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.
“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.
“I would prefer that the story of my love for Stephen Boyd not be told. It inspires me today, and it hurts me today. It was so difficult, strange, beautiful and sad that I can hardly bear to think of it.” (Marisa Mell from “Cover Love”, 1990)
Stephen Boyd’s whirlwind romance and marriage with actress Marisa Mell had elements of the truly bizarre and mystical in it, including exorcisms, a gypsy ritual blood exchange and reincarnation.
Where to begin? This story begins in 1971, an era steeped in all sorts of social occult phenomena. “There has always been a current of magic and mysticism under the mainstream of Western culture…for a few years in the 1960’s and early seventies this exploded into a fully fledged ‘occult revival’, involving some of the most famous people in the world, like the Beatles.” (“Turn off Your Mind; the Mystic Sixties and the Dark Side of the Age of Aquarius” by Gary Valentine Lachman) The sixties saw it all, from drugs to rock n roll to magicians to Charles Manson. In Lachman’s preface he explains that by the late 1960’s, magical ideas and the occult had reached an unprecedented audience through all forms of media.
“Marta”, a lush, Giallo film which starred Stephen Boyd and Marisa Mell, was filmed in Spain in late 1970. Marisa Mell recalls first seeing Boyd when they met to begin the filming of the picture, and she felt immediately attracted to him, as if she had known him from before. Boyd was reluctant to engage Mell during this time. As she was desperately trying to begin an affair with him, he was cold and dodged her attempts. The hooks were already set, but Boyd was not willing to acquiesce to Mell’s more than obvious attempts to seduce him. He was friendly and professional above all. Amidst all of this underlying tension, Mell and Boyd were called upon to act out a few very intense, graphic love scenes for the film. According to Mell, it was torture. She longed for Boyd, but yet he would not succumb to her charms off-screen.
After the movie was over, Mell and Boyd were apart for about 6 months. When they were reunited for their next film, “The Great Swindle”, Boyd was now interested in pursuing Mell, who was still hurt from his previous rejections. Boyd was gentle and persistent, according to Mell’s account, wooing her with flowers and dinner dates. Eventually on one of these dinner dates, Boyd invited her back to his apartment, and then the love affair began in true earnest. Mell was a stunning beauty and Boyd had always seemed to fall for exotic brunettes. But this relationship was far beyond a whim. After years of enjoying bachelorhood, Stephen Boyd suddenly proposed to Marisa Mell after the first night they spent together. Mell describes a whirlwind marriage in a gypsy camp, including horse carriages, a bonfire, singing, dancing and a blood exchange between her and Boyd as their wrists were cut and pressed together to seal their bond as husband and wife. She also describes how they both became obsessive about each other afterwards, spirituality intertwined to the point of being inseparable. It is a heart wrenching account to read. After the “Great Swindle” was a wrap, the two actors didn’t even stick around to complete the English overdubs. They immediately left for Rome. Once there we can assume they stayed in Mell’s Rome apartment for several weeks.
At some point, concerned that their obsessive passion was somehow ‘evil’, Mell and Boyd took a trip up to a small Italian town called Sarsina. It was here they tried to expel the ‘evil’ from their relationship by partaking in the local cult exorcism ritual of St. Vicinius. This involved wearing a mystical metal collar around their necks and receiving a blessing from the priest. This type of blessing is used to free people from ‘evil spirits’.
“Perhaps you smile today over such hocus-pocus. At that time I felt is was not ridiculous, although I see myself as a clear-headed woman. But my connection to Stephen just had something very mystical, inscrutable in itself, and he felt the same way. Sometimes love is like a deadly disease, sometimes it makes you feel that you are damned for all eternity.” (Marisa Mell, “Cover Love”, 1990)
To explain the Sarsina visit and the ‘collar blessing’ which Boyd and Mell partook in, you can read more about the cult of St. Vicinius here.
Pilgrims visit a church in Italy where a priest puts the relic on them and says a prayer. ‘You feel protected from the forces of evil,’ one says. ….In rural, Roman Catholic Italy, many people remain very religious, and very superstitious. The two belief systems coexist, tightly intertwined and surprisingly complementary.The cult that has emerged here in Sarsina, a town in the hills between Tuscany and the northern Adriatic Sea, centers on the metal collar. Legend has it that St. Vicinus, bishop in Sarsina around AD 300, used it first as a form of self-castigation when he prayed. It resembles a shackle that might be used on a slave. He would put it around his neck attached to a heavy stone to focus his mind in penitence. Eventually he began to use it to ward off evil spirits. St. Vicinus became one of the church’s early exorcists, and the fame of the collar and its purported powers have endured. (The one used now is not said to be St. Vicinus’ original but is believed to date to the 8th or 9th century, roughly the same time the church was built.)
