Stephen Boyd and Dirk Bogarde

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When Stephen Boyd was barely scraping out a living working at the Odeon in Piccadilly Square during the early 1950’s, one of the actors he probably caught frequently on the screen would have been English actor Dirk Bogarde. Dirk Bogarde had starting acting after returning from his wartime service in WWII and swiftly became one of England’s favorite matinée stars. He was known as the Idol of the Odeons. Certainly Stephen would have watched Dirk on screen and longed for this type of success. Bogarde had certain irresistible qualities which made him so popular with audiences; he was handsome, stylish, humorous, dashing and also a very, very good actor. Bogarde, like Boyd, also was one of the few English-speaking actors to work with French icon Brigitte Bardot in one of her earliest films, Doctor at Sea (1955).

BB and Bogarde….BB and Boyd.

Stephen Boyd started making movies in 1956 and by 1959 he had already gained something which Dirk Bogarde had not achieved in more than 10 years of film-making–success in the United States. Bogarde was almost exclusively a product of England. Bogarde did, however, become more of an international star in the 1960’s. Because of the success of Ben-Hur and the fact that Stephen’s rugged masculinity resonated immediately with American audiences, Boyd rocketed to international stardom almost at the beginning of this career.

In May of 1959 Bogarde himself warily ventured to Hollywood for the first time to partake in an project called The Song Without End which was filmed in Hollywood. It was a historical/romantic movie about the life of pianist and composer Franz Liszt. Before Bogarde arrived in Hollywood, Boyd was thrilled to tell columnist Hedda Hopper all about this English film star. Hedda herself had a chance to talk to Dirk (From Tucson Daily Camera, May 1, 1959).

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When I told him Stephen Boyd said he (Bogarde) was the top young actor in London for 12 years, he said, “He’s wrong, only nine. ”

Why haven’t you been here before? “Well, I’ve been busy as home. And this was the first script they’ve sent me that I like.”

This was Dirk’s first and last visit to Hollywood. The movie was a failure at the box office and Dirk never returned to Hollywood again. He would continue to prolifically make films in England and Europe, but he never achieved a substantial success in America.

Hedda doesn’t remark whether or not Dirk met up with Stephen to say hello during that time, but I can imagine they may have. Stephen was filming The Best of Everything during that time in Hollywood. I’m sure Boyd would have had nothing but admiring things to say about this very talented and very popular English actor!

The 1950’s–The Idol of the Odeons

For more about Dirk Bogarde, please see: https://wordpress.com/page/alpheratz9.wordpress.com/617

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Dirk Bogarde was born on March 28th 1921 in Hampstead, England. He was of Dutch descent, his original name being Derek Van den Bogaerde. His mother was a former actress and his father was the editor of the newspaper The Times. Dirk had a sister named Elizabeth and later on his mother bore another son named Gareth. Lally, often mentioned by Dirk, was the beloved nurse of the Bogaerde children. Dirk began a career as a scenic designer and commerical artist but wanted to act instead. In the late 1930’s Dirk joined the army as an officer in Air Photographic Intelligence. His army carrier took him to places like Germany, India, Malaya and Java. (Dirk’s fiction book ‘A Gentle Occupation’ is a semi-biographical/fictional account of his experinces in Java) When he returned he immediately joined a small theatre group, and he was quickly noticed and given a few small parts in films, signing a contract with Rank.

In the late forties Dirk was in such movies as Ester Waters, Quartet, Boys in Brown. It wasn’t until Dirk appeared in Basil Dearden’s The Blue Lamp, where he portrayed a small-time crook, that Dirk really began to get noticed by the press. In the early fifties Dirk continued his film work in So Long at the Fair, The Woman in Question and the much lauded Hunted in 1952. More ‘trenchcoat’ -running roles followed in films like The Gentle Gunman and Desperate Moment. His breakthrough role ironically came in a comedy Doctor in the House, where he played the innocent Simon Sparrow. A range of roles continued to come his ways, from Losey’s Sleeping Tiger to Simba to Cast a Dark Shadow. The doctor roles kept coming as well in Doctor at Sea and Doctor at Large. At this time Dirk had become a home-grown matinee idol, with school-girls picketing his house, screaming audiences at his appearances, and fan mail galore. Being an eligible bachelor only lent more fervor to the craze. Dirk dealt with his fame with the utmost grace and aloofness, never letting it get to his head. Being Britain’s heartthrob lead him to such romantic roles in movies like A Tale of Two Cities, Libel, Doctor’s Dilemma, The Spanish Gardner and Hollywood’s Song without End.

