*Thanks to Emmanuel in France for sending me this article by email! This is a fascinating interview of Stephen Boyd’s sister, Rita, recalling his life. I don’t have a specific date on the article, but it was found by Brigitte Ivory who ran the first Stephen Boyd web tribute page and also appeared in his bio ‘The Man Who Never Was’ on BBC*
Stephen Boyd may have lived the life of a glamorous movie star, but he never forgot his family back home in Glengormley. According to his sister, Rita Millar, the actor who found fame on the silver screen made a point of coming home after every film and retained close links with friends in the village where he grew up.
Rita, who has returned to Newtownabbey after spending 24 years in Atlanta, Georgia, is one of five surviving members of the Millar family. The eldest son of the late James Alexander Millar and his wife Martha is 79-year-old James, who lives at Mallusk. Jack lives in Newtownbreda and his twin, Maisie Lynsey, has her home in Newtownards. Another sister, Meta Weir, lives in the Whiteabbey area. Billy has two other brothers, Harry and Alec, and a sister, Nessie Weir, all now deceased.
Rita recalls the young Billy as a “nice, well-mannered boyd” who was popular among his peers and a diligent student, first at Glengormley Primary School, then later at Ballyclare High School and Hugh’s Academy. He was also a keep sportsman, playing golf, tennis, rugby – in fact, he was even a member of the East Antrim hockey team for a short time.
Money he earned as a teenage message boy working for Davidson’s grocery shop in The Square was spent on trips to the Capital cinema in north Belfast, where he was in his element watching action movies. After making his name in amateur dramatics locally, Billy joined the Group Theatre and had some success on radio before trying his luck in Canada.
Billy returned to Britain in 1951 and, says Rita, he made a living working as a waiter in the London restaurant before obtaining a job as an usher at the Odeon in Leicester Square.
She recalls how he got his big break: “The manager of the Odeon called Billy into his office one day to tell him there was to be a big star, John Mills (I think Rita meant to say Michael Redgrave here, so I’m going to correct this mistake. Michael Redgrave’s reputation as a bisexual always lent this story about him and Boyd to a bit of wild speculation – why was he so interested in Boyd? Did Rita change the name on purpose to John Mills? Just food for thought….), visiting that night for an awards ceremony and Billy was to show him to his dressing room.
“Later, Michael Redgrave drew up in a big limousine and as he had come straight from filming, he wanted to freshen up–but he had no robe to change into.
“Billy offered to lend Michael Redgrave a robe, which he got from his home nearby, and the actor was grateful.
“He said to Billy: ‘ You look more like a film actor than I do.'”
The two men starting chatting and after hearing about Billy’s difficulties getting work as an actor, John Mills offered to write him a reference and to recommend him to a top agent. It was the break Billy had been waiting for. Soon he was playing the lead in a production by a top repertory company– and then it was off to America.
Rita explains how her brother made the transition from Billy Millar to Stephen Boyd: “It was an agent who suggested he should have a stage name and Billy chose Stephen because he had always like that name.
“He was keen to use Boyd because it was out mother’s maiden name. He was always very close to his mother.”
Films like Ben Hur, The Man Who Never Was, Island in the Sun, and The Fall of the Roman Empire made him a major star – and won him many female admirers, according to Rita. Among the famous leading ladies with whom he was linked were Sophia Loren, Hope Lange and Elizabeth Taylor. There was even a rumour at one time that he was going to marry the young Liza Minelli. Stephen’s first marriage, to Italian Mariella di Sarzana, was short-lived; so brief, in fact, that Rita and other members of the Millar family didn’t even meet their brother’s bride.
“It all happened during Ben Hur. Billy got hurt while filming the famous chariot race- it was a scene that really should have been done by a stuntman but Billy thought he could do it himself,” says Rita.
“He ended up with serious back injuries and was in danger of losing his eyesight. He was in hospital for some time and MGM sent a secretary – Mariella – to look after him. They got talking and Billy seemed to like her.
