Actor Stephen Boyd commemorated with blue plaque – BBC News

Actor Stephen Boyd commemorated with blue plaque

Stephen Boyd was born in Northern Ireland and became a Hollywood legend

Actor Stephen Boyd, who became a Hollywood film idol, has been commemorated with a blue plaque close to his Newtownabbey birthplace.

Boyd is famous for the chariot scene in 1950s blockbuster, Ben-Hur, when he raced alongside Charlton Heston.But he was originally Billy Millar from Glengormley, the youngest of nine children, born on 4 July 1931.It was a chance encounter with Sir Michael Redgrave at a London cinema that paved the way to success. Before that, the aspiring actor had spent nights on a park bench and even busked outside the cinema to make money.Sir Michael helped him along the road to success. He had his big break with the Hollywood epic, Ben Hur.

The blue plaque was unveiled on Wednesday afternoon.

He won a Golden Globe for best supporting actor for his role and carried the scars from that chariot race for the rest of his life.During his career, he played opposite famous leading ladies including Sophia Loren, Doris Day and Brigitte Bardot. Despite the glamour, he never forgot his roots and returned to his parent’s house as often as he could. He bought a bungalow for his parents in Bangor and named it Messala – his character in Ben-Hur.

Stephen Boyd’s Hollywood success has been celebrated by the Ulster History Circle. He died of a heart attack in 1977, aged 46.The plaque was unveiled at noon on Wednesday, at Moygara, 292 Shore Road, Whitehouse.


Blue plaque honour for Ulster-born Hollywood star Stephen Boyd

Blue plaque honour for Ulster-born Hollywood star Stephen Boyd

Stephen Boyd appeared in around 60 movies
Stephen Boyd appeared in around 60 movies
The life and work of legendary Hollywood actor Stephen Boyd is to be commemorated with the unveiling of a blue plaque close to his birthplace in Newtownabbey.
The Ulster History Circle – a voluntary organization which erects plaques across the Province to celebrate people of achievement – will officially unveil the plaque at ‘Moygara’, Shore Road, Whitehouse, tomorrow at noon.
Stephen Boyd – real name William Millar – was born in a house, long demolished, at the corner of the Doagh Road, Whitehouse on July 4, 1931. He was the youngest of nine siblings born to Irish/Canadian parents, James Alexander Millar and his wife Martha Boyd. At a very early age, William, or Billy as he was known, moved with the family to live in Glengormley. Whilst living there, in 1935 he attended the local Public Elementary School, but left the school at the age of 14 to study shorthand typing and bookkeeping at Hughes Commercial in Belfast.
As he grew up, Billy became the ‘heart throb’ of many of the local Glengormley women with his film star looks, and by late 1948 his wanderlust had led him to Canada and the United States where he performed on radio with a touring theatre company. He returned home, as he did many times in the ensuing years, and graduated from the local Carnmoney Drama Group to the Ulster Players at the Group Theatre where writer and actor, the late, great Joseph Tomelty gave him the role of the gravel-voiced policeman in the popular radio series, The McCooeys.
Billy travelled to London in 1951 as an understudy with the Ulster Players for a performance as part of the Festival of Britain. Whilst in London he met Sir Michael Redgrave who arranged a contract with London Films, later to become part of 20th Century Fox in Hollywood.
So, the young man from Whitehouse and Glengormley, who had big dreams of becoming a star, made his first movie in Hollywood in 1954 – Lilacs in the Spring, with Zsa Zsa Gabor and Anna Neagle. With his name changed to Stephen Boyd, his real break came in the role of a Nazi spy in the 1956 production of the Man Who Never Was.
He became noted for his looks and his acting, and the following year, he was auditioning along with such famous names as Victor Mature, Stewart Granger and Kirk Douglas for the part of Messala in William Wyler’s 1959 MGM epic, Ben-Hur, set in ancient Rome. The part of Messala catapulted Stephen to international stardom, and he won a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor. He was being hailed as ‘The New Gable’.
For almost three decades and some 60 movies, Stephen Boyd played opposite some of the greatest leading ladies, Sophia Loren, Doris Day, Bridget Bardot, Camilla Sparv, to name but a few.
Despite the glamour of Hollywood, Boyd never forgot his roots and returned to Glengormley to his parents’ house as often as he could; many times resting there after filming in Europe. He purchased a new bungalow for his parents in Bangor and James and Martha named it ‘Messala’, after their son’s most famous role.
Boyd married twice in California. In 1975 he married his long-time girlfriend and secretary, Elizabeth Mills, but just two years later on June 2, 1977 aged just 46, whilst playing golf in the San Fernando Valley, he collapsed and died of a heart attack. He is buried in the Oakwood Cemetery, Los Angeles alongside other Hollywood greats such as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers.Boyd is also remembered on his parents’ grave in the Clandeboye Cemetery, Bangor.
Chris Spurr, chairman of the Ulster History Circle, said: “Stephen Boyd was born in Whitehouse across the lough from Holywood, Co Down, but he set his sights on Hollywood, California, from where he achieved world-wide fame, starring in many movies. “The Ulster History Circle is delighted to commemorate this celebrated actor with a blue plaque close to his birthplace, and the circle would particularly like to thank Abbey Historical Society for their financial support towards the plaque.” 
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Remembering Stephen Boyd on June 2nd and his last performance on Hawaii Five-0