By this time, circa 1960, Dirk was getting restless. He felt at his age he was outgrowing his pop-idol status. He began to search for more challenging and interesting roles, beginning with the magnificent Victim, which dealt with the controversial subject of homosexuality. Other roles like Damn the Defiant, The Singer not the Song, the Mind Benders, and I Could go on Singing followed, but Dirk continued his hunt for the appropriate collaborater. In 1963 he was paired with director Joseph Losey and it was a perfect match. Films with Losey in the 1960’s included The Servant, King and Country, Modesty Blaise and The Accident . These films and the movie Darling helped Dirk to gain actual critical acclaim, and he began to be known as one of Britains most talented actors. His matinee pop-idol tag was now an addendum to a much lauded acting career. In the later sixties Dirk would work with another well-known director, Luchino Visconti, on The Damned and Death in Venice.

In the seventies Dirk semi-retired in France but continued to choose interesting roles in films like The Night Porter, Providence, Permission to Kill and Despair in 1977. Dirk also began to write books, something he had longed to do throughout his career but had never found the time. Dirk would write several biographies and also many fiction books, even publishing a book of letters. Dirk has shown not only an incredible acting talent but also a vivid and moving talent as a writer. In the late 1980’s Dirk moved back to London to live a very private, quiet life. He also became actively involved in the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, a subject which Dirk felt very strongly about ( see the Voluntary Euthanasia Society of the UK Home Page and Dirk’s Views on Euthanasia ) In 1990 Dirk would act in his last film appearance in the French film Daddy Nostalgia.

Stephen Boyd and Clark Gable

At the start of Stephen Boyd’s Hollywood career, he was quickly compared to the legendary Clark Gable as a handsome, tough heart-breaker on the big screen. Gable himself had started out in villain roles then proceeded to become the King of Hollywood,  starring as the witty, masculine and charismatic Rhett Butler in 1939’s “Gone with the Wind”. Advertiser’s for both “The Night Heaven Fell” in 1958 and “Woman Obsessed” and 1959 tag-lined Stephen as “The Young New Clark Gable” or simply just “the New Gable”. Even Hedda Hopper liked to compare Boyd to Gable, and Boyd himself agreed modestly that some of the Gable type roles would have suited him as well. These comparisons faded, obviously, after Boyd’s career took a different path. He did not become the next Clark Gable in Hollywood. But the comparison is still intriguing. In fact, in one of Stephen’s later movies “Slaves” in 1969, Boyd resembles Gable’s Rhett Butler more than ever in his looks with his debonair mustache and 19th century Southern gentleman’s wardrobe!

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QUOTES ABOUT BOYD AND GABLE

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When I told him I thought of him as the new Clark Gable of this era, although a far more vital type than Gable, he (Boyd)  shook his head, puzzled: “It’s difficult to associate myself along those lines,” he said. “But I daresay the roles Gable has played are roles I’m suited for. I prefer a two line part with genuine character to an innocuous one such as I had in ‘Woman Obsessed’…after I read a story I ask myself whom do I remember. That is the part that will be remembered on screen. I’d like to try some kinds of roles Arthur Kennedy plays- something with guts and vitality. (Pittsburgh Press, Hedda Hopper Interview, Jan 31, 1960)

Charlton Heston as “Ben-Hur” gives a performance of  utmost convection and sincerity, while Stephen Boyd as “Messala” brings to the screen one of the most vital portrayals since Gable’s Rhett Butler. (Pittsburgh Press,  Jan 20, 1960)

Clark Gable couldn’t love the billing Stephen Boyd gets in the Brigitte Bardot picture, “The Night Heaven Fell.” The advertising refers to Steve as “The Young New Clark Gable…”  (Anderson Daily Bulletin, Aug 12, 1958)

He (Boyd) thinks they’re nuts when they call him “another Gable.” (Modern Screen, June 1960)

Asked once how it felt to be labeled Hollywood’s biggest sexboat since Gable in his prime, Steve replied, with a slightly forlorn look, “I’d rather be known as a good actor. Sexboats recede with their hairlines, but actors get better and better.” (Unknown clipping, 1960)

