Stephen Boyd: “Hollywood Star Who Never Forgot His Roots” (an interview with Rita Millar)

*Thanks to Emmanuel in France for sending me this article by email!  This is a fascinating interview of Stephen Boyd’s sister, Rita, recalling his life. I don’t  have a specific date on the article, but it was found by Brigitte Ivory who ran the first Stephen Boyd web tribute page and also appeared in his bio ‘The Man Who Never Was’ on BBC* 

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Stephen Boyd may have lived the life of a glamorous movie star, but he never forgot his family back home in Glengormley. According to his sister, Rita Millar, the actor who found fame on the silver screen made a point of coming home after every film and retained close links with friends in the village where he grew up.

Rita, who has returned to Newtownabbey after spending 24 years in Atlanta, Georgia, is one of five surviving members of the Millar family. The eldest son of the late James Alexander Millar and his wife Martha is 79-year-old James, who lives at Mallusk. Jack lives in Newtownbreda and his twin, Maisie Lynsey, has her home in Newtownards. Another sister, Meta Weir, lives in the Whiteabbey area. Billy has two other brothers, Harry and Alec, and a sister, Nessie Weir, all now deceased.

Rita recalls the young Billy as a “nice, well-mannered boyd” who was popular among his peers and a diligent student, first at Glengormley Primary School, then later at Ballyclare High School and Hugh’s Academy. He was also a keep sportsman, playing golf, tennis, rugby – in fact, he was even a member of the East Antrim hockey team for a short time.

Money he earned as a teenage message boy working for Davidson’s grocery shop in The Square was spent on trips to the Capital cinema in north Belfast, where he was in his element watching action movies. After making his name in amateur dramatics locally, Billy joined the Group Theatre and had some success on radio before trying his luck in Canada.

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Billy returned to Britain in 1951 and, says Rita, he made a living working as a waiter in the London restaurant before obtaining a job as an usher at the Odeon in Leicester Square.

She recalls how he got his big break: “The manager of the Odeon called Billy into his office one day to tell him there was to be a big star, John Mills (I think Rita meant to say Michael Redgrave here, so I’m going to correct this mistake. Michael Redgrave’s reputation as a bisexual always lent this story about him and Boyd to a bit of wild speculation – why was he so interested in Boyd? Did Rita change the name on purpose to John Mills? Just food for thought….), visiting that night for an awards ceremony and Billy was to show him to his dressing room.

“Later, Michael Redgrave drew up in a big limousine and as he had come straight from filming, he wanted to freshen up–but he had no robe to change into.

“Billy offered to lend Michael Redgrave a robe, which he got from his home nearby, and the actor was grateful.

“He said to Billy: ‘ You look more like a film actor than I do.'”

Fullscreen capture 1212018 55244 PM.bmpThe two men starting chatting and after hearing about Billy’s difficulties getting work as an actor, John Mills offered to write him a reference and to recommend him to a top agent. It was the break Billy had been waiting for. Soon he was playing the lead in a production by a top repertory company– and then it was off to America.

Rita explains how her brother made the transition from Billy Millar to Stephen Boyd: “It was an agent who suggested he should have a stage name and Billy chose Stephen because he had always like that name.

“He was keen to use Boyd because it was out mother’s maiden name. He was always very close to his mother.”

Films like Ben Hur, The Man Who Never Was, Island in the Sun, and The Fall of the Roman Empire made him a major star – and won him many female admirers, according to Rita. Among the famous leading ladies with whom he was linked were Sophia Loren, Hope Lange and Elizabeth Taylor. There was even a rumour at one time that he was going to  marry the young Liza Minelli. Stephen’s first marriage, to Italian Mariella di Sarzana, was short-lived; so brief, in fact, that Rita and other members of the Millar family didn’t even meet their brother’s bride.

mariella“It all happened during Ben Hur. Billy got hurt while filming the famous chariot race- it was a scene that really should have been done by a stuntman but Billy thought he could do it himself,” says Rita.

