Stephen Boyd, a Rolls-Royce and a Chariot!

In early 1963 Stephen Boyd, a man who loved his automobiles, became the proud owner of a brand new Rolls-Royce, which apparently was delivered to him while he was filming “The Fall of the Roman Empire” in Spain. The two humorous anecdotes below about Boyd’s new car are from the Los Angeles Times.

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“Chariot Race Champ Drives Rolls-Royce”

Feb 17, 1963  Los Angeles Times

Stephen Boyd has become the unchallenged modern chariot champion. Because of his work in “Ben-Hur” and the currently shooting “Fall of the Roman Empire,” Boyd qualifies as the Sterling Moss of the chariot set and the Donald Campbell of the Roman racers. “Five years ago I made ‘Ben-Hur’ and people still call me ‘Messala,'” the actor said. “It makes you wonder how far you can go in life without a chariot. I figure they have taken me farther than a conscientious Roman Red Arrow messenger.”  A Rolls-Royce owner off the set, Steve says chariots compare favorably to modern vehicles as far as safety is concerned. “The auto driver forgets he has a hundred times more horses in his hands than the charioteer, but he isn’t one-tenth as careful.”

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Stephen Boyd shows off his chariot riding skills during the making of “The Fall of the Roman Empire” in early 1963 in Spain.

May 19, 1963  Los Angeles Times

Hardy passers-by braving a rugged location of Samuel Bronston’s “Fall of the Roman Empire” in the Guadarrama mountains of Spain, witnessed the arrival of a brand new Rolls-Royce from which alighted two royal Romans in full regalia and a man in a red snow suit. They were actors Stephen Boyd, owner of the car, Christopher Plummer and director Anthony Mann. En route, Boyd had extolled the virtues of his new auto, not even sparing that bit about hearing only the clock. As he and Plummer mounted their chariots, Mann growled to Boyd : “This AD 180, two horsepower, no stand-up top sports coupe is hardly as smooth running as your Rolls. But if you don’t give me a more exciting ride in it than you just did in that gold-plated hearse, I’ll let you lose this one too…just as you did in ‘Ben-Hur.'”

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Boyd, Mann and Plummer in snow-bound Spain during the filming of “The Fall of The Roman Empire”

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Stephen Boyd Golfing Tales

It’s hard to imagine that Stephen passed away 40 years ago on June 2nd! What a fine actor and a warm, Irish personality he was. He still retains a substantial worldwide fan-base (including many of you who have commented on this blog, in fact!).  I have enjoyed so many of his movies and his roles.  This blog has been devoted to sharing stories and photos about Stephen Boyd,  his movies and his life. So for this particular anniversary I thought I’d share a few fun stories about Stephen on the golf course. Why? Well, golfing was Stephen’s favorite pastime, and it was also what he was doing when he had a heart attack on June 2, 1977.

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Stephen got hooked on golfing about the time came to Hollywood full time. It was apparently actress Elana Eden, who Steve dated in early 1960, that got him interested in the sport.

Maybe it’s the influence of Elana Eden that has turned Stephen Boyd into such a wild-eyed golf enthusiast that he gets up at 6 o’clock practically every morning to get out to the links. – Louella Parsons, 10 March 1960, Philadelphia Inquirer 

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Soon Stephen was golfing at just about any moment he could- including overseas film locations, where he spent most of the early 1960’s.

“It’s crazy,” new golf addict Steve Boyd told me. “While working in Madrid this summer I played a lot of golf. One day I saw George Sanders on an opposite fairway. His caddy was lugging a bag full of clubs and Sanders was swinging away like Arnold Palmer. But he was playing without a ball.

“Later at the clubhouse, I asked him, ‘What the devil were you doing out there?’

“He explained that he was off his game and it was his method of returning to a more relaxed swing. As a matter of fact, playing without a ball in Spain is a great idea,” Boyd chuckled, “You have to search for it even if you hit it straight down the fairway. What they call a fairway looks like our rough.”

Boyd was in Madrid for filming of “Fall of the Roman Empire.” Since becoming a golf nut, with a Palm Springs home only a wedge shot from a country club, he refers to the movie as “that golf picture.”

The first letters of the words in the title, he points out, spell out “FORE”

At the moment Boyd is swinging away on Palm Springs courses after completing “The Third Secret.” in England. He once scored a 76, but has not broken 80 recently. – Erskine Johnson, 26 January 1964, The Jackson Sun

Stephen usually preferred to golf alone or with close friends, and he enjoyed the silence and calm of the golf course.

The actor says he spends half of his weekends golfing at Palm Springs- alone.

“In three and a half hours on the course along I play a better game than when I’m with a foursome. There’s no tension, no nerves. And at the end of that time, all your problems are gone.” – Gene Hhandsaker, 25 September, 1966 Oakland Tribune, Stephen Boyd ‘Filmland Loner’

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Another fun story, which I am sure Stephen told many times over, happened during the filming of “Slaves” during the summer 1968. The movie was filmed near Shreveport, LA in July and August of that year. It must have been hideously hot and humid, but this did not deter Stephen from golfing!