Above, Stephen Boyd with Jack Lord and co-star Elayne Heilveil in “Up The Rebels”, the 10th season premiere of the original Hawaii Five-0 TV show which aired on September 15, 1977.

This will make 41 years since Stephen Boyd passed away on June 2nd, 1977. Stephen was enjoying a round of golf (his favorite pastime) with his wife Elizabeth Mills at the Porter Valley Country Club in Northridge, California when he suffered a heart attack between the 5th and 6th holes in his golf cart. By the time he received emergency aid, he was gone. Tragically he was only 45 years old.

Only three weeks prior to his death Stephen was completing the film work for an episode of Hawaii Five-0, a show which he had initially been offered to star in during the late 1960’s, but which he obviously declined. The show would air posthumously in September of that same year. Playing the villain again, Boyd gets to show off his Ulster brogue and play a ruthless Catholic rebel priest smuggling arms to Ireland (via Hawaii!). Boyd gives an excellent performance but sadly his last. In his final on-screen dialogue Boyd speaks something in Gaelic, and then says “Up The Rebels” in English with an Irish wink. It’s an eerie farewell.

Stephen did know some Gaelic and even pulled a practical trick on director John Houston once on the set of “The Bible” using it. As Boyd tells it :

“The one rib he tried to pull on my backfired…He introduced me to a chap, saying: “Steve, I want you to know this man who’ll help you more than anyone has helped you before.” He didn’t know I’d met the same fellow while making ‘Ben-Hur’ in Rome several years ago. He gives forth with the double talk so fast you think you’re an ignoramus.

“So I coached this guy in some Gaelic and told him to go back and do the double-talk in that tongue, with an occasional English word thrown in. He had Huston going for a while but he’s very hep and a good sport, too, getting a hearty laugh at me for turning the tables.” (Philadelphia Daily News, Jan 19, 1965)

Below are some nice pictures of Stephen from Hawaii-Five 0 and a short summary of events from 1977.

What Happened in 1977 Important News and Events, Key Technology and Popular Culture

Star Wars opens in cinemas, first Apple II computers go on sale, TV Mini Series “Roots” is aired, First commercial flight Concord, Elvis Presley Dies at the age of 42, NASA space shuttle first test flight, UK Jubilee celebrations, Roman Polanski is arrested and Charged, Alaskan Oil Pipeline completed, New York City Blackout lasts for 25 hours Quebec adopts French as the official language. Jimmy Carter is elected as the President of United States . The precursor to the GPS system in use today is started by US Department of defense. Elvis Presley Dies from a heart attack aged 42.

Issue date Song Artist(s) Reference
January 1 Tonight’s the Night (Gonna Be Alright) Rod Stewart [1]
January 8 You Don’t Have to Be a Star (To Be in My Show) Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr. [2]
January 15 You Make Me Feel Like Dancing Leo Sayer [3]
January 22 I Wish Stevie Wonder [4]
January 29 Car Wash Rose Royce [5]
February 5 Torn Between Two Lovers Mary MacGregor [6]
February 12 [7]
February 19 Blinded by the Light Manfred Mann’s Earth Band [8]
February 26 New Kid in Town Eagles [9]
March 5 “Evergreen (Love Theme from A Star Is Born)” Barbra Streisand [10]
March 12 [11]
March 19 [12]
March 26 Rich Girl Daryl Hall and John Oates [13]
April 2 [14]
April 9 Dancing Queen ABBA [15]
April 16 Don’t Give Up on Us David Soul [16]
April 23 Don’t Leave Me This Way Thelma Houston [17]
April 30 Southern Nights Glen Campbell [18]
May 7 Hotel California Eagles [19]
May 14 When I Need You Leo Sayer [20]
May 21 Sir Duke Stevie Wonder [21]
May 28 [22]
June 4 [23]
June 11 I’m Your Boogie Man KC and the Sunshine Band [24]