PROMOTIONAL ADVERTISING ABOUT BOYD AS THE NEW GABLE

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An interesting newspaper clipping from 1969 that happens to shows Boyd’s Nathan McKay from “Slaves” and Clark Gable’s Rhett Butler from “Gone with the Wind” on the same page. It is striking how similar they look in these two movies. (Terre Haute Tribune, Aug 24, 1969)

Hedda Hopper “Steve Boyd is back from Stint Abroad”, 1964 Interview

Looking at Hollywood, by Hedda Hopper

STEVE BOYD IS BACK FROM STINT ABROAD

Francoise Dorleac and Stephen Boyd in Yugoslavia

Hollywood, Dec 28, 1964 – Steve Boyd, who spent more than half of this year in Europe for “Genghis Khan” and “The Bible,” finally came to a halt at Twentieth Century Fox for “The Fantastic Voyage,” which puts him on the sets Jan.5 for 85 days….

“I was over four months in Yugoslavia with Omar Sharif and Francoise Dorleac, a wonderful experience,” Steve said. “It’s the only country I’ve hit where United States aid is appreciated. All housing build with our money flies American flags atop buildings and the people are cordial and express their gratitude. I reported back here for “Voyage” to learn it was postponed a month, so accepted John Huston’s offer to play Nimrod, which fitted neatly into the interval. Just before I was to leave, Saul David, my producer, said he and Dave Fleischer must have some huddles with me first. So I canceled the flight and  took tickets for a plane four days later. It saved my life. I was booked on Flight 800 which went down with everyone aboard lost. (For more about TWA 800 Crash, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TWA_Flight_800_(1964)  )

“We were rained out when I first hit Cairo,” Steve continued, “Huston was working in the Moadi desert 50 miles outside the city, and I got lost heading for location. Nothing but sand in all directions, not even a mirage in sight. I was done up in a fantastic costume of gold metal eyebrows and helmet, tight black leather pants and fur chaps. A man appeared out of nowhere and thrust his arm inside the car. I thought I’d be shot on sight, instead he shook hands, said something in Egyptian and pointed out the direction of our company.”

Steve is leaner and handsomer these days, work black British woolens and had a close contemporary haircut. When I accused him of being a contender for Cary Grant’s sartorial spot he said: “I’m glad to be rid of that long hair I’ve sported with armor and costume stuff. I play a super-modern man and it’s the first film I’m not allowed to talk about. Generally this is a publicity gimmick, but Life magazine was turned down flat when they asked to photograph sets and see a script, and 35 foreign publications were refused also. After “Voyage” I’ll do a western for Columbia, as yet untitled. Eli Wallach will play the original Gimbel who founded the great merchant fortune and came west in the early days.”

“You sounded close to permanence with that English girl just before you went away,” I said. “What about it?” He grinned. “The little black book book gets obsolete every time I leave, so that romance is dead. As for girls, the minute they start with ‘dear heart’ and ‘darling,’ I run. Women in Yugoslavia are attractive in a big busted way,” he said. “Tito would export bosoms and rocks and make a fortune. They place is full of giant boulders and women build the roads, throwing big rocks into a crushed which a man operates. He reads his newspaper, she throws the boulders into a hopper, and he presses the lever with his foot. Then she picks up the pieces and lays them one by one in the roadbed. These girls are handsome and firm muscled; but the ones with easier jobs are given to fat.”

Steve’s still suing Anthony Mann for half a million over “The Unknown Battle.”  “I missed out on four good roles and plenty of money when he signed me without financial backing and then dropped the project,” Steve said. “He asked me again later but I’d made other commitments, so Kirk Douglas and Richard Harris made it under another title. Westerns are the big money makers in Europe. Clint Eastwood of Rawhide TV made a western in Spain with an Italian director and cast, all of whom took American names for it. It cost $140,000 and has already grossed 2 million dollars, and Clint is the top star in Italy now. ‘Jumbo’ has lines a block long in Spain when I first went over there and it was the same story months later.”

Stephen Boyd gets swarmed by a crowd at a “Jumbo” premiere

Steve says we’re behind on the subject of nutrition in which he’s keenly interested. “I can’t find a good nutritionist in Los Angeles. My mother, who was crippled with arthritis and couldn’t move about at all a year ago, has been under care of a London doctor who has a new cure. When I saw her recently she was walking in the garden without a cane. It’s a combination of exercise and diet, and she’s given a glass of red wine each day.”