“They got married very quickly but had to delay their honeymoon because of Ben Hur. Unfortunately, the marriage didn’t last so we didn’t even meet Mariella, ” explains Rita.
A nurse by profession, Rita moved to Atlanta in 1974, after losing both parents in the early ’70s.
At this time the family home was in Bangor, the Millars facing moved from the house at Antrim Road in Glengormley which their film star son had bought for them.
“It was one of the first things Billy did when he made money as an actor- he bought a house for his parents,” he recalls. Rita was living and working in Atlanta when Billy died of a heart attack while playing golf near his Los Angeles home in 1977, leaving his bride of 11 months, former secretary Elizabeth Mills.
“It was such a shock-at first I thought there must be some mistake. I couldn’t take it in,” she says.
“A lot of big stars, including Elizabeth Taylor, turned out for the funeral. He was a very popular actor.”
However, as far as the folks back home were concerned, this great Hollywood star remained the same Billy Millar who spent afternoons riding around Glengormley on a bicycle laden with groceries – the same Billy Millar who made regular visits to Boyd’s shop on his way to rehearsels with Carnmoney Amateur Dramatic Society,
“He did not change as far as his family was concerned. He was always kind, considerate person,” says Rita.
“He may have been a big star, but underneath it all he was quite shy.”
Rita welcomes the prospect of a book about her brother by an American writing team who are keen to set the record straight about his achievements,
“A lot of people I have met over the years have said that Stephen didn’t get the recognition he deserved – they think he should have won Oscars for some of the roles he played, ” she adds.
“The whole family were very proud of him.”
During a very difficult stretch in his career in early 1961, while Stephen Boyd was waiting for “Cleopatra” to get started, he gave an interview with Screenland magazine. “Even in my early and grimmest London period I was never this long without acting assignments,” Stephen bemoaned. His luck was about to change and “Lisa” (The Inspector) with Dolores Hart was coming around the corner to save him. Unfortunately for Elizabeth Taylor, she contracted double pneumonia around this time and almost died! The “Cleopatra” project was postponed once again.
The title of the article was “What Makes a Woman Seductive?” Stephen describes some of his favorite female movie stars and their sex appeal. It’s a fascinating account!
“What makes a woman seductive?” he repeats my question and mulls it over. “I’m only a mere man and so I’m afraid I can’t define this mysterious substance. But every man knows it when he meets it. In my opinion Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor are two of the most seductive women on the screen. Miss Monroe accentuates femininity by daring aggressiveness through exposure; Miss Taylor’s seductiveness is more diffused but the effect is just as alluring. Brigitte Bardot (who has the most animal in her of any woman I’ve ever known) would be third on my list and Sophia Loren fourth. And Kim Novak has an incredible pull that few men can ignore.”
“I’m certain if you asked ten men you’d get different answers, for the question of seductiveness is a highly personal one. A woman may be a packaged Cleopatra or Helen of Troy to one man and lacking in seductiveness to another. Personally, the way a woman walks–that little undulation seen from the rear– is seductive. But when it’s overdone, it’s ludicrous. How she wears her clothes adds to detracts from her ability to captivate a man. For me, petite women are more provocative than tall ones but whether they’re blonde, brunette or redheads doesn’t matter.”
“Sex appeal in a woman isn’t only a physical quality but is mental and emotional as well. A beautiful woman evokes merely admiration from men while sex appeal evokes excitement. Beauty and sex appeal don’t always go together. A plain woman can suddenly become attractive in response to a man’s unexpected attention. It changes her conception of herself, adds a feeling of power, a sense of confidence and so awakens her sex appeal. The same holds true of a man.”
Particular Praise for BB
“…when I was in Paris, I renewed my acquaintance with Brigitte Bardot. Immediately the press nominated me as the next Mr. Bardot. It was ridiculous; I don’t go around breaking up marriages. Brigitte and I had made “The Night Heaven Fell” (which I’d like to forget) and of course I wanted to see her again. Around BB you feel more alive than you normally do. She has intelligence and humor and best of all, she knows how to listen. So many women really don’t, you know. Brigitte is a remarkable woman, at times a bit exhausting, but there’s no romance between us.”