Stephen Boyd, “The Quiet Man” and Maureen O’Hara

From news snippets in May of 1969, it looks as if Stephen Boyd was set to film The Quiet Man, a remake of the famous John Wayne classic movie set in Ireland. I have seen some of the movie and read the full short story by Maurice Walsh. I actually like the novel best, and I can see how this would have been a brilliant role for Boyd. In the book, the ‘quiet man’ , whose name in the novel is Paddy Bawn Enright,  is described as having broad shoulders, deep set blue eyes and a moody brow.


The movie was to be for National Television Associates (so perhaps a TV movie?).  Production was set for April 15th in Ireland in a production agreement between Bernard Tabakin of NTA (National Television Associates) and Michael Bromhead of Alliance International Film Corp. of London, according to the Los Angeles Times (March 21, 1969). John Wilson was set to direct the project. Apparently when Boyd was in London, set to film this, he hopped on a plane and took off for Paris for a few days. Rumor has it he was visiting Brigitte Bardot. Nothing is heard of again about this production, sadly.

Now we can only speculate as to who would be playing the fine Irish lass Ellen Roe  O’Danaher in this movie? Samantha Eggar comes to mind as a good choice, but that’s just my imagination.

Interestingly, Boyd seems to have had an admirer in the original The Quiet Man star, movie actress Maureen O’Hara! Maureen once lamented the lack of male cinema studs in 1960, but she specifically pointed out Stephen as being “an example of the old fashioned kind of virile male star you don’t see in pictures now.” Maureen was also on hand to proffer her fellow Irishman a kiss when he became a U.S. citizen during a ceremony in Los Angeles in 1963. O’Hara came from Dublin and Stephen from Belfast.

Stephen Boyd Sings on the Dinah Shore Chevy Show, March 13, 1960

Having just viewed this show myself for the first time ever ( yes, my heart is still pounding!), I must also agree with Hedda Hopper. Stephen oozes charm in this show, and he has radiant chemistry with the always lovely Dinah Shore. He gets to flirtatiously hold a flustered Dinah in his arms, ride a 1960’s ‘Chev-iot’ (chariot) with Dinah, and most fun of all, he gets to sing and dance! Boyd’s voice is deep and melodious – he sings like a dream. He gets to sing a beautiful version of “The Leprechaun Song” and a duet of “Molly Malone” with Dinah. Dinah also sings a verse of  Stephen’s favorite Irish love song, “I Know My Love.” Then, to top it off, Stephen and Dinah get to step dance – Irish- Riverdance style. It’s a wonderful tribute to Stephen’s talent. Click below YouTube links to view Stephen’s segments, or the full show is on, which aired recently on  Thanks to one of my best blog followers for the tip which helped me track this awesome TV show down!

Leprechaun Song Lyrics

In a shady nook, one moonlit night, a leprechaun I spied
With a scarlet cap and coat of green, a cruisc'n by his side
'Twas "tic, tac tic" his hammer went, upon a tiny shoe
I laughed to think of a purse of gold, but the fairy was laughing too.

With tiptoe step and beating heart, softly I drew nigh
There was mischief in his merry face, a twinkle in his eye
He hammered and sang with his tiny voice, and drank his mountain dew
I laughed to think he was caught at last, but the fairy was laughing too.

As quick as thought I seized the elf, "Your fairy purse!" I cried
"The purse," he said, "is in the hand of the lady by your side"
I turned to look, the elf was gone, then what was I to do?
I laughed to think what a fool I'd been, but the fairy was laughing too

“America’s Idea of Irish Too Theatrical, Says Boyd” – Stephen Boyd Interview Mar 9, 1960

The Galveston Daily News, 09 March 1960

Irish actor Stephen Boyd, looking forward to his St. Patrick’s Day singing debut, says America’s impression of fellow Gaels is off base.

“The conception American’s have of Irishman is stage or professional,” the handsome Boyd claimed, “For instance, I’m supposed to start the day off by saying ‘top of the morning to you. And when a fellow is introduced as an Irishman, people say something that’s supposed to be Irish. He might not even know what they’re talking about

“Take an expression like ‘sure and begorrah,’ I don’t even know what that means. But lots of people here might expect me to say it.”