“He ended up with serious back injuries and was in danger of losing his eyesight. He was in hospital for some time and MGM sent a secretary – Mariella – to look after him. They got talking and Billy seemed to like her.

“They got married very quickly but had to delay their honeymoon because of Ben Hur. Unfortunately, the marriage didn’t last so we didn’t even meet Mariella, ” explains Rita.

A nurse by profession, Rita moved to Atlanta in 1974, after losing both parents in the early ’70s.

At this time the family home was in Bangor, the Millars facing moved from the house at Antrim Road in Glengormley which their film star son had bought for them.

“It was one of the first things Billy did when he made money as an actor- he bought a house for his parents,” he recalls. Rita was living and working in Atlanta when Billy died of a heart attack while playing golf near his Los Angeles home in 1977, leaving his bride of 11 months, former secretary Elizabeth Mills.

“It was such a shock-at first I thought there must be some mistake. I couldn’t take it in,” she says.

“A lot of big stars, including Elizabeth Taylor, turned out for the funeral. He was a very popular actor.”

However, as far as the folks back home were concerned, this great Hollywood star remained the same Billy Millar who spent afternoons riding around Glengormley on a bicycle laden with groceries – the same Billy Millar who made regular visits to Boyd’s shop on his way to rehearsels with Carnmoney Amateur Dramatic Society,

“He did not change as far as his family was concerned. He was always kind, considerate person,” says Rita.

“He may have been a big star, but underneath it all he was quite shy.”

Rita welcomes the prospect of a book about her brother by an American writing team who are keen to set the record straight about his achievements,

“A lot of people I have met over the years have said that Stephen didn’t get the recognition he deserved – they think he should have won Oscars for some of the roles he played, ” she adds.

“The whole family were very proud of him.”

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More rare Stephen Boyd Pics from Shutterstock, Part 2 – Mariella di Sarzana & Martha Millar

Actor Stephen Boyd And Fiancee Mariella Di Sarzana (now Married) Box 723 408121627 A.jpg.
Mandatory Credit: Photo by ANL/Shutterstock (9044095a) Actor Stephen Boyd And Fiancee Mariella Di Sarzana (now Married) Box 723 408121627 A.jpg. Actor Stephen Boyd And Fiancee Mariella Di Sarzana (now Married) Box 723 408121627 A.jpg.
Actor Stephen Boyd And Wife Mariella Di Sarzana After Their Fulham Registry Office Wedding. Box 723 508121633 A.jpg.
Mandatory Credit: Photo by Ron Stilling/ANL/Shutterstock (9045518a) Actor Stephen Boyd And Wife Mariella Di Sarzana After Their Fulham Registry Office Wedding. Box 723 508121633 A.jpg. Actor Stephen Boyd And Wife Mariella Di Sarzana After Their Fulham Registry Office Wedding. Box 723 508121633 A.jpg.
Actor Stephen Boyd And Wife Mariella Di Sarzana After Their Wedding At Fulham Registry Office. Box 723 408121647 A.jpg.
Mandatory Credit: Photo by ANL/Shutterstock (9045556a) Actor Stephen Boyd And Wife Mariella Di Sarzana After Their Wedding At Fulham Registry Office. Box 723 408121647 A.jpg. Actor Stephen Boyd And Wife Mariella Di Sarzana After Their Wedding At Fulham Registry Office. Box 723 408121647 A.jpg.
Actor Stephen Boyd And Wife Mariella Di Sarzana After Their Wedding At Fulham Registry Office. Box 723 408121648 A.jpg.
Mandatory Credit: Photo by ANL/Shutterstock (9044169a) Actor Stephen Boyd And Wife Mariella Di Sarzana After Their Wedding At Fulham Registry Office. Box 723 408121648 A.jpg. Actor Stephen Boyd And Wife Mariella Di Sarzana After Their Wedding At Fulham Registry Office. Box 723 408121648 A.jpg.
Mary Millar Mother Of Film Star Stephen Boyd. Box 0580 110615 00283a.jpg.
Mandatory Credit: Photo by ANL/Shutterstock (4855707a) Mary Millar Mother Of Film Star Stephen Boyd. Box 0580 110615 00283a.jpg. Mary Millar Mother Of Film Star Stephen Boyd. Box 0580 110615 00283a.jpg.
Mrs Mary Millar Mother Of Film Stat Stephen Boyd. Box 0580 110615 00284a.jpg.
Mandatory Credit: Photo by ANL/Shutterstock (4855714a) Mrs Mary Millar Mother Of Film Stat Stephen Boyd. Box 0580 110615 00284a.jpg. Mrs Mary Millar Mother Of Film Star Stephen Boyd. Box 0580 110615 00284a.jpg.

