Stephen Boyd ‘gets his Irish up’ about stripping down for “Imperial Venus”

FOREIGN PICTURES PRODUCERS A ‘BUNCH OF AMATEURS’

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On the set of Imperial Venus in Rome

Los Angeles Times, October 28, 1962

So you think movies have gone about as far as they can go. Rape, incest, young girls with old men, abortion, dope, sadism. After low-cut necklines, came no necklines. What’s left? Reluctantly, Stephen Boyd supplies the answer – nude males.

Boyd, whose first halting stab at this was with Brigitte Bardot in “The Night Heaven Fell,” goes all the way—as they say—in “Imperial Venus” with Gina Lollobrigida. In between, he’s managed to sandwich in more wholesome roles – the memorable Messala in “Ben-Hur” and the upcoming MGM release, “Billy Rose’ Jumbo.” Also, he starts work in December in Samuel Bronston’s “Fall of the Roman Empire.”

As for being nude, Boyd does not approve. In fact he considers that he’s made the same mistake twice, the second mistake being the worst, the Italian-made “Imperial Venus.” Said Boyd:

It Was Simple

“I think it’s crude. But we were in the middle of production and I don’t think it’s professional to hold up production right in the middle of it. I knew the scene existed but from the point of view of shooting it was so simple. I’m lying in bed and I had a sheet over me. I figure when you look nude you look nude, but you don’t have to be nude. But it didn’t turn out that way.

“I haven’t seen the picture. In fact, I haven’t seen the scene. I don’t look at rushes, but those who have tell me it’s really something. Anyhow, the scene will not be shown in America. And in my opinion that makes it worse. I mean I do not believe it is necessary for me to be nude in any version, no matter where it is shown. I don’t believe this is entertainment.”

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Why, then, over Boyd’s objections, was the scene filmed?

‘Bunch of Amateurs’

“Because,” said Boyd, “they are Italians, let’s say, and they don’t know any better. The producers are the worst bunch of amateurs I’ve ever had the misfortune to work under. The producer is amateurish rather than an amateur. He’s unreasonable.

“He thinks, I believe, that this will help sell tickets. But I wonder where he will sell them. If my memory serves me right, he can’t show it in France. I did a scene with Bardot where she was nude and I was pretty much so and they wouldn’t pass that. What Frenchman wants to look at an Irish body?

“Apart from the physical contempt for the type of operation I was subjected to, I hope I never again find it necessary to make a picture for any foreign organization that is not supported by Americans. I exclude from this the English, for the English too are professionals.

“Being a professional, one forgets there are amateurs in the field. For all I know they could be perversionists. You get involved in the picture and you get to the scene and they say, ‘All right, take your clothes off.’

Foreigners Copyists

“There’s all this talk about how great the foreign pictures are. But they’re all copyists. I believe all of the great talent is in Hollywood and New York. I don’t believe there’s anybody in the world that can touch them.”

From his words, it’s easy to see that Stephen Boyd had his Irish up. He is, in fact, and Irishman, the youngest of nine children. He was born in Belfast and while he had no trace of accent, he has the Irish gift for language.

And while Boyd deplored his part in “Imperial Venus,” he was quick to praise “Jumbo.” An opposite kind of entertainment. Said Boyd at the Hollywood Brown Derby.

“In my opinion ‘Jumbo’ is the type of entertainment that has been successful since the beginning of entertainment. It is family entertainment. I believe there are more close-knit families in this world than there are individualists.

Our Worst ‘Better’

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“I honestly believe – it depends on how you view this business – that motion pictures are a form of entertainment developed for the masses. I don’t believe there is one single picture made here that doesn’t do better than pictures made in Europe – than anyplace else, for that matter. Forget the cost or anything else, the worst picture here makes at least as much as the best picture made in Europe.

“I hate like hell leaving this town. I really hate to. But at the moment pictures are being made abroad. If it looks like it’s be good entertainment, you just have to go.”

Add a personal footnote to aspiring young actors. Learn from Stephen Boyd’s experiences. Go slow, take your time and keep your pants on.

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Another scene which was snipped from even the European version of Lollobrigida and Boyd in bed together.

Rare Behind the Scenes Photos of Stephen Boyd and Brigitte Bardot from “The Night Heaven Fell” (1957)

A press writer wrote this once about Stephen:

I have always felt that Stephen Boyd deserved to do well. For did he not essay his first star part opposite Brigitte Bardot- and if that isn’t learning to swim at the deep end, I don’t know what is.

I saw a lot of him at that time in Southern Spain. He was in despair and Bardot was in what is euphemistically referred to as the altogether. The altogether what? (“She is delighted with CinemaScope,” Boyd said at the time. “It means she can start off fully clothed at one side of the screen and be nude by the time she gets to the other.”)

