Stephen Boyd and Anthony Mann – “The Unknown Battle”, 1964

In mid 1963, as Stephen Boyd was wrapping up his role as the Roman General Livius in the epic production of “The Fall of the Roman Empire,” director Anthony Mann started to consider Boyd as the lead in his next project as well – “The Unknown Battle.” This movie was going to portray the true story of the top secret Allied mission to knock out the nuclear weapons plant run by the Nazi’s in Norway during the mid stages of WWII. Norwegians saboteurs, in a serious of heroic operations, destroyed a ‘heavy water’ plant in Telemark, Norway before if could be used to help develop a nuclear weapon which could have changed the outlook of the war in the most terrible way. Winston Churchill called it one of the most important single acts of World War II because it prevented the Nazis from developing the atomic bomb.

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The Vemork Hydroelectric Plant – the setting for Anthony Mann’s WWII adventure film, “The Unknown Battle”

Originally Mann was seeking to cast Charlton Heston (who had worked with Mann on “El Cid” in 1961) and Stephen Boyd (currently working with Mann) as the two leads in the project. Yes, a reunion of the iconic “Ben-Hur” antagonists was initially the main objective!

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Boyd was set up for a decidedly busy schedule for the next few months and even lamented to one reporter, ” When will I get in a round of golf?” (Honolulu Star Bulletin, June 6, 1963).
By February of 1964 stunner Elke Sommer (Boyd’ future co-star in “The Oscar”) was signed to be the female lead on the film (whose title had now changed to “High Adventure.”) Boyd told Hedda Hopper that Sommer was as “sexy looking as any actress around”, and asked for her to be his leading lady. (Los Angeles Times, Feb 5, 1964)

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Meant for each other – Sommer and Boyd would reunite explosively in “The Oscar”, 1965

Heston had not been signed, and then Mann considered Boyd’s counterpart in “The Fall of the Roman Empire”, Christopher Plummer for the role. Then the merry-go-round of casting continued to some very curious participants!

For a key role opposite Boyd, Mann wanted Steve McQueen and offered him $500,000 plus a percentage of the gross.

Mann explained what unfolded next.

“McQueen told my representative : ‘I resent your calling me at home.’ So I forgot about him.

“Then I went after Marlon Brando, whose price is a million. I didn’t mind the price but he wanted to change the script.

“There were some actors in the cast he didn’t like. He insisted that they must play Nazis. I dropped him, too.” (The Progress Index, Feb 24, 1964)

Incredibly Anthony Perkins of “Psycho” fame, for a cheaper price than Brando of course, won the role.

So the main cast of “The Unknown Battle/High Adventure” was set – Stephen Boyd, Elke Sommer and Tony Perkins.

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Boyd’s carousel of potential “Unknown Battle” co-star’s – from McQueen to Brando to Perkins!

In March Boyd was home in Hollywood to discuss the premise of the movie with the press. He seemed very excited about the story.

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Smoking rising from Vemork hydroelectric plant after Allied air raid, Telemark, Norway, 16 Nov 1943 ww2dbase

The story if based on a little-known incident of 1943. It was in the spring just 23 years ago that Hitler announced he has discovered the basic elements to destroy the Free World with atomic bombs of his own. A group of seven men, Norwegians and British, were selected by Allied Intelligence Service to be smuggled into occupied territory to blow up the secret Heavy-Water experimental station in the mountains 100 miles north of Oslo. How these men helped to save the cause of democracy is a story, Boyd feels, must be told. Elke Sommer, herself a product of Germany, portrays a Norwegian girl who helps her countryman in the dangerous mission. The account of the venture has been fictionalized by Ben Barzman… (St Louis Jewish Light, March 18, 1964).

Stephen had packed his bags once more and headed to London and the cold ice fields of beautiful Oslo, Norway to start filming on location. Boyd has been waiting – and waiting – for the production to actually begin. Terrifying flashbacks to the “Cleopatra” debacle of a few years prior were most likely clouding his thoughts! Frighteningly, Anthony Mann was producing and directing the project. It didn’t take long for the money to run short.

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In late March journalist Sheilah Graham broke the story that Stephen, after arriving in London, discovered that the production has been indefinitely postponed. He hurriedly called his agent to join him there to find out what was going on! By April Stephen had filed a $500,000 breach of contract suit against Mann for time wasted and other opportunities lost (Mann didn’t seem to mind to much- he was at the Cannes Film Festival when the suit was filed!).