“Maids, Matrons Here Cheering for Steve Boyd: He Loses Chariot Race But Wins Ladies’ Hearts”

By Kasper Manahan, Pittsburgh Press, March 9, 1960

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Suddenly everybody becomes avidly interested in Stephen Boyd, wondering where he had been all their young lives. That’s especially  true of the womenfolk of Allegheny County and purlieus, judging from the many mash notes I’m receiving.

But they’re all for Stevey boy, with me in the rather undignified position of the go-between, for all the world like Juliet’s nurse. The ladies all want to know abut Stevey, even if he does lose the chariot race in every performance of “Ben-Hur” at the Warner Theater.

Somehow, Boyd has failed to make any considerable impression in about seven  or eight movies and various stage plays, TV shows and radio assignments in England and this country. His last job prior to “Ben-Hur” was “Best of Everything,” but he was all but lost in the shuffle of so many comely girls and handsome Louis Jourdan, the star.

And Charlton Heston, as the nominal star of “Ben-Hur,” doing mighty well too. But while Heston gets tops billing, it’s Boyd who gets the low cooing from the girls.

And he’s way ahead in the all important “word-of-mouth” as well he might be, for he’s strong, rugged and handsome in a bristling , masculine way. Of course that death scene – the goriest death scene in movie history, what with Boyd as Messala gasping out his last tortured breath from his mangled body, torn and broken from pounding hoofs and churning chariot wheels in the dust of the hippodrome.

Any actor will tell you that an accelerator to a stymied career nothing can match a strongly dramatic death scene. Obviously, up to now, Boyd hadn’t been getting the right roles as a show case for his vital qualities. For after a flock of pictures which did little for him he suddenly explodes as a personality plus.

Needs New Film Right Now

Somehow his current studio, 20th Century Fox, doesn’t seem to be excited about him, though. Oh, some vague plans as I hear it – a picture to be called “The Lost World” to go int production when the actors’ strike is over.

Too bad– this boy Boyd is hot stuff now. The girls of all ages are eagerly awaiting his next film when he will, without question, be given star billing, this lad who was born in Belfast, Ireland on July 4, 1928, the youngest of nine children of a laborer, James A. Miller, and his wife, Martha. Stephen took her maiden name, Boyd.

He began his stage career in Ulster, appeared in England and America in stock and repertory. Then the films took him over, but he was just another player until “Ben-Hur” catapulted him into the limelight.

Sorry though, girls – he’s married. “Ben-Hur” not only did wonders for his career, it also won him  a Roman beauty for his wife. While in Rome making the picture he met and wooed Mariella di Sarzana.

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Stephen Boyd gets a surprise…from his ex-wife!

I came across a funny story recently when perusing an article about Boyd in the NY Daily News. The interviewer is Wanda Hale, and she briefly asks Boyd about his first marriage to Mariella di Sarzana.

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While making “Ben-Hur” in Rome, Steve met a beautiful girl, Mariella di Sarzana. Four months later they were married. “That relationship, “Steve said, “Lasted less than three weeks.” In Madrid, several years later Steve made “The Fall of the Roman Empire” for Samuel Bronston. Arriving early, Steve was sent a guide by the Bronston office to show him around the city. Steve said, “And who was the guide? My ex-wife. That relationship lasted five minutes.” (NY Daily News, Feb 28, 1966)

And to prove it, we have pictures in the Spanish snow of Boyd and Sarzana in 1963 after their brief reunion. Despite the fact that their relationship was very short, you can still see a little bit of the playfulness and chemistry they had from their romance in 1958.