Stephen Boyd was into his share of mystical religions and peripheral interests, including Scientology and astrology. From even as far back as 1957 he used to consult a clairvoyant in London concerning his film choices and life decisions. “I am superstitious, though, even to the point of having a clairvoyant in London to whom I turn for suggestions. This man usually contacts me every week…He’s an amazing person who is incredibly right most of the time.” (Stardom Magazine Stephen Boyd Interview, 1960)
Stephen was also attuned to astrology, which attracted his interest in in the mid-1960’s. “I’m Cancer, and Leo rising, and if you want to get a clue to my character you must read up on Cancer and Leo and combine the two…I take it quite seriously. We Cancers tend to attract strong people. We open our arms to them, and then strangle and crush them. They can’t breathe….The Water is Cancer, see. It embraces the key, but the key can’t breathe.” (1967 El Paso Herald Post Stephen Boyd interview)
Marisa Mell herself was a Pisces (a water sign like Cancer), and also very in touch with astrology. “I believe in astrology but I don’t need it…It ruins your nerves if you take it daily.” (Marisa Mell Daily Press Interview, Oct 8, 1967) Mirko di Wallenberg, a blogger who has intensely studied Marisa Mell’s life, shared this: “Marisa was very religious by upbringing, less during her career, but picked it up again when she came back to Austria after her career ended in Rome. She was very into spiritual things like hand reading, parapsychology, fortune telling, talking to the deceased… and even at the end of her life she became a follower of Sai Baba; she hoped that this would turn her life around and when she became sick with throat cancer hoped to be healed by him.”
Marisa Mell getting her palm read. Above photos courtesy Mirko di Wallenberg. Visit Mirko’s amazing Marisa Mell blog
Apparently the exorcism did not work as Boyd and Mell had hoped. In fact, Stephen Boyd became physically ill and feverish because of the intensity of their ‘passion’, as Mell explained it. He literally picked up his bags one day and walked out the door in order to extricate himself from the relationship. Mell begged him to stay, but to no avail. Boyd hopped on a plane to Belfast and she never saw him again.
Marisa Mell, in early 1972, after Boyd’s departure, had this to say about the break-up of their relationship. It was not your usual explanation. “We both believe in reincarnation, and we realized we’ve already been lovers in three different lifetimes, and in each one I made him suffer terribly.” (The Akron Beacon Journal, June 16, 1972)
Marisa Mell was so overpowered by her brief relationship with Boyd that she dedicated an entire chapter about it in her autobiography, “Cover Love”. I am indebted to Mirko di Wallenberg who runs a fabulous Marisa Mell blog for sending me this chapter. You can read the full account here.
To compound the mysticism of this relationship, Marisa Mell would end her chapter about Boyd in the 1990 autobiography “Cover Love” by saying that after Boyd’s death in 1977, she could feel his spirit speaking to her from another place. Considering the bizarre and occult nature of this love affair, you have to consider the possibility of this. It seems Marisa Mell and Stephen Boyd were destined for each other, but tragically could only find a very brief interlude together in this lifetime.
British Actor Finds Culture in L.A. September 3, 1966 – Herald Post (El Paso, Texas)
LONDON – Drinking afternoon tea in the Hilton Hotel is like having one foot in England and the other in the United States. Stephen Boyd sipped tea in the Hilton this week and the tea seemed his last link to home.
Mr. Boyd, tall, blue-eyed, sparkingly smiling, is a man who looks all film-star in the old-fashioned sense. He’s Irish by birth.On the hard way up the ladder he did a stint once as commissionaire at the Odeon, Leicester Square.
Now he is an American citizen, resident in Los Angeles and Ireland. London, the Hilton Hotel and the Odeon, Leicester Square are all just part of the land he left behind him. Some people, these days, go to Hollywood and then can’t wait to get out again. Mr. Boyd seems to have been gobbled up by Hollywood in one gulp.
It was not a step he took lightly, he explained. “I thought long and hard about what I was leaving behind me. This place with its centuries old tradition, its art and its theater.
“when I got back to Los Angeles, I suddenly discovered that all the art and culture you need can be found in Los Angeles. I can also be in San Francisco in 15 minutes. I can reach snow for skiing and the coast for water skiing within hours. And i just love the sun. When I wake up in the morning and see that beautiful sun I realize I just wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.”