Boyd, who celebrates St. Patrick’s Day by making his TV singing debut on Dinah Shore’s show next Sunday, claimed the annual festivities are a good excuse for Irishmen to get together.

“I’ve never seen an American celebration of St. Patrick’s Day,” he said, “But, to me, it’s another excuse to celebrate.

“And Irishman always welcome an excuse to celebrate with their countrymen,” he added.

As for his own St. Pat’s Day plans, Stephen won’t even wear a green tie.  Speaking about singing with Dinah, Boyd recalled the first time he ever sang in London for money – a total of $3.

“I was a busker,” he said, explaining that a busker is a fellow who goes up and down the street singing to people waiting in theatre lines.

“When I got finished singing, I passed the hat down the line of people and collected $3.”

That’s not all Stephen got. He was also run off the street by fellow buskers.

“What I didn’t know was that the buskers had a union and I wasn’t a member,” he laughed,” So, I got chased and that ended by career as a busker. But I needed the money. I hadn’t eaten in a long time.”

Boyd’s first class acting job in the mammoth production of Ben Hur means he’s getting a lot more than $3 for his singing stint with Dinah – and he’s also eating regularly.

“My salary is in the five figure bracket for singing three days,” quipped Steve, now among the highest paid buskers of all time.

A Candid Stephen Boyd Interview from 1969

Stephen Boyd Explains His Lousy Movies

The Journal News – White Plains New York, 09 Jul 1969

By Bernard Shaw

New York – Stephen Boyd was in town briefly to publicize “Slaves” in which he plays a plantation owner and which was to open in a few days. I hadn’t yet seen the film when its publicist called and asked if I cared to meet Boyd. I hedged and said that the only burning question I had for him was why he made so many lousy pictures.

“Ask him that, “ the publicist urged. “I did and found that he’s very bright and articulate and he has no illusions about the business. He’ll speak candidly about anything.”

I agreed to see him, the date was set, and in the meantime, I attended the premive of the 70-mm elongation of “Ben Hur” in which Boyd had played Messala way back in 1960, and I found, to my surprise, that his was by the far the best performance in the film.

He had managed to endow an almost impossible villain with so much humor and intelligence, even sympathy in his 27 minutes out of a total of four hours on screen, that he rather threw the whole marathon epic out of kilter. I even found myself hopelessly rooting for him to win the chariot race against the archangel Heston.

I meet Boyd a week later in his suite at the Elysee, still not having seen “Slaves.” He is a tall, handsome Irishman from Ulster – Belfast is his home- and he was dressed in conservative black, having some kind of semiformal luncheon to attend later on.  He had a ruddy bloom on his cheeks all the Irish seem to have when they arrive here, but lose too soon. His sole concession to the now look was an elegant guardsman moustache.

After the usual amenities, my first question, predictably, was “How come you’ve made  so many lousy movies?”

“20th Century Fox,” he answered immediately, “20th Century Fox. I was under contract to them- chattel- and if you think and you are correct in thinking, I made so many lousy movies, you should see what I turned. Down. I was under contract with them for eleven, which should give you some indication of how many suspensions I took.”

Why did he ever get himself involved in such a situation? Simply because at the time the contact was waived before him, it seemed like mana from heaven. He comes from a large, poor family in Belfast, and at the age of seven he went on Ulster Radio’s Children’s Hour because the family needed the money.

At sixteen, he left school and broke with the family trade – which his father and brothers all practiced – truck driving, to work with the Ulster Theater Group, and then there were long, fruitless years in stock companies in Canada and the United States where he made alarming progress getting nowhere.

In 1952 in London, where he had gone to storm the British theater, he was literally starving, and reduced to playing his guitar and “busking” to the cinema queues in Leicester Square for pennies.

That did lead to a job as doorman of the Odean Cinema which in turn led to his becoming an usher and then to his meeting Michael Redgrave who gave him an introduction to the Windsor Repertory Theater and the Midlands Theater Company and several more years of playing all kinds of roles in addition to some small parts in British films.

So that when 20th Century Fox, impressed with his performance in “The Man Who Never Was, “ offered him a Babylonian Captivity, he had to accept.

“I don’t know how I lasted,” he said, “And I’m about the only one of the bunch of white hopes who came in when I did, who did last – there were Bradford Dillman, Stuart Whitman, Bobby Wagner – they put you in anything they want to and  there’s nothing you can do about it. When you try to speak to them, you’re told you’re a tax deduction. It isn’t so much a question of your making money for them but your’e enabling them to save money. You mean nothing.”