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Below is a brand new picture I found recently of Stephen and Mariella from 1958

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Stephen Boyd – Always a Gentleman on the Movie Set

In the current environment of Hollywood, I think Stephen Boyd would have been very popular among female activists. Stephen had a reputation of being a perfect gentleman and consummate professional on the movie set…even when the director didn’t want him to be! The below story from Florabel Muir in 1966 tells a funny tale on the set of “The Caper of the Golden Bulls”. Stephen is asked to ogle co-star Yvette Mimieux during a film scene, which he does on cue, but only after being asked to do so by the movie’s director Russell Rouse (“The Oscar”).

Florabel Muir

The Times, Shreveport, Friday August 26, 1966

HOLLYWOOD – Invariably emphasized in picture making are the mystic emanations of ionized sex between male and female – that funny thing called love. Watching Russell Rouse guiding Stephen Boyd and Yvette Mimieux thru a scene in “Caper of the Golden Bulls” at Paramount provided a primer lesson on this subtle alchemy of movie-making.

Boyd, fully clad, was ambling by as Yvette climbed out of a pool in a scanty bikini. He did not even glance in her direction. Rouse hollered, “Hey look at her, willya?” Boyd retorted, “Why, it’s not in the script!” Rouse reminded him acidly, “The script doesn’t have glands; you do. Now try it again – and if you have a lascivious expression, use it?” So Stephen put on his best leer, and Rouse ordered, “Print it!” Boyd likes working for Rouse and his partner, Clarence Green. While “Caper” is shooting, he is talking a new five-picture deal with them. This interesting Belfast Irish- American has been a bachelor for more than six years now, having been divorced from Mariella Di Sarzana in January, 1959, after a marriage that lasted less than five months. Nowadays he doesn’t go out with girls much, preferring golf day times and good books in his bachelor pad nights.

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Stephen Boyd “Behind the Scenes” Interview, 1962

Ogden Standard Examiner, Sep 16, 1962

BEHIND THE SCENES

STEPHEN BOYD

He worked hard for recognition

By Alice Pardoe West

“I never want to pour another cup of coffee,” is what handsome, rugged, Irish Stephen Boyd said on the 20th Century lot. “I poured so many when I worked in a cafeteria to keep from starving, before things broke for me in show business.”

He went on to explain that although he had a good theatrical background, he went through a bleak period in 1952-53 that was unforgettable.

“I was unable to find work either in films or the theater,” he said. “I even took my guitar and played to cinema lines waiting to get in the show in London, one night, and it was my first and only experience in that.”

He laughed and went on with his delightful sense of humor: “It brought me a pound and sixpence for a matter of two hours’ work, and I blew the lot on a meal, and that meal lives in my memory as the most wonderful one in my whole life.”

He forgets his bad moments and rejoices in the luck he had in getting the role of Messala in the film “Ben-Hur.”

“My folks even named the home I bought for them while making ‘Ben-Hur’ after the character I played in it – Messala, “ he said.

Stephen is a native of Belfast, Ireland, and he began his career with the Ulster Theater Group there. In 1950 he was given an understudy part in “The Passing Day” and later took part in many radio productions. He then tried his luck in the London theater, but had no success, until one of Britain’s top stars, Michael Redgrave saw him working as a cinema doorman and guessed that Stephen was an out-of-luck actor, and talked to him.

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This led to his joining the Windsor Repertory Company where he soon was playing leading roles, and later small film roles.  His part in “Barnett’s Folly” proved to be the turning point in his career. Film companies were bidding for his services after his portrayal. He had many excellent roles in outstanding films and in 1956 was starred with Tyrone Power in “Seven Waves Away.”