I told him then that things could only get better.(Roderick Mann, London Express Service, El Paso, Herald Post, Saturday Jan 26, 1967)

The film of which he describes is the Roger Vadim flick called “The Night Heaven Fell.” Stephen Boyd was chosen specifically by Brigitte Bardot to play her rugged on-screen lover. For a young actor from Belfast, this movie had to be extremely challenging. This was only Stephen’s second starring role, the first being “The Beast of Marseilles” filmed in early 1957. And here he was – an Irishman playing a Spaniard in a French movie filmed in two different languages starring a temperamental and very famous French sex symbol. Oftentimes male stars would turn down the chance to star with Bardot because she was the show and they didn’t want to be upstaged. Stephen Boyd had no such qualms and used the opportunity to make a name for himself in conjunction with the famous star. The production in Spain (near Mijas) was also plagued by bad weather and illness amongst the cast. In my opinion it was all worthwhile as Bardot and Boyd make a very sexy and riveting on-screen pairing!

Below, Stephen Boyd, Brigitte Bardot, Alida Valli and Roger Vadim during the Summer and Fall of 1957 in France and Spain while filming “The Night Heaven Fell” (Les Bijoutiers du Claire de Lune)

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Above, Boyd and Bardot prepare to do battle, with Roger Vadim directing.

Bedroom practice!
Kissing Miss Bardot is hard work! Note the leg rest Stephen is using on the bed.
Stephen Boyd discusses the flowers-in-the-hair scene with Brigitte Bardot.

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Stephen and screen legend Alida Valli

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Filming the English version of “The Night Heaven Fell”, 1957

This is a fascinating article about the filming of “The Night Heaven Fell” in August of 1957. Despite what this article implies, this movie was released in the U.S.A. in 1958, but it was considered X rated (for adults only).  I would love to get my hands on the English Language version of this film, not only to hear Stephen Boyd’s actual voice but to also see any differences from the French version. If anyone has a clue where a copy might be, let me know!!

Hollywood in Madrid

“Columbia Movie Not for U.S.”

By Joe Hyams

Orlando Sentinal, August 30, 1957

MADRID – The other day we visited the set of The Moonlight Jewelers, a film being made in French and English for release by Columbia pictures.

The film stars Brigitte Bardot, Alida Valli and Stephen Boyd and, while it is being filmed in English, it is unlikely that American audiences will see it, because there are too many censorable elements.

In a two-minute scene we watched being filmed, Miss Bardot appears nude from the back. When she drapes a mantilla over her, she displays her thigh. Boyd kisses her on the bare shoulder while they are sitting on a bed. All this is frowned upon by Hollywood censors which we called to the attention of Raoul Levy, the producer.

“So?” asked Levy. So why make the film in English at all if it won’t be seen in America? we asked.

“The fact is the English version is for the Far East, Australia and South America –but not for North America,” said Levy.  “Also, we are making an English version because Peter Viertel, who worked on the screen play in French, said it would be east to adapt to English. And Alida Valli speaks better English than French, and Stephen Boyd, who’s Irish, doesn’t speak French at all and had to learn it as he went along.”

Vadim, the director and about-to-be ex-husband of Miss Bardot, told us that directing a film in two languages was a novel experience for him. “I found that every scene about charm and love is played better in French,” he said, “In scenes where you need strength and humor, English is better.”

Despite its censorable aspects The Moonlight Jewelers is being financed by Columbia, an American film company, and therefore is technically an American film. The original budget was $750,000, but with the recent devaluation of the French franc it is now budgeted at $600,000.

The film is typical of many being made in Europe today by American film companies because it has a truly international cast and crew. The producer, Mr. Levy, is Belgian, Miss Bardot is French, Miss Valli is Italian, Mr. Boyd is Irish, and Vadim, the director, is Russian. An American wrote the screen play based on a French novel, and the film crew is a polyglot of many nationalities including American, French and Spanish.

For the English version, the director shouts “Action!” For the French he shouts “Moteur!” To stop the action in English, he says “Cut” and in French he says “Coupe.” Instructions to the actors are given in their own language. The crew is given instructions in either French or Spanish, and it is safe to say that half the time the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.

Photos below by Peter Basch

Stephen Boyd Interview, July 1964 : “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy”

It’s so interesting to read some of Stephen’s interviews back in the day. Sometimes he could be too honest when speaking to the likes of journalists Hedda Hooper, Erskine Johnson, Sheilah Graham, Joe Hyams and Louella Parsons. Occasionally Stephen would completely knock down one his own current releases, like in the article below. Stephen had already disappointed Paramount executives by failing to appear at the premiere of “The Fall of the Roman Empire.” In the same summer he told Sheilah Graham that the best movie he had ever done up until then was “Ben-Hur.” This was probably an honest statement, but maybe not the safest path to steer in a sensitive town like Hollywood!  Yes, despite his overtly honest comments, Stephen still continued to thrive with a solid career there for several years, even until the early 1970’s when he truly had to seek projects abroad.