 


Stephen Boyd- “The Tiger Hollywood has by the Tail” 1959-1960 articles

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This is a fascinating article released just as Boyd’s career was rocketing  at the opening of Ben Hur in late 1959. Famed  columnist Hedda Hopper, always a major fan of Boyd’s, highlights some of Stephen’s persistent characteristics – specifically his desire to have more character roles instead of leading men parts. Hedda describes Boyd has having “terrific screen impact and vitality beyond any actor I know.” That is certainly high praise! This article also includes Boyd’s notorious comment that “I won’t work in a brass hat to the end of my days,” a comment which did not please his studio Twentieth Century Fox, as they had several ‘brass hat’ roles lined up for him, including “The Story of Ruth”, “The King Must Die”, and perhaps even an off-shoot Messala project. Stephen had already talked to the studio about playing Mark Anthony at this point (late 1959) for the upcoming Cleopatra. It was a role he would eventually sign up for. This is also the comment which may have in fact prevented Stephen from even being nominated for an Oscar for his performance as Messala in Ben Hur. Stephen did win the Golden Globe as Best Supporting Actor for Ben Hur, but he was strangely overlooked for an Academy Award. See below for Stephen’s opinion about being overlooked as a Supporting Actor by the Academy for Ben Hur (See below article “Supporting Actors Pose Movie Woe”.)  Stephen also mentions, interestingly, that he would have liked to have played a few famous Lawrence Olivier roles for live TV -including  Rebecca and Wuthering Heights. I have always wished that Stephen could have played Heathcliff! I am surprised this movie never got remade in the 50’s or 60’s. Stephen would have been a perfect choice!

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Boyd in Woman Obsessed, 1959– the closest Stephen got to a ‘Heathcliff’ type role

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Released by the Chicago Tribune, November 29, 1959

Even the mainstream press was shocked that Boyd was overlooked for his performance as “Messala” in Ben Hur by the Academy. He wasn’t even nominated. Stephen was quite outspoken at the time, and this article by Bob Thomas is full of rebellious Boyd quotes such as this.

 Yet he drew no Oscar nomination, because he had star billing in the film. “Ridiculous!” declares the outspoken Irishman, “I was a supporting player in the picture. Every other role in Ben Hur was in support of Chuck Heston. Why, not counting the chariot scene, my role lasted a half-hour on the screen. Now how can you call that a starring role?”

Luckily for us, Ben Hur still is well known by movie-goers, and Stephen’s amazing performance as Messala sometimes still gets referred to (mistakenly) as an Oscar winning performance! Frankie Fane would be proud.

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Corpus Christi Caller Times 23 March, 1960

“Patience of a saint, eyes like blue sin” – Hollywood mystery actress describes Stephen Boyd

In 1962, Hedda Hopper asked a mystery Hollywood glamour girl (I speculate it was Joan Collins, but that’s just a guess!) what she thought of several of Hollywood’s leading men. He is what our mystery girl said about Stephen Boyd:

Stephen Boyd. Very exciting performer. Patience of a saint, eyes like blue sin, in a huge head which gives him the appearance of being bigger than he is. He is sensual, but not sinable. You have the feeling that nothing selfish or mean crosses his mind. He will have a long and successful career.

In CINEMONDE Magazine in 1964, Stephen’s other famous female co-stars were asked to describe their leading man’s vivid blue eyes.

 Jugez ! Taille : 1 m 85 pour 77 kg ; boucles châtain doré et des yeux bleus comme ces lacs de l’Irlande dont il est issu. De ces yeux, Sophia Loren elle-même a dit : “Ils sont un irrésistible mélange de volonté magnétique, de séduction passionné, de poésie aventureuse.” Susan Hayward, avec qui il tourna Woman obsessed, affirmait crûment, elle : “Stephen possède une virilité du tonnerre.” …. Dans ce film, ils formèrent un couple splendide, et B.B. reconnaît aujourd’hui : “Boyd a ces yeux extraordinaires de volonté rêveuse, d’un bleu si pur et lumineux, qui furent ceux des frères Kennedy…”