“But you’ve been living in Europe these last few years,” I said.

“I’ve been a resident of the United States,” he said, “ and a United States citizen for the last ten years. My home is in Los Angeles. Of course I never see it. They keep shipping me abroad which is another way of their being able to make money on you.”

“Were you forced to make things like ‘The Oscar’ and ‘The Caper of the Golden Bulls?’ ” I asked.

“I would do ‘The Oscar’ again with the original script I saw, but not with the people involved in it,” he said, “and I would do ‘Caper of the Golden Bulls’ again, but not with people involved, and many others which turned out so badly.”

“And ‘Slaves’ is different?” I asked.

He nodded, “You’ll search a long way before you find a more technically imperfect film, but that’s not what we were trying to do. We were trying to make the first true picture of slavery in America, and we did.”

“At least it’s an original of the Irish Rebellion,” I said, “I saw Sidney Poitier’s ‘The Lost Man’ which is an adaptation of ‘Odd Man Out’ and it’s terrible.”

“Sidney can’t do what he wants, superstar though he is, “ Boyd said. “He can do what he wants provided that it’s salable amd makes money. Remember, he and Jim Brown knocked themselves out, but they made it as personalities, not as blacks. The black problem was still an untouchable on the screen prior to ‘Slaves’ because the few films made that touched on the problem didn’t make money. But we’re breaking records everywhere we opened, and that’s where it counts with those boys. Will it make money?”

I asked him about some of his earlier films, about his brilliant but aborted Nimrod in John Huston’s “The Bible.” The role ended in the middle of nowhere.

“I had just made the test of Huston and had been on the film for only a couple of days when Fox yanked me off to make ‘Fantastic Voyage.’”, Boyd said. “I assumed they were going to junk what I did or do it over with someone else, but later on, Huston decided to use what little he had, so of course, the actor is blamed for it. You have to make compromises all the way. Big ones on the big picture, smaller ones on the smaller ones, you even have to make them on the good pictures, and I say the hell with it.  You can make a lot of stupid pictures that make a lot of money, so why eat your heart out?”

I wondered if he was looking for a stupid picture now, but I asked instead, “Why did you bow out of ‘Cleopatra?’”

“They changed the story on me, “ he said, “When I was scheduled to do it, when Mamoulian was supposed to direct, Peter Finch was to play Caesar and I, Anthony, and it was the story of Caesar and Cleopatra an then Anthony and Cleopatra. But then it became just the story of Cleopatra, “ he shrugged.

“And you let Richard have it, “ I said.

“I let Richard have it, “ he said.

“How come you don’t return to the theater?” I asked, “Isn’t it more satisfying for an actor?”

“From an ego point of view, yes, “ he said, “but films could be satisfying too for an actor is he was involved in the creation. We all make a picture together, but nobody talks to anybody. Nobody will sit down and discuss it beforehand, and you never do discuss it – with very, very few exceptions- unless some crisis occurs. The cameraman is off creating his mood, the actor is creating his mood, the set designed only worries about how his set looks, the costume designer, her costumes.”

He shrugged “It’s no wonder so few things turn out well. If I did do a play, I’d like to do O’Casey. ‘Juno and the Paycock.’ But it would have to be played right, as it was originally in Ireland. The first two acts are comedy and the last, tragedy. You have to be very careful about the way you do Irish drama. There are so many misconceptions abroad about Catholic and Protestant in Ireland. I heard Bernadette Devlin’s maiden speech in Parliament and I was deeply moved. She was elected, remember, in a predominantly Protestant community, and she said, “There is not a religious question in Ireland. It is simply a question of poverty.”

“Of course, that was distorted in all of the foreign press,” Boyd said angrily, “Nobody had it right but the London Times. Of course it’s a question of poverty in Ireland, and people everywhere was so ignorant of the situation. Only yesterday someone said to me, ‘But you’re Catholic,’ and I said, ‘No I happen to be Protestant, but what has that to do with it?”

“I come from an Irish family, the youngest of nine. My father was a truck driver. When he retired, he was at the height of his earning power. He was making six pounds a week, that’s about thirteen dollars. How the hell are a man and his wife and nine children going to live on thirteen dollars a week?”

Then he grew less angry and he said, “And then I think of something O’Casey said when I did ‘June and the Paycock’ in Belfast and he came up to see it. He said, ‘There are many, many, many noes in the world , but there is always a bigger yes.’”