Boyd has missed some other excellent film offers, including Sophia Loren’s project “Lady L.” Carlos Ponti, Loren’s husband/producer, had told Boyd that “your love scenes with my wife were the greatest (From “The Fall of the Roman Empire”). I’d like you to costar with her in Lady L.” (Los Angeles Times, Feb 5, 1964) Boyd wanted the role, and Loren was insistent that Boyd star as her lover, but as Boyd was tied up with “The Unknown Battle”. Loren had to settle for a lackluster and totally miscast Paul Newman! In addition, Boyd chose not to fly all the way back to Hollywood to attend the premiere of Paramount’s “The Fall of the Roman Empire.”

By July of 1964 Boyd had cooled a bit and explained to Sheilah Graham what had happened with the production.

“But I sat on my rear end in London, waiting for it to start. A major studio was supposed to provide 50 perfect if the finance. Two weeks before production, they backed out. Tony Mann, the director, has promised me we will make the picture later this year, when the snows come again in Norway.” (Asbury Park Press, July 2, 1964)

Two weeks after this interview, Kirk Douglas replaced Boyd in his role. Boyd had signed on to be the villain in “Genghis Khan” and he was off to make this film instead.

Stephen Boyd and Anthony Mann in 1963 during The Fall of the Roman Empire shoot in Spain

Mann did eventually get his project off the ground with Douglas, Michael Redgrave and Ulla Jacobssen. Richard Harris, who had been Mann’s original choice to play Commodus in “The Fall of the Roman Empire”, eventually became the second lead. Harris had just finished up his role as Cain in John Huston’s epic “The Bible”, which also featured Boyd as Nimrod.

Mann’s film was renamed “The Heroes of Telemark” and it was released in 1966. It’s a taut adventure movie with some truly heartracing action scenes and spectacular Norwegian scenery. But I still wish it had been made with the original cast!

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Boyd missed this opportunity to star with his favorite co-star, Sophia Loren

A great review of “The Oscar” from The Daily News, 1966

Finding a positive review of “The Oscar” is a bit of a challenge, but I really like this particular review!

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Stephen Boyd, Elke Sommer

Bitter Drama Looks Inside Hollywood by Kate Cameron

March 5, 1966, Daily News, New York

There have been many “inside” film stories about Hollywood producers and stars, including the current attraction at the Music Hall, “Inside Daisy Clover.” But there has never been as bitter a pill for Hollywood to swallow as “The Oscar” which had a gala premiere Thursday night at Loew’s State with a number of the film’s stars in attendance. It opened to the public yesterday at both the State and Festival Theatres.

The Embassy Pathe Color production is being released in the nick of time as the balloting on the 1965 awards is going on right now in Hollywood. The results will be announced by the Academy April 18. As unseemly as the fight for the coveted award is shown to be, and in spite of the shockingly violent stripping of a star’s glamor during the course of the film, “The Oscar” is bound to attract attention from other than inveterate movie-goers. For anyone with a modicum of interest in the behind-the-scenes of a movie studio, “The Oscar is a must-see film.

The the first place, it gives Stephen Boyd a chance to prove that he is a fine actor, as well as a handsome profile in a wide screen colorful epic, is role, penned with acid by Harlan Ellison, Russell Rouse and Clarence Greene from Richard Sale’s novelistic expose, is a fascinating portrayal of a heel.

The sorry tale is about Frankie Fane’s rise from manager of a stripper for stag parties to a top Hollywood star to his slipping career, suddenly stopped on the slide downhill by is nomination for the Academy Award. Fane’s ruthless, despicable maneuvers to cop the Oscar and revitalize his screen career are shown in all their naked baseness on the screen. Frankie is exposed as a man without feeling and, as on of his erstwhile friends says of him, carrying the seed of rot inside himself.

The role of the Hollywood heel is played with remarkable verisimilitude by Boyd. He is surrounded bu a bevy of beauties, each one adding to the success of the production. Elke Sommer represents the beautiful and talented clothes designer who becomes the star’s wife. Eleanor Parker is the woman who gives him his first big boost towards success. Jill St. John plays the gorgeous stripper in the early part of the film and Edie Adams helps him with a battle with a blackmailer.

