius feels that he is not worthy and instead decides to name Livius (Stephen Boyd), one of his ranking generals and the sweetheart of his beautiful daughter (Sophia Loren).
This decision is well and good but before Aurelius can officially announce that he wants Livius to succeed him, he suddenly dies. Because there is no tangible proof that Livius is to be Caesar, Commodus ascends the throne and with his corrupt rule the Empire starts tumbling downward.
Sophia Loren is stunning as Lucilla, her performance ranging from poignant love scenes to intense drama, is superb. Stephen Boyd as Livius gives a powerful portrayal of a Roman general torn between the love for a woman and love for his country.
Above FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE photos updated to Fall of the Roman Empire Gallery as well.