Stephen Boyd took time off from work on “The Slaves” to play golf at the nearby Shreveport, La., Country Club. And he got a hole-in-one he’ll be talking about for years. He got his ace on the 165-yard third hold when he belted his seven iron three feet in front of the pin and, “like it had eyes,” Stephen sighed, “the ball took one bounce and dropped in.”

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Bravo Stephen! A Hole-in-One!

Stephen appears in two of his 70’s movies practicing his golf moves (you wonder how demanding these movie schedules were if Stephen had time incorporate putting and swinging during actual filming!)

A scene from “A Million for a Blonde” in 1972—Stephen’s character in the film gets to mix a little romance with golfing here with an unnamed actress. Lucky lady!

 And also “The African Story” from 1971, where Stephen gets to show off very impressive golf swing during a scene with Marie Du Toit.

Stephen’s last day came on a golf course near his home in Tarzana, California called Porter Valley Country Club (photo below). It is located about 10 miles due north of his house. Stephen had just returned from Hawaii from the filming of the tenth season premiere episode of “Hawaii Five-O”. He was getting ready to film “The Wild Geese” with producer Euan Lloyd and a slew of great international stars, including Roger Moore (RIP!), Richard Burton and Richard Harris. Tragically, he would not get to make this film. It was a Thursday morning when Stephen decided to go golfing with his wife, Liz Mills. Somewhere between the fifth and sixth tees Stephen felt ill in the golf cart and collapsed. He had experienced a fatal heart attack, and he died a short time later.

Hopefully Stephen Boyd is still golfing in heaven as I write this blog. It was a tragedy to lose Stephen so early in life (only 45 years old), but the fact that he was doing something he loved with someone he loved (his wife Liz Mills) adds a little consolation to the tragedy.

RIP Stephen Boyd. Your fans still appreciate you and your work!

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Stephen Boyd “Follows the Dodgers from Spain”, 1963

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Follows Dodgers from Spain- a Dodger ‘fan-atic’ 

by Herb Stein
The Philadelphia Inquirer, July 7, 1963
MADRID. – Stephen Boyd is the only actor we know working abroad who imports his own ball games. For some stars the Number One item requested from America when they’re on foreign locations is Dave Chasen’s chili. For Belfast-born Boyd, whose birthday was July 4 and who hopes to become an American citizen, baseball is more important than food.

Here he is in Las Matas, 16 miles from Madrid, on the mammoth set of the Roman Forum for Samuel Bronston’s “Fall of the Roman Empire” where from 2000 extras and players – gladiators, flagellantes, priests, trumpeters, mounted Praetorians, stilt-walkers, townsmen and townswomen, etc. – are being rehearsed for a Saturnalia celebration.
Suddenly, during a five minute break, a courier races across the set to where Boyd is sitting off-camera to watch director Tony Mann prepare and shoot the spectacle sequence.

Steve is not in this shot. The courier is not in the dress of the scene’s Second Century Roman period. He’s in sport shirt and slacks. He arrives breathlessly, clutching a newspaper as though it were his very life. He hands it to Boyd, exclaiming: “They win! They win!”

WIN ‘MAKES’ HIS DAY

The paper is the Rome Daily American, first to arrive in Madrid with the basebal results of the preceding day. Boyd grabs it, quickly scans the standings on the sports page, sees the results for himself. His day is made. The Dodgers (at that moment) are a few percentage points atop the heap.

“One of the things I miss most about California,” Steve told us, “are the Dodger games at Chavez Ravine. I’m a big Dodger fan-atic.” He said that twice a week Armed Forces Radio broadcasts games live from the States. “They don’t carry the night games. But we get the day games on Tuesday and Thursday nights. We hear them at night, of course because of the five hour difference between here and the East (eight hours ahead of the coast). You can’t get me out of my apartment those nights. I’m glued to the radio.”

The days he can’t hear the games, or misses AFRS score recaps, he must depend on the papers. He has a standing order for the first paper with the results to be rushed to him by “courier.”

TAPES OF GAMES

Boyd doesn’t confide his Dodger interest merely to results of the occasional AFRS coverage of the L.A. games. Steve’s friends frequently send him tapes of the Dodger games. “Those are the most eagerly awaited evenings, when the tapes arrive. I cancel any date. I sit backand listen to every word, hand on every pitch, hit, stricker, out, foul, cheer, boo – bell. I even enjoy the commercials. It doesn’t bother me a bit that the game is several days old or a week old – that I know the outcome. It’s as fresh live to me as though it were being played, that instant.”

He paused a moment, then asked: “Do you think the day’ll come when I’ll be able to get a kine and run the game on a screen at home? Wouldn’t that be sumpin’?”

That part is how one motion picture star, at least, spends much of his spare time during location shooting abroad. One Sundays and is rare days off, Boyd golfs.

While we sat with Boyd, Christopher Plummer (who plays Commodus in “Roman Empire”) was taking instructions from a javelin expert for a duel sequence with Boyd (Livius). Steve had taken lessons earlier.