I sometimes wonder how Stephen’s career – and the 1960’s – would have turned out had he waited just a few months longer to start filming “Cleopatra.” He would have been a part of one of the biggest cultural movies of the 1960’s. The problem was, however, he would have spent literally two years filming (or waiting to film) this project! Stephen arrived on set in London in the later summer of 1960 to start filming “Cleopatra” (he was going to be Marc Anthony, of course). By late spring of 1961 he was still waiting. Stephen opted out “Cleopatra” in June of 1961 to start work on “Lisa” with Dolores Hart. When Richard Burton replaced Boyd in July and production on “Cleopatra” finally crawled to a start in late 1961 in Rome. “Cleopatra” was still filming in the summer of 1962 when Boyd was on hand in Rome filming “Imperial Venus” with Gina Lollobrigida! Below is a fascinating glimpse at this production from Stephen’s point of view while he was filming “Jumbo” in Hollywood.
Harold Hefferman, Philadelphia Daily News, March 8, 1962
HOLLWOOD. – Behind movie headlines:
“Runaway production” is a terrifying term striking hard at every layer of the Hollywood foundation. As to its personal impact, no actor in town has greater reason for despising it than Stephen Boyd.
Boyd came back from two years movie making in Europe with little more than wasted time and the unhappy feeling both his career and personal life had been adversely affected by his absence.
The blond actor, who spent an earlier two year period villainizing Charlton Heston in “Ben-Hur,” went back to Europe in 1960 to make “The Big Gamble” with Juliette Greco. While there 20th-Fox notified him he was to play “Anthony” to Elizabeth Taylor’s “Cleopatra,” so he remained on- and on.
“The whole two years – minus a few weeks I spent back here in Hollywood – added up to nothing short of a fiasco,” growled Steve, on the set of “Billy Rose’s Jumbo” at MGM. “While waiting for ‘Cleo’ to get started, I went to Cairo for the big lighting of the Sphinx. That was when they were planning to shoot the picture in Egypt – but, of course, that fell through.
“I’d say that about the personal high points of those 24 months was my trip to Cairo and Lebanon. The countries are beautiful, and it’s too bad so many things came up to prevent shooting ‘Cleopatra’ there.”
A few weeks after Steve reported for the big Queen of the Nile spectacle, Miss Taylor was stricken with her first and near fatal illness, followed by innumerable script and change-of-producer- director delays. Meanwhile, he was assigned by the studio to do “The Inspector” opposite Dolores Hart in Holland. This is a film he has yet to see.
“I can only say I hope it came out better than ‘The Big Gamble,’” Steve chided candidly, “because that one, I’m sure, won’t do a thing for my career. But that did save me from doing ‘Cleopatra,’ for which I am undyingly grateful.”
Steve doesn’t put much stock in the “Roman holiday” rumors of a romance between Liz Taylor and Richard (Antony) Burton. He attributes the notoriety to “a dream creation” by the over-imaginative Italian press.
“Why, the fan magazines and even a couple of Italian newspaper columns had me linked romantically with Elizabeth- a month before I’d even met her!” he laughed. “One headline read: ‘Will Steve divide Liz and Eddie?’ And I’d never even seen the lady, except in a couple of her movies. She and Eddie and I joked about it when we finally did meet on the set – but sometimes rumor and gossip can get way beyond the amusing stage.”
Steve blasts “runaway” for two other personal reasons. It cut into his burning romance with Hope Lange – she didn’t wait, and took up with others – and financially he took a shellacking.
I didn’t get anything resembling tax breaks,” he explained, “and, in fact, I paid both British and U.S. taxes all the time I was away. (Steve is a British citizen, of Irish descent.) I’m not dead set against pictures being made in foreign countries—sometimes they really turn out better – but in far too many cases, such as ‘Cleopatra,’ if they don’t film them on the McCoy locations, they’d do better to stay right in Hollywood and let everyone relax, including the actor.”