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Judge! Size: 1 m 85 for 77 kg; Golden chestnut curls and blue eyes like those lakes of Ireland from which it is derived. From these eyes, Sophia Loren herself said: “They are an irresistible mixture of magnetic will, passionate seduction, adventurous poetry.” Susan Hayward, with whom he turned Woman obsessed, said bluntly, she: “Stephen has a virility of thunder.” …. In this film (Night Heaven Fell), they formed a splendid couple, and B.B.  (Brigitte Bardot) recognizes today: “Boyd has these extraordinary eyes of dreamy will, of a blue so pure and luminous, which were those of the brothers Kennedy …”

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Los Angeles Times, September 3, 1962

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“This is Going to Be The Year of the Boyd” 1964 Stephen Boyd Interview by Hedda Hopper

‘This Is Going to Be The Year of the Boyd’
Mar 29, 1964 by Hedda Hopper

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STEPHEN BOYD used to be a man
who wouldn’t see his own movies. I’ve known him to go to premieres, wait in the lobby until the movie was over, collect his date, and leave as tho he’d been part of the audience. He was that casual about his career. Now he tells me:

“I’ve had a change of heart and will go to see movies I make in the future because 1964 is going to be The Year of the Boyd.”

“What on earth do you mean by that?” I asked.

“When you re a theater actor coming into pictures you have a battle,” he re- plied. “In the theater an actor must lose himself in a role. Films are the opposite; movies are a personality business. With films you have to wrap up a package knowing the quality of the picture and your performance, and you still have to sell it. Now I know how to sell it.”

Steve started his acting career with the Ulster Theater group in Ireland when he was eight. When he grew up he journeyed to Canada and traveled thruout the dominion with repertory companies, then went to England. But no brass bands met him in London, and he kept alive by working as a cafeteria attendant and playing tunes on a guitar as a sidewalk entertainer.

By 1957 he had enough money saved up to come to Hollywood and found his first real break-the movies. Two years later he was an international sensation as Messala in “Ben Hur.” Then followed “Jumbo” with Doris Day and a raft of
other films. He has three more on the way: “Imperial Venus” with Gina Lollo- brigida; “The Third Secret” with Diane Cilento [of “Tom Jones” fame]; -and the epic “The Fall of the Roman Empire” with Sophia Loren and Alec Guinness.

When he’s not globe-trotting, Steve enjoys his new home in Palm Springs which he added to the one he already had in the San Fernando valley, and enjoys golf, tennis,. and photography, his favorite pastimes.

Another of Steve’s favorite, pastimes is talking about the screen beauties he s worked with:

“I like Doris Day. She’s the number one American star because she’s kind of an explosion of the girl-next-door, with talent. She’s as explosive as Sophia Loren but not in the same way; one is American, the other Latin.

“Brigitte Bardot? Now there’s really an explosive child! I lost 26 pounds when I worked with her- to keep up with her. But I’d do it again-she’s worth it. I think she’s becoming a better personality and has become more adult.”

Excitement has dominated Steve’s life, but he’s still just a home boy from the old sod at heart.

“My parents still live in Ireland,” Steve said. “My father is 72, and has retired as a truck driver.

“My parents have their own view of me: they’re completely unsophisticated. My mother still tells me what to do and prays for me the way she does for us all. To her, I’m still the youngest of nine children.”

The quiet life’s over for Stephen Boyd. He learned he couldn’t lick ’em, so he joined ’em-the Hollywood drum-beaters who sell, sell, sell.

The Year of the Boyd

Stephen Boyd on his rise to stardom:

“I don’t think I’ve reached the top yet. The struggle is ending and now I can really go-now it’ll be plain sailing.”

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.”

Is he he missed playing Mare Antonv in “Cleopatra”?

“No. I had other commitments and wanted to get to them. When they were delayed filming ‘Cleo,’ I couldn’t wait for them to get started again. There’ll be other roles just as good. I can wait.”

On his 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 making it legal … I’m not altar shy, but I’m not making it legal again.”

On why his movie, “Jumbo,” flopped:

“I have no explanation for it. Why discuss a failure? I’m a great supporter of any picture I’m in, and if there are bad reviews that harm it, it hurts me.”

On who are the greatest lovers:

“I doubt that Latin’s or Frenchmen are great lovers. Their women are all right; they’re pliable. But I’d rather have an Anglo-Saxon.”