Stephen Boyd and Françoise Dorléac in “Genghis Khan” 1965

One of my favorite Stephen Boyd co-stars is the mysterious and charming Françoise Dorléac. She was the elder sister of French actress Catherine Denueve (They starred jointly in “The Young Girls of Rochefort”). Françoise was the initial star of the pair, and she herself was featured in a handful of films, but she was very memorable in each one. She was in a great action-comedy called “The Man from Rio” with Jean-Paul Belondo, a Truffant drama called ‘Soft Skin’, one of the Harry Palmer Michael Caine spy movies called ‘Billion Dollar Brain’, a spy spoof with David Niven, and the brilliant Roman Polanski film ‘Cul De Sac’ with Donald Pleasance.  But as a major international release, ‘Genghis Khan’ with Omar Sharif and Stephen Boyd was an important movie for her. In the film, sporting luscious blond bangs, she plays a Mongolian princess Bortei. (I know, she is not remotely Asian, nor is anyone else in this movie, which makes it so quirky!). She does a marvelous job as the strong-willed yet still vulnerable beauty who comes between Boyd, the ruthless villain Jamuga, and Sharif, who plays the ‘hero’ as the quite reformed Genghis Khan. Jamuga’s abduction of Bortei and the subsequent chase, fight and rape scene across the fur carpets of his Mongolian yurt, with Dorléac kicking and gasping, is a brutal but very memorable scene. Jamuga is definitely one of Boyd’s most entertaining and ruthless screen villains, and as Bortei bears his son, it makes for even more drama later in the film between Jamuga (Boyd) and Genghis Khan (Sharif).

Sadly, Françoise Dorléac died in a gruesome car accident in the south of France at the age of 25, cutting short what could have been a most fascinating career. She has been staying with her sister Catherine Denueve in St. Tropez, and on a rainy morning, June 26, 1967. she took off in her blue Renault with her pet Chihuahua. She was trying to catch a plane in Nice, and she was late. Her car skidded on the rainy road and crashed into a cement pole, instantly bursting into flames. A witness saw her struggling and tried to help, but the flames engulfed the car and she burned to death. It took 2 hours for the rescue unit to get her body out of the vehicle.  This year, 2017, will have been 50 years since her death.

Here as some pictures of Françoise Dorléac with Stephen Boyd and Omar Sharif in the very entertaining movie ‘Genghis Khan’ from 1965.

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Stephen Boyd & Omar Sharif in “Genghis Khan”, 1965

 

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Stephen Boyd and Omar Sharif starred in three movies together (if you count ‘The Poppy is Also a Flower’). They first met in Cairo at the inauguration of the sound and light show at the pyramids of Giza in April 1961. Stephen was on a publicity tour for Twentieth Century Fox.

Obviously the joint project they were planning never came to fruition, unfortunately. The first movie they worked on together was the grandiose, sombre epic ‘The Fall of the Roman Empire’. Stephen was the highest paid male actor in this movie, and Omar was an up and coming star who had just received great reviews for his performance in ‘Lawrence of Arabia.’ They are pitted as rivals in this film. Omar plays an Armenian king who marries the woman Boyd loves,  Lucilla, played by the incomparable Sophia Loren. Most of Omar’s scenes were cut from the final draft of the movie, but he and Boyd do get a great sword fight scene in the second half of the film. As far as can be discerned, the two actors got along just fine during the filming of this movie in 1963. About a year later they would work again together, but this was a different tale to tell. The two actors were cast again as rivals in the action packed epic ‘Genghis Khan’, with Omar as Temujin (Genghis Khan), and Boyd as the heavy this time,  portraying Jamuga, the leader of a rival tribe, the Merkits. Boyd seems to have had a great time as this villain. His character is ruthless, stubborn, relentless and vicious- a true barbarian. Omar’s Temujin is more refined, gentle, and forward thinking. Temujin is determined to coalesce the various warring tribes in Mongolia into a united Mongol nation. Jamuga is the thorn in his side throughout the picture, even going so far as to rape Temujin’s wife Bortei, played by the lovely Francoise Dorleac (Catherine Deneuve’s older sister).  Boyd at the time was still a major star, so he was billed first and also paid the highest, even though it was truly a starring role for Omar Sharif. In Eli Wallach’s memoirs he mentions speaking to Sharif on the set about his own pay, and the angry reaction it produced. It seems even Eli Wallach was getting paid more than Sharif! Somehow something was said or unsaid on the set that caused a a bitter enmity between the two actors. This set off Boyd’s Irish temper as,  generally speaking, Boyd was usually more than amiable to his co-stars. In this case, however, the two men refused to speak to each other off camera, refused to have pictures taken with each other, and also refused to attend the same premiere of the movie together. It was an all out feud. The tension it produced does come off well on screen, however, as the two actors do truly seem to hate each other, as their characters also do. The movie ends with a dusty, bloody, shirtless Mongol duel, with Boyd and Sharif wrestling and warring with each other in pure hatred and animosity. It’s a wonder this final wrestling match didn’t clear the air between these two! Two years later they would both appear in the U.N. sponsored movie ‘The Poppy is Also a Flower,’ however both of their minor parts were filmed completely separate from each other.  After struggling to make a name of himself in both ‘Fall of the Roman Empire’ and ‘Genghis Khan’, Omar Sharif would finally achieve permanent stardom in the classic ‘Doctor Zhivago.’ But if you take another look at ‘Genghis Khan,’ you will see my favorite Omar Sharif performance, alongside one of my all time favor Stephen Boyd performances as well.