Stephen Boyd used to joke that he should have been invited to Elizabeth Taylor’s wedding with Richard Burton. If it wasn’t for Stephen, the biggest celebrity couple of the 1960’s might never have met! Boyd, as many of his fans know, was chosen to be the original Marc Anthony in the Twentieth Century Fox mega-production of “Cleopatra”. Boyd had spoken to a Fox producer as early as late 1959 about the role, which Boyd seemed predestined to play.
“(Walter) Wanger talked with me about the role of Marc Anthony to ‘Cleopatra’…I told him I thought I was too young to play Anthony, who was 48 by the time he got together with Cleopatra. I’ve played it on stage, though.” (Hedda Hopper interview of Stephen Boyd from January 31, 1960, “Hollywood’s New Gable?”, https://stephenboydblog.com/2016/07/09/hollywoods-handsomest-hibernian-may-be-is-stephen-boyd-the-new-gable/)
Boyd was signed as Anthony in early 1960. “She (Taylor) had the approval of all the stars who were going to work with her, ” Boyd said proudly in a Film Show Annual interview in 1964, ” She approved of Peter Finch and myself…” (Sunday Express London Interview, August 11, 1963)
In late June, Taylor was struggling with acute bronchitis which left her unable to attend a lavish New York ‘Roman orgy’ party held by the studio. The worst was yet to come. When the movie began filming in October of 1960 with director Rouben Mamoulian, the film work was taking place at Pinewood Studios in London under cold, damp conditions. Almost immediately, the bronchitis Taylor had in June flared up again in and she was confined to bed with pneumonia. By November, she was rushed to the hospital because of an infected tooth which had caused a viral infection of the tissue at the base of her brain (‘meningism‘). The movie was postponed in December of 1960. But Taylor had more drama to come. On March 4 of 1961, with heavy lung congestion and double pneumonia, she was again rushed to the hospital in grave condition for an emergency tracheotomy.
Stephen Boyd : “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.” (Detroit Free Press, “Screen Star Stephen Boyd Since That Chariot Race”, August 1, 1969)
The Pinewood Studio Production of “Cleopatra”, 1960, directed by Rouben Mamoulian, Costumes by Oliver Messel, starring Peter Finch as Caesar, Stephen Boyd as Marc Anthony and Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra
Stephen’s one regret about missing out on “Cleopatra” was not getting to work with Elizabeth Taylor.
“I think she’s marvelous. I remember one day when several of us were reading for the part, and Elizabeth was ill, and we went around to her house when she was just, as it were, getting up. And God! She’s the most beautiful thing. You know what you look like getting up? …Not Elizabeth. This vision came out of the bedroom.” (Sunday Express London Interview, August 11, 1963)
“I think she’s a dream.” (Asbury Park Press, July 3, 1964)
“The only thing I didn’t like about Elizabeth Taylor in ‘Cleopatra’ was her make-up – all that heavy eye-shadow and stuff.” (Sunday Express London Interview, August 11, 1963)
“She’s more sensational in her beauty, her lavender eyes, without make-up, just being her natural self.” (Valley Morning Star, Sep 18, 1966)
“While waiting for ‘Cleo’ to get started, I went to Cairo for the big lighting of the Sphinx. That was when they were planning to shoot the picture in Egypt – but, of course, that fell through.
“I’d say that about the personal high point of those 24 months was my trip to Cairo and Lebanon. The countries are beautiful, and it’s too bad so many things came up to prevent shooting ‘Cleopatra’ there.” (Philadelphia Daily News, March 8, 1962)
“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!” (Detroit Free Press, “Screen Star Stephen Boyd Since That Chariot Race”, August 1, 1969)
Boyd and Burton- sharing Roman costumes, other than footwear!
Burton and Boyd were no strangers to epics: Burton in Alexander the Great (1956) and Boyd in The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964)
Boyd was also apparently mistaken for Burton occasionally in Hollywood, which caused Boyd to explain himself once : “He’s Welsh, I’m Irish. He sings Welsh songs, I sing Irish songs. He drinks, I don’t drink.” (Tintypes, Stephen Boyd, by Sidney Skolski)
Boyd also gave his opinion at the time about the most infamous love affair in the world between Taylor and Burton, and about his own lost chance with Taylor.
