In writer Gore Vidal’s memoir ‘Palimpsest’ he describes in detail how he developed the renowned homo-erotic angle in the Ben-Hur script that was used to develop the tension between the hero, played by Charlton Heston, and his nemesis, played by Stephen Boyd. It’s fascinating to read and it’s also very interesting to see how Stephen and Gore conspired to pull this off. (Note also Vidal’s admiration for the set design of “The Fall of the Roman Empire” on page 303 below.)
I’ve also included a snippet of Gore Vidal talking about the making of Ben-Hur in the documentary entitled “The Celluloid Closet.” He has high praise for Boyd, but genuine dislike for Heston, sadly. Gore described Boyd as an ‘enigmatic’ Irish-man with the perfect ‘I can do anything’ attitude, which fit Gore’s image of Messala perfectly.
Now, people sometimes get confused and think that Stephen Boyd was himself gay, which he was not. (Stephen fell in love and married his wife Mariella di Sarzana while filming Ben-Hur!) Truly, if there was anyone who would know if someone was gay, that would be Gore Vidal! Gore Vidal never says this in any of this interviews or books, only that the character was portrayed by Boyd (in his off-screen explanation) as gay. Read below for all the details!
Director William Wyler, screenwriters Christopher Fry and Gore Vidal, and star actor Charlton Heston at Cinecitta Studios in Rome, 1958
Here I am with Christopher Fry. We are the two writers who actually wrote the screenplay of the film Ben-Hur in Rome for producer Sam Zimbalist and director William Wyler. The literally incredible screenwriter’s Guild denied credit to either of us on the grounds that another writer unknown to all of us, claimed the script was his. He maintained that he had mailed a copy of the script from Culver City to Zimbalist who, at the credit time, was conveniently dead. Years later, I successfully sued the Guild on a similar matter. – Gore Vidal, Snapshots in History’s Glare
Gore Vidal’s greatest novel in my opinion is “Julian”, released in 1962, about the pagan apostate Roman Emperor. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of this book! It is a delight to read and Vidal is an exceptional author! This is truly my favorite novel of all time.