Boyd Back to ‘Civvies’
from the Republican and Herald, Pennsylvania, March 26, 1965
GOODBY TOGAS, HELLO PANTS, SAYS STEVE
by Armand Arched
HOLLYWOOD – It’s a pleasure to track down Stephen Boyd on a movie set. The search can take you anywhere from Rome for “Ben-Hur” to downtown Los Angeles for his current “Fantastic Voyage.” But it’s a long time between his Hollywood-made films. And he’s one of those rare guys who’d like to stay at home in sunny Southern California and leave the driving (or flying) to other guys.
The last time we spoke to Boyd on the set of a Hollywood made film was “Jumbo”, on the back lot at MGM studios in Culver City. Since that time, he’s been to Italy (a couple of times), Spain, Yugoslavia, England, Egypt and Ireland.
“It seems I do nothing but travel,” he smiled. “And, as you know, I originally came to Hollywood to make my home here and to work here. But since that time, there’s been an influx over to Europe and unfortunately I’ve been a member of that group.”
Boyd wasn’t kidding about making his home in the sunny Southern California clime. The eligible bachelor, instead of making his pad one of those super-glamor places above the Sunset Strip, chose to buy his own home in the San Fernando Valley where such established family men like John Wayne live. Sure, the house has a pool- he’s a sun-lover. (One of those reasons he left the British Isles).
“I’m a true-blooded American citizen,” Boyd noted (he’s had his citizenship papers over a year), “and also a true- blooded California citizen.” He credits the last status in view of his always-handy golf clubs. Like thousands of Los Angelenos, Boyd is a golf nut. Whenever and wherever possible, he’s out pounding the turf.
“Fantastic Voyage” is a pleasure for Boyd on another count. It gives him a chance to work in civvies for a change. “I’d almost become used to getting up in the morning and putting on a dress- a toga, that is, ” he laughed. “It’s nice to be wearing long pants. I feel like a man again.”
In the film, he plays a secret service man –“a good full-blooded American,” he reiterated. But before this epic, Boyd was again in a toga, or baggy dress, playing “Nimrod” in the biggest epic of them all, “The Bible” by Dino de Laurentiis.
Boyd toils in the Tower of Babel sequences. Although he was again in biblical dress, Boyd admits the film was a great experience.
“But it’s a different-looking Steve Boyd,” he warned. “My make up took three hours every morning– false beard, false eyebrows, false eyelashes, false hair. Everything about me is false – except my heart, ” he laughed. These sequences were filmed outside Cairo as well as in the studios near Rome.
We were talking with Boyd inside the giant Los Angeles Sports Arena. As we looked down from the upper levels at the floor below (being readied for a basketball game that night), it was hard to believe Hollywood’s craftsmen had transformed the place into a Pentagon-type building for super-secret activities of deterrent force of men who could make themselves small enough to enter the human blood stream – of the enemy, that is.
It’s a super-futuristic film, of course. It’s not outer space, we were told, but inner, inner space. Some of the equipment rented is also used in plants doing secret government work. Some of the machines are creations of the 20th-Fox engineers. It’s super-science-fiction stuff.
Talking to Steve and looking down at the floor of the Sports Arena, we wondered if he and pal Charlton Heston could run a chariot race here. “It would be kind small,” he laughed. “If Chuck Heston and I got in here we’d have to expand it five or six times the size. We’re a little too fast for these guys.”
We could testify to that – we once stood on the sidelines of the “Ben-Hur” arena in Rome when they filmed their chariot race and we still shudder, recalling those charging steeds tearing around the track a few yards away from our reporting post.
Yes, we agreed with Boyd, it’s a pleasant change to see him working in civvies – and in modern civilization again.
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.