“Why, you know, they were starting rumors about Liz and me before we’d even met! I think Burton is a fine actor and I like Elizabeth as an actress – during the time I spent on the picture, she was marvelous – but I think Burton would be foolish to leave Sybil. I was amused by his reply when asked if he was going to divorce her and marry Liz; ‘It’s not bloody likely.'” (Hedda Hopper Interview, June 16, 1962)
“She’s not my type, and I don’t think I’m hers…I’m sure the reason she fell in love with him (Burton) is because he has the strength of mind and body of Mike Todd….True, Richard Burton became a big star in Rome, because of all the gossip and slander. He’s one of the finest actors, but he was not important until his love affair with Elizabeth. I find that shocking. “ (Courier Journal Dec 30, 1962, ‘ Stephen Boyd is Glad he Escaped Cleopatra Role with Liz Taylor)
Stephen Boyd: “My only regret is not getting a chance to be on screen with Elizabeth Taylor…the fact the I dropped out allowed them to meet, and Richard makes a great Anthony” (The ABC of Stephen Boyd interview, 1965)
More about Cleopatra
For more about Cleopatra the Movie, see this excellent website, http://www.elizabethtaylorthelegend.com/Elizabeth%20Taylor%20-%20Cleopatra%20Contents.html
For more about Cleopatra the Historical Person, I have found that there is almost too much information out there about her and it is hard to find the right book. For an excellent historical novel about Cleopatra, I highly recommend Margaret George’s “The Memoirs of Cleopatra” . Having just started reading it recently, I find that it really brings her personality, as well as Caesar and Antony, to life.
Horace’s Ode to Cleopatra
Now drink we deep, now featly tread
A measure; now before each shrine
With Salian feasts the table spread;
The time invites us, comrades mine.
‘Twas shame to broach, before today,
The Caecuban, while Egypt‘s dame
Threaten’d our power in dust to lay
And wrap the Capitol in flame,
Girt with her foul emasculate throng,
By Fortune’s sweet new wine befool’d,
In hope’s ungovern’d weakness strong
To hope for all; but soon she cool’d,
To see one ship from burning ‘scape;
Great Caesar taught her dizzy brain,
Made mad by Mareotic grape,
To feel the sobering truth of pain,
And gave her chase from Italy,
As after doves fierce falcons speed,
As hunters ‘neath Haemonia’s sky
Chase the tired hare, so might he lead
The fiend enchain’d; she sought to die
More nobly, nor with woman’s dread
Quail’d at the steel, nor timorously
In her fleet ships to covert fled.
Amid her ruin’d halls she stood
Unblench’d, and fearless to the end
Grasp’d the fell snakes, that all her blood
Might with the cold black venom blend,
Death’s purpose flushing in her face;
Nor to our ships the glory gave,
That she, no vulgar dame, should grace
A triumph, crownless, and a slave.
It’s so interesting to read some of Stephen’s interviews back in the day. Sometimes he could be too honest when speaking to the likes of journalists Hedda Hooper, Erskine Johnson, Sheilah Graham, Joe Hyams and Louella Parsons. Occasionally Stephen would completely knock down one his own current releases, like in the article below. Stephen had already disappointed Paramount executives by failing to appear at the premiere of “The Fall of the Roman Empire.” In the same summer he told Sheilah Graham that the best movie he had ever done up until then was “Ben-Hur.” This was probably an honest statement, but maybe not the safest path to steer in a sensitive town like Hollywood! Yes, despite his overtly honest comments, Stephen still continued to thrive with a solid career there for several years, even until the early 1970’s when he truly had to seek projects abroad.
Roles Disappoint Stephen Boyd
London- July 3, 1964 (Asbury Park Press) by Sheilah Graham
“The only really good film I’ve made in the past eight years, said Stephen Boyd, complete with heard and ginger mustache, “is Ben Hur.”