People who talk of Hollywood as a cultural desert anger Mr. Boyd. “When I hear people talk like that I feel I want to ask them, ‘How hard did you look?’ In London art is right under your nose, in Los Angeles you have to seek it out. Remember that Los Angeles is not a city, it is a holiday resort. There are things going on in Bournemouth that the tourist never sees and the same goes for Los Angeles.”
Hollywood, thinks Mr. Boyd, is still a place that grips the imagination of the world. “Every great person comes to stay in Hollywood at least once. Many buy houses there and come regularly. I have been privileged to meet many of these people.
“Salvador Dali told me that being asked to design in Hollywood was the greatest thing that ever happened to him. Picasso said to me that he hoped that one day he might be asked to do some work there.”
Taking up American citizenship had its practical side, Mr. Boyd explained that he had his money in property in Los Angeles. He had an interest in getting a vote.
He also discovered that America is Mecca for the single man. Mr. Boyd was married and divorced fairly quickly and shows no urgent desire to get married again.
“In America a single man doesn’t need a wife,” he said, “The whole life is geared for the housewife. A man comes around and refills my refrigerator. The cleaners come and collect, collect mark you, my cleaning in the morning, and return it in the evening. My cleaning people noticed I’d lost a little weight and left a note inquiring if I’d like them to alter my clothes for me. And servicing the flat is all handled by people who run the apartments for an extra dollar a month. I would sooner pay an extra dollar a month than pay for a wife. Who needs a wife?”
Stephen Boyd at the age of 37, has espoused Hollywood with a convert’s fervor. He looks back with approving and nostalgic eyes to its golden age. His latest film is a story about Hollywood called “The Oscar”. he thinks it is a film for the unsophisticated and the barbs of the sophisticated may bruise his flesh but they don’t draw blood.
He is, as it happens, armoured by he knowledge that American unsophisticates have so strongly rallied to the cause that the film has already made its money.
“We created a film in the spirit of Mildred Pierce and in the tradition of the Bette-Davis-Joan Crawford pictures,” he said.
Stephen Boyd hailed from Northern Ireland, but from researching the background of his name, most likely his mother’s ancestors hailed from Scotland. According to Wikipedia, Boyd is a Scottish surname. It originated from a habitational name from the island of Bute, located in the Firth of Clyde. The surname was very common in Edinburgh in the 17th century. The Scottish Gaelic form of the surname is Boid (masculine), and Bhoid (feminine). According to Modern Screen Magazine, Boyd’s mother hailed from the Bally Castle Boyd’s of Northern Ireland (see http://www.niarchive.org/Ballycastle/Exhibitions/Collections.aspx?lc=1&id=ed4e89e5-e141-4af6-9b35-05d680e49a3c). It was in Northern Ireland that King James I introduced what was called the Plantation of Ulster in the early 1600’s. Basically this was the colonization of Norther Ireland to convert the Catholics. The Scottish people who settled there were mostly Presbyterians, and also people from England who adhered to the Church of England. Of course this would later lead to the tension between the native Catholics and sow the seeds of the Troubles which began in the late 1960’s in on-wards into the 1990’s. Of course Stephen’s true last name (from his father) was Miller. According to Wikipedia again, this name is also of Scottish origin. The origin of the Scottish surname is from a burn (rivulet) in Glasgow, namely the molindinar (Mo-lynn-dine-are), and the name has evolved over the years to molindar Mo-lynn-dar and to molinar mo-lynn-ar and to Millar and finally to Miller. The first record of the name was in Dumfriesshire, Scotland. If the surname has Highland Scottish origins, the bearers are associated with Clan MacFarlane. In 1995, Miller was the 22nd most common surname on the birth, death and marriage registers in Scotland; Millar was 77th.The name Miller also has a long history in Northern Ireland, notably County Antrim where many migrants from Northern England and Scotland settled in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Below is an interesting snippet told by Boyd of why he needed to change his name to get noticed!
What’s in a name? “Plenty,” says Stephen Boyd, star of 20th Century Fox’s “Third Secret. I couldn’t even get a chance for an audition with my real name – William Miller. My other’s maiden name is Boyd. My first agent in London thought ‘Stephen Boyd’ would be a very good name. To prove a point, he called a producer who had refused to see me. Then my agent added: ‘I have now taken over the handling of Stephen Boyd.’ And the producer replied: ‘Oh, yes, I would like to see HIM.’ And that’s how I got my first real movie role in ‘An Alligator Named Daisy’, from which I was signed to a long-term contract by Darryl F. Zanuck.” (Los Angeles Times Feb 23, 1964)