Plummer said later: “It’s east once you learn it. You can make it as vicious as you like after you learn the basic steps.” The javelin fight expert is much like a choreographer and the staging is much similar to ballet. The javelins? The “steel” is rubber. “But in filming the fight, they won’t use synthetic rubber,” we were told,” We’re much to authentic for that – we’ll use real rubber.”

Boyd and Plummer rehearse the javelin duel in “Fall of the Roman Empire”

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Stephen Boyd on the set of “Fall of the Roman Empire” enjoying a cigarette break.

Stephen Boyd’s fascination with Scientology

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For being a person that valued his individuality, it does seem odd that Stephen Boyd would become so fascinated with a dogmatic, controlling religion like Scientology. But Stephen had been interested in religion since his youth. He had even considered studying theology and becoming a minister when he was growing up in Belfast.

“I was sure hard to convince,” says Steve. At the Scottish Presbyterian church he even argued with the Reverend Nicholson about his sermons. “It amazed me.” states Steve, “that a man could read a text from the Bible and then have the nerve to tell others what it meant. Why, it means some- thing different to everyone who reads it!” He’d tell the good man this and they’d have word battles after church, to the preacher’s delight. But later, when Billy Millar briefly thought he’d like to study theology and be a minister himself, Reverend Nicholson shook his head.

“I know your mind, Billy,” he counseled. “And you won’t do for organized religion. You’d never accept it.” (Modern Screen 1960)

His intense conversations with Dolores Hart during the filming of Lisa in 1961 also revolved around religion and spirituality. “I found him deeply spiritual. We had many discussions about religion, in a general way, but occasionally we spoke of Catholicism. Stephen was adamant that although he was genuinely interested in the broad spectrum of religion, he was not attracted to any specific church. He would come to change that stand.” (The Ear of the Heart by Dolores Hart)

From an interview in 1966, Boyd expressed his interest in “esoteric” religion.

“I am deeply interested in the esoteric form of all religions….Basically it is the development of the inner you. I’m not a member of any church. I don’t subscribe to any one belief except the one true belief. I believe IN GOOD.”

Around 1966 is when Boyd began his interest in L Ron Hubbard‘s Church of Scientology, which would make him one of the first Hollywood stars to follow this religion. Boyd had always expressed an interest in esoteric religions.[33] Dolores Hart expressed her alarm in Stephen’s Scientology interests when he paid her Abbey a visit in 1966. “Remembering his distaste for organized religion, I cautioned him to think twice before getting too involved.” (From The Ear of the Heart) Apparently Boyd’s interest intensified during a stay in New York City in 1968 where he was given his first ‘auditing session’ by a Scientology group. From a Scientology newsletter, Boyd had this to say:

“The first reaction at the ORG offices was rather strange. Here were a bunch of people sitting, talking, walking about busily…and everywhere in that place, people were talking about thing being ‘beautiful.’ Anyway, we signed up for processing to being the following day. And again, while we were there, everything was ‘beautiful’. What the hell is this ‘beautiful’?”
In an interview in August 1969 with the Detroit Free Press, he said that Scientology helped him through the filming of Slaves, and that it is “a process used to make you capable of learning. Scientology is nothing. It means only what you want it to. It is not a church you go to to pray, but a church that you go to to learn. It is no good unless you apply it. It is the application”.[34] Boyd apparently had been elevated to a Scientology Status of OC 6, a position beneath that of Clear.

Part of the religions appeal to Boyd may have been it’s mysticism. “Those attracted to Scientology often have an interest in the occult – “the powers of the mind” religions…What Scientology is basically saying is, ‘If you clear your mind of problems, you’d be happy.” (Los Angeles Times, August 3, 1969)

Author Gary Valentine Lachman has an even better description from his booked Turn off Your Mind; The Mystic Sixties and the Dark Side of the Age of Aquarius.

“He (Hubbard) had set off into a terrain that offered endless variations and appeal: the mysteries of the human mind…The aim of Scientology is to awaken its practitioners to their real selves, to regain their true Thetan heritage, and become, more or less, supermen.”
Boyd would actually go on to star and narrate a Scientology recruiting film called Freedom in 1970.[37] A copy of this film can be found at the Library of Congress, but it is not available online via any Scientology resource,[38] which may indicate a falling out Boyd had with the Church later on for using his name for recruiting purposes.

Dolores Hart again mentioned in her memoirs some of her last communication with Boyd concerning Scientology. “(In 1970) he announced his plans to become an active member of the organization (Church of Scientology) and said that his life and mine could never find a crossing point, which saddened me.”This sounds exactly like what happens when Scientologists are called to disconnect from people who are opposed to their beliefs. Is this what happened between Boyd and Hart?

It’s hard to track Boyd’s connection to the Church of Scientology past 1970. Did he have a falling out with the Church? Did he continue to be a member? And why was he attracted to the complexities of this dogmatic, cult religion to begin with? It’s impossible to say. It’s just an intriging mystery about Stephen Boyd which we will never solve.