Stephen is in London being fitted for his Genghis Khan costumes for “The Golden Horde” which he will film in Yugoslavia for the next three months.
“I’m under contact to 20th Century Fox,” continued the likable actor, “but I haven’t made a film for them (in Hollywood) since 1959 – ‘The Best of Everything’ with Joan Crawford and Suzy Parker. The last picture I made in Hollywood was ‘Jumbo’ in 1961, with Doris Day. It was a poor picture.”
Boyd has the usual Hollywood problem of the past decade. In 1961, he bought a house in the Valley, a charming place, with the idea of living in it, of course.
“Ever since, I have made pictures abroad and spent only a few months in the house. Now I am thinking of selling it for something smaller. With being away so much it would be more practical. The day after I moved in, I left for Egypt, to play Mark Anthony in ‘Cleopatra.’ Every time I see Richard Burton I say, ‘There but for the grace of God, go I.” (On a side note, Boyd is exaggerating here – He was actually sent to Egypt in April of 1961 on a publicity tour for ‘Cleopatra’ to attend the Pyramid Light Inauguration, not for filming ‘Cleopatra’, which was already on the skids since late 1960.)
He sounded somewhat regretful. He likes Elizabeth Taylor.
“I think she’s a dream.”
Stephen also likes Dolores Hart, with whom he made some films when she was a movie star and under contract to Fox. Dolores is in a convent in Connecticut.
“She wrote to me very frequently and I wrote to her. But this stopped on June 29, when she went into complete seclusion – no visitors, no phone calls,no letters for a year. After that she will decide if her future is in a convent, or she can return to the world. She seems very happy in her life. But at the beginning it was not easy for her. She was frank in her letters to me. She was climbing the movie ladder and she wrote to me that she missed the applause, and her life as an actress. But now she had made the adjustment. The chief thing, I imagine, is that you must find love within yourself before you can live with yourself.”
We returned to Stephen’s career, and why he has not cared for most of his films. He’s attractive and a good actor.
“But they won’t let me be myself. I’m always having to play some character. The secret to Gary Cooper’s and Clark Gable’s success is that they always played themselves.”
“I was terribly disappointed,” he laughed, “when they didn’t let me play ‘Jack the Ripper!’”
I was surprised to have caught up with the Irish-born actor earlier this year in Europe. He flew over to star in “The Unknown Battle” in Norway with Elke Sommer.
“But I sat on my rear end in London, waiting for it to start. A major studio was supposed to provide 50 percent of the finance. Two weeks before production, they backed out. Tony Mann, the director, had promised me we will make the picture later this year, then the snows come again to Norway.”
Stephen is sure that pictures are coming back to Hollywood.
“There is a definite upturn, but we won’t see the results until next year. Then maybe I can get to live in Hollywood, as I did when I first went here in 1958. But most of my movies have been abroad, as I told you. I made “The Night Heaven Fell” with Brigitte Bardot in Paris. She was very big then because this was her first movie after her hit in ‘And God Created Woman.’”
“Is it true,” I asked, “that you will never make another movie in Rome?”
“What I said was,” he replied, ”that I would never make a picture in Rome under those circumstances. In the first place this picture will not be shown in America. They can’t get it past the censors. And more important, they didn’t pay me my full salary. They still owe me money. If I make another picture in Rome, the money will have to be in the bank first. Also, what I did receive was taxed in Italy as well as in America. It just isn’t practical to work there.”
One picture Stephen would like to make in Hollywood is the Mildred Crem story, “Forever.” Metro bought it years and years ago with the idea of starring Janet Gaynor.
“I’d like to do it with Audrey Hepburn,” said Boyd.
Another film he wants to make is “Clive of India.”
“Terence Young had written this treatment, and of course this one would have to be made mostly in India.”
This is a happy weekend for Stephen in London. The actor who became an American citizen last December 23 has a birthday on July 4.
“I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy, and I’m looking forward to the day I can work, as well as live, in America.”