Since then he had had numerous fine parts in American films and was starred with Susan Hayward in “Woman Obsessed.”

The surprise of his life was when Ralph Edwards had him on his show, “This is Your Life.”

“That was really something,” he said.

Dinah Shore also asked him to appear as a guest star on her program and it was then that he was discovered to have a wonderful singing voice.

“I had a lot of recording offers,” he said, “but I think I have plenty of time for vocalizing, after I get this acting business taken care of – that is, if I can sing at all.”

Stephen loves paintings and had a few on his two-bedroom upstairs apartment in Los Angeles. He likes his stereo equipment, records, books and cameras, too.

“I like to shoot home movies,” he said. “It’s fun. But my weakness is automobiles, especially sports cars. I’d but a new one every six months if my business manager would let me.”

He laughed and continued, “Do you know what I want more than anything? A cabin cruiser, so I can sail on the coastlines over the world. But that takes real money to maintain one of them.”

He has no ambition to be a pilot.

“I get bored when  I’m up in the air too long, “Besides, I don’t have to go flying to have my head in the clouds. It’s there most of the time these days.”

Some of his latest films since “Ben-Hur” are “The Big Gamble, “ “Cleopatra,” and “The Inspector.”

He was married to Mariella di Sarzana in 1958 in Rome, but they are divorced now.

Stephen Boyd and Mariella di Sarzana’s Wedding Reception in Rome, 1958

Stephen Boyd and Mariella di Sarzana married each other on August 30th of 1958 in London during the filming of Ben-Hur. Mariella was an Italian studio agent assigned to ‘take care’ of Stephen during his time in Rome, which she clearly did!

Ever the Irish-romantic, Stephen said, “I met Maria on my first day in Rome at a studio party, I don’t know if it was the Italian moon, or the wine, or both. But I knew I wanted to marry her.”

Above, Getty Photos of Stephen Boyd and Mariella di Sarzana in London in August of 1958, getting married.

Boyd explained to Hedda Hopper in a 1959 interview, “I met her in April. We married in August…I honestly thought that was it. She’s a lovely person, attractive, not very sexy to look at but a wonderful girl. She’s clever too.”

The pair had actually flown to London to tie the knot and returned shortly thereafter to Rome. The photos below of the reception can be seen on a great website for rare Italian movie photos and information- http://www.archivioluce.com.

The reception took place on September 6, 1958 at the Hotel Excelsior in Rome, which hosted the cast of Ben-Hur during the filming of the movie (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Westin_Excelsior_Rome)

“Yet Stephen Boyd, who enjoyed to the hilt playing this villain, was so popular with members of the film’s Italian-British-American crew in Rome that, when his assignment was completed, they presented him with a gold clock emblematic of their affection. ” (http://www.blu-ray.com/news/?id=7408).

The clock being presented to Boyd in the photo above.
Other members of the Ben-Hur cast, including Charlton Heston, Cathy O’Donnell and director William Wyler can be seen enjoying the festivities.

Sadly, Stephen’s hasty marriage began to fall apart a few weeks after it started.

“Filming kept us apart for long period and when we were together we were never alone. Every night when I came home a whole army of her relatives were camping in our apartment. I soon realized my love for Maria was an infatuation. I knew the marriage wouldn’t work–so it was ridiculous to keep up any pretenses.

“Everyone knew about it and I sensed they were going out of their way to make things easier for me. I resented this. I became sullen and difficult to work with. One day Haya (Hayareet) came up and said: ‘Look, you Irish lug- when are you going to snap out of it and rejoining the human race?’ That did it. We became constant friends, but only friends. We went everywhere together.”

Less than a month after their marriage, Boyd and Mariella separated. Their divorce became official on March 20, 1959, after Mariella briefly visited Stephen in Hollywood.

Before the marriage fell apart, however, Boyd and Di Sarzana can be seen dancing the night away at their Rome wedding reception in 1958 – looking overjoyed and madly in love.

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Los Angeles Times August 29, 1958