The surprise of the film is the excellent performance that Tony Bennett contributes in his first screen role and Milton Berle’s fine portrayal in the straight dramatic role as Fane’s agent. Joseph Cotton, Ernest Borgnine, Peter Lawford, Ed Begley, Broderick Crawford and a feminine quartet of famous people add spice to the production. The four woman are the late Hedda Hopper, Merle Oberon, Nancy Sinatra and dress-designer Edith Head. Rouse directed the film in a realistic manner.

Seeing the film on the screen is better than a conducted tour of the exterior Hollywood and its studios, as “The Oscar” gives one a real inside look at the cinema capital and its people. However, I hope that this picture of what happens to an Oscar nominee is presented more in fancy than in fact.

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Parker, Adams and Sommer with Boyd

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Stephen and the Bombshells! – Stephen Boyd talks about filming sexy scenes

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Anecdotes of Sexy Scenes

by Dorothy Manners, September 11, 1966

Stephen Boyd and I were talking about the hot love scenes, particularly in foreign films. They have become so completely accepted by American audiences there’s considerable talk about up-dating and revising the Code (Motion Picture Association of America’s Seal of Approval- in other words the guide-line of the censor) to allow for more leeway for mature sex in scripts.

“Everyone seems to be in a swivit about sex on the screen except the actors who actually play the scenes. There’s a good reason. Nine out of ten times the big, passionate kiss-and-clutch sequences are literally a pain in the neck if not downright ludicrous!” said Stephen.

He knows

He should know what he’s talking about. The good looking Irishman has wallowed around romantically with more sex sirens than almost any other actor. His list of the ‘kissed’ includes Brigitte Bardot, Joan Collins, Diane Cilento, Gina Lollobrigida, Francoise Dorleac, Eleanor Parker, Elke Sommer, Yvette Mimieaux, Sophia Loren.

Ironically, in his newest picture on display, “Fantastic Voyage,” there’s not one kiss- even a little one with the newest sex symbol, Raquel Welch! The 20th Century Fox hit is concerned with other matters.

As Steve pits it: “Our director Richard Fleischer was too busy with our cast of millions – of antibodies, the red and white corpuscles, cells, dendrites, lymph nodes, arteries – in the inner-body sequences. I guess he rightly figured there’s enough dangers and suspense in that strange, weirdly beautiful, fantastic inner-body voyage we take to food around with outer-bodies.” To know fully what Stephen’s talking about – see the picture.

But in every other film he’s starred in, Steve has done his share of osculatory research.

Never forget

Boyd chuckled, “I’ll never forget the big moment of passion between Gina Lollobrigida and myself in ‘Imperial Venus.’ I had to grab Gina, kiss her so passionately that our knees gave out from under us, and we sank gradually and gracefully to the floor- it said in the script. And that’s the way the director insisted we play it.

“What actually happened is that I’d grab Gina and she’d swoon. But as we tried to sink to the floor our knees would bump together, we’d have to fight to keep out balance and rehearsal after rehearsal we’d wind up roaring with laughter. Censors? They never crossed our mind.

In steel armour

“In ‘Fall of the Roman Empire’ with Sophia Loren, I was encased in steel armor in our big love scenes! As I’d lift my arms to embrace Sophia, the neck of the armour went up and pressed on my Adam’s apple and at the same time the helmet was being pressed downward on my head. The ensuing kiss we exchanged felt more like the survivors of an endurance contest.

“With Brigitte Bardot in ‘The Night Heaven Fell,’ we had a pip of a passionate moment. Because of the unusually beautiful camera effect the director, Roger Vadim, had us posed on a rocky cliff for the big clutch. The implication was that we were literally on the point of disaster. It proved to be right. Just as we kissed, my feet slipped and we fell Jack-and-Jill style right down the hill! We were both so bruised we couldn’t work for days.”

Steve looked at his watch because he was due at the airport to catch a plane to San Francisco for an appearance with ‘Fantastic Voyage.’ But he had time for one more anecdote of the non-sexiness of sexy scenes.

“It’s the REAL topper,” he grinned. “In ‘The Oscar,’ Elke Sommer and I were making mad love in a car speeding down the freeway to Tijuana. It was sufficiently disconcerting to be speeding and kissing at the same time into a camera mounted on the hood of our car. But driving directly behind us was her husband, Joe Hyams! And he’s JEALOUS! Try that for a romantic mood sometime,” said Steve before he sped away.

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