 

In Fall of the Roman Empire, 1964

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In Genghis Khan, 1965

 

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Stephen’s Outrageous Patter – 1965 Interview

Stephen’s Outrageous Patter

Boyd, the Actor and the Lover


 
Stephen Boyd, of ‘Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’ fame, will be seen on Detroit screens this week as Jamuga, the hated enemy of ‘Genghis Khan’, opening Wednesday at neighborhoods and drive-ins. Boyd was lined up for the Mark Anthony role in ‘Cleopatra,’ but that was aborted during production troubles and the part finally was filled by a man named Burton.

By Susan Hopper, Detroit Free Press August 26, 1965

Special to the Free Press

 

HOLLYWOOD —  What kind of fellow is this Stephen Boyd? Listen to him talking:

Why he won’t look at his own movies:

“I’m not the kind of actor I want to watch.”

On Doris Day, Sophia Loren and Brigitte Bardot”

“The only difference between them is their hair style.”

One who are the greatest lovers”

“I doubt that Latins or Frenchman are the greatest lovers. Their women are all right: they’re pliable. But I’d rather have an Anglo- Saxon.”

On this marriage, which quickly ended in divorce:

“I was in love with the girl I married. I’d been with her four months.  We married and stayed together 19 days, which was too long. We were fine before marriage, but immediately you sign that little paper marking it legal…I’m not altar shy, but I’m not making it legal again.”

Why he became an American citizen:

“I wanted to say thank you for a way of life. I want to give something back to America, and you can only do it if you’re a citizen and can vote and take part in community affairs.”

Some of the things Ulster-born Boyd has done in recent years include going to Hollywood in order to make his fortune and making it—and setting some sort of record in the brevity-of-marriage stakes.

“When I left Britain in 1956, “ he said, “they  were making the kind of pictures which were surface. I’m not a surface actor. Cary Grant is and a brilliant one. David Niven is.”

“I’m a naturalistic actor of the Irish and French schools. In a film, if I go up to someone and say something to her, she either slaps my face or we have an affair. In English films, actors go up to a girl and say these same things and she’s supposed to laugh. I can’t say it that way. I can never stop being myself when I’m acting.”

Boyd explained what he meant by himself.

“I can only play a man who’s between 25-45. He’s got to be physically sort of—well he’s got to look strong. Don’t you think?”

Boyd leaned across the restaurant table and lifted his sunburned brows high over his round, blue eyes—somehow managing to look quizzical and good-natured and leering all at the same time.

“There’s a limit to what I can play. No matter what I do, I’m gonna look like me. You know?”

When he feels like it, Boyd speads in an accent which 99 percent of the Enlgish assume is a typical American accent; ‘going’ becomes ‘gonna’, ‘something’ becomes ‘sumpin,’ etc.

“Since I’ve been back in Britain, I keep being told I sound American. But when I go home to Northern Ireland, my mother says, ‘I see you haven’t lost your accent,’ And she’s right. The American accent is based on the Irish one.”

Another theory of Boyd’s concerns British actresses and why they often lament being underrated internationally;

“I think there are quite a few girls in Britain who could make international stars. I met Samantha Eggar the other day. She looks beautifully sexy and alive. You know? But the awful thing about it is the majority of the girls in Britain really have got to do something about their accents if they want to be in international films. They all sound so national….so terribly, terribly, terribly. You know what I mean?  They’ve got to learn to speak English—which is a beautiful language—not English that is only understood in one little community like Oxford. You know, I’ve never liked a lot of make-up on women. You don’t know how to break through. It’s almost like being in prison. You know? Let-me-know-when-I-touch-skin. What do they put so much on for? Huhh? It takes longer to take off. And time is a very important thing.”

Boyd did not waste a minute of it in his marriage to film agent Mariella di Sarzana.

“When you legalize something, it becomes a great big fight to hold the romance. Almost the biggest problem in life becomes this damn search for the romance you had—just five minutes before you signed the register. To hell with that lark. Marriage is a very strange thing. I don’t like organizations.”

I asked Mr. Boyd if he ever grew irked at being organized by agents and producers and directors. He looked at me in astonishment.

“Hell, no,” he said simply, “They’re running around trying to organize themselves. While they’re trying to do that, I do my work and walk away with the money.”