Roles Disappoint Stephen Boyd

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 London- July 3, 1964 (Asbury Park Press) by Sheilah Graham

 “The only really good film I’ve made in the past eight years, said Stephen Boyd, complete with heard and ginger mustache, “is Ben Hur.”

 Stephen is in London being fitted for his Genghis Khan costumes for “The Golden Horde” which he will film in Yugoslavia for the next three months.

 “I’m under contact to 20th Century Fox,” continued the likable actor, “but I haven’t made a film for them (in Hollywood) since 1959 – ‘The Best of Everything’ with Joan Crawford and Suzy Parker. The last picture I made in Hollywood was ‘Jumbo’ in 1961, with Doris Day. It was a poor picture.”

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 Boyd has the usual Hollywood problem of the past decade. In 1961, he bought a house in the Valley, a charming place, with the idea of living in it, of course.

 “Ever since, I have made pictures abroad and spent only a few months in the house. Now I am thinking of selling it for something smaller. With being away so much it would be more practical. The day after I moved in, I left for Egypt, to play Mark Anthony in ‘Cleopatra.’ Every time I see Richard Burton I say, ‘There but for the grace of God, go I.” (On a side note, Boyd is exaggerating here – He was actually sent to Egypt in April of 1961 on a publicity tour for ‘Cleopatra’ to attend the Pyramid Light Inauguration, not for filming ‘Cleopatra’, which was already on the skids since late 1960.)

 He sounded somewhat regretful. He likes Elizabeth Taylor.

“I think she’s a dream.”

 Stephen also likes Dolores Hart, with whom he made some films when she was a movie star and under contract to Fox. Dolores is in a convent in Connecticut.

 “She wrote to me very frequently and I wrote to her. But this stopped on June 29, when she went into complete seclusion – no visitors, no phone calls,no letters for a year. After that she will decide if her future is in a convent, or she can return to the world. She seems very happy in her life. But at the beginning it was not easy for her. She was frank in her letters to me. She was climbing the movie ladder and she wrote to me that she missed the applause, and her life as an actress. But now she had made the adjustment. The chief thing, I imagine, is that you must find love within yourself before you can live with yourself.”

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We returned to Stephen’s career, and why he has not cared for most of his films. He’s attractive and a good actor.

 “But they won’t let me be myself. I’m always having to play some character. The secret to Gary Cooper’s and Clark Gable’s success is that they always played themselves.”

“I was terribly disappointed,” he laughed, “when they didn’t let me play ‘Jack the Ripper!’”

 I was surprised to have caught up with the Irish-born actor earlier this year in Europe. He flew over to star in “The Unknown Battle” in Norway with Elke Sommer.

 “But I sat on my rear end in London, waiting for it to start. A major studio was supposed to provide 50 percent of the finance. Two weeks before production, they backed out. Tony Mann, the director, had promised me we will make the picture later this year, then the snows come again to Norway.”

 Stephen is sure that pictures are coming back to Hollywood.

 “There is a definite upturn, but we won’t see the results until next year. Then maybe I can get to live in Hollywood, as I did when I first went here in 1958. But most of my movies have been abroad, as I told you. I made “The Night Heaven Fell” with Brigitte Bardot in Paris. She was very big then because this was her first movie after her hit  in ‘And God Created Woman.’”

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 “Is it true,” I asked, “that you will never make another movie in Rome?”

 “What I said was,” he replied, ”that I would never make a picture in Rome under those circumstances. In the first place this picture will not be shown in America. They can’t get it past the censors.  And more important, they didn’t pay me my full salary. They still owe me money. If I make another picture in Rome, the money will have to be in the bank first. Also, what I did receive was taxed in Italy as well as in America. It just isn’t practical to work there.”

 One picture Stephen would like to make in Hollywood is the Mildred Crem story, “Forever.”  Metro bought it years and years ago with the idea of starring Janet Gaynor.

 “I’d like to do it with Audrey Hepburn,” said Boyd.

 Another film he wants to make is “Clive of India.”

 “Terence Young had written this treatment, and of course this one would have to be made mostly in India.”

 This is a happy weekend for Stephen in London. The actor who became an American citizen last December 23 has a birthday on July 4.

 “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy, and I’m looking forward to the day I can work, as well as live, in America.”

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