Stephen Boyd Talks about “Slaves” , Civil Rights, Scientology and Cleopatra!
August 1, 1969, Detroit Free Press by Bruce Vilanch
For a man who made his name getting dragged through the mud, Stephen Boyd is surprisingly clean.
His teeth really sparkle, his eyes shine bright, he appears to have full power in all his four limbs- he’s in great shape.
This will assure the thousands who became concerned when Boyd spent the better part of 15 minutes under the hoofs of eight galloping stallions pulling his chariot to oblivion in “Ben-Hur.”
A sizeable portion of skin and bone was sliced off the Boyd body during that scene, all so Charlton Heston could go on to victory in Rome and and Oscar in California.
Undaunted, Boyd picked up his pieces and headed for Hollywood, and Irish heartthrob-in-a-toga, to star in such treasures as “The Fall of the Roman Empire,” “Caper of the Golden Bulls” and America’s trash classic, “The Oscar.”
He married (a whirlwind union of 23 days), divorced and was quoted as proclaiming “the only difference between Doris Day, Sophia Loren and Brigitte Bardot is their hair styles.”
He walked out of “Cleopatra” and into “Jumbo” (in which he shared billing with an elephant) and “Fantastic Voyage” (in which he plunged lymph gland rapids with Raquel Welch).
He even played the heavy in “Genghis Khan.”
It has not been a dull life for Stephen Boyd.
The new Boyd, minus the blue eyes (they were contact lenses) and the massive shoulders (that was padding), stands over six feet tall and is dashingly handsome, but in a decidedly un-Hollywood, non-glamour-boy way. He is finished with Biblical pictures, gladiator spectacles and other trappings of imperial majesty and, in his latest film, plays an enigmatic, yet evil plantation owner in Mississippi circa 1850.
The picture, “Slaves” and was shot on what in movies they call “a shoestring” (small fortune.) Boyd says no one would back “Slaves” until he signed on as its star. “That helped them raise at least some of the money,” he says.
“No one would back ‘Slaves’ because it is about an explosive situation which is explosive only because no one understands it.”
The picture tries to make a statement all about Now and how voices in the black community clamor alternatively for blood and quiet. Stephen Boyd thinks this is the value of “Slaves.”
“Civil rights 100 years from now should not be discussed. Civil rights of today is what is important. I joined the civil rights movement years ago,” the former British subject, now American citizen says. “I gave my word years ago to help. Now I want to find out if their programs are getting to the people they’re supposed to be getting to.”
“I feel a picture like ‘Slaves,’ which addresses itself to some of America’s current problems, is something of a moral obligation for me. As soon as I have fulfilled some of my moral obligations, I can begin making money doing other things so I can have time to fulfill some more.”
The whole idea of moral obligation and responsibility for one’s fellow man, as well as responsibility to oneself, fills up a great deal of Boyd’s conversation. He speaks of co-workers as if they were close relatives, not just contractual partners.
“I was a guest on one of those New York radio panel shows and they were talking about Judy Garland,” he says, “one fellow, I won’t mention his name its so sickening, was carrying on about how she was a no-talent, a faggot hero. It’s disgusting what some people will say in public.”
In an attempt to find his own mind amidst such goings-on, Boyd has turned to scientology, a voguish new faith whose speakers turn up regularly on college campuses to lecture for $2.50 a throw.
“I don’t think anything should be suspect because it costs money,” he says. He calls scientology “a process used to make you capable of learning.”
“Scientology is nothing. It means only what you want it to. It is not a church you go to to pray, but a church that you go to to learn. It is no good unless you apply it. It is the application.”
Basically, scientologists meditate, usually in the presence of a spiritual supervisor, teaching themselves to be open in order to learn. One who has truly opened himself can be elevated to the position of Clear. Stephen Boyd has elevated himself to OC 6, a position beneath that of Clear. It took him nine months.
“Slaves” did not take him quite so long to accomplish, and, hopefully, it will give him equal peace-of-mind. What it certainly will not do is anything big for Stephen Boyd’s career. This he knows and accepts, as he has accepted everything since he walked away from the most expensive movie of all time.
“It was in the original version of ‘Cleopatra,’ the one to be shot in London. I was to play Marc Antony opposite Elizabeth Taylor, with Rouben Mamoulian directing, but Elizabeth got sick and everything stopped.
““I was outside the hospital door that day with Eddie (Miss Taylor’s fourth husband, singer Eddie Fisher) when the doctors came out and told us her had one hour to live. It was one of the saddest, most pathetic moments I can recall. But somehow she pulled through – nothing ever stops her when she wants something.
“Unfortunately, I couldn’t wait around until they decided to shoot. The script was being rewritten, there was a new director, the whole Shaw and Shakespeare concept of a personal drama was being thrown out in favor or spectacle. So I left. They gave my part to a fellow named Richard Burton. They even gave him my costume, and to this day every time he sees me, he says ‘Jesus, you’ve got big feet!”
“He doesn’t even mention my chest,” Stephen Boyd says, with that serene scientologist’s smile.
I love when a generous fan out there shares something amazing concerning Stephen Boyd! I want to thank Annette in the UK for pointing out a great website I had never perused before…www.britishpathe.com! Be sure to go to this website and search for Stephen ‘s name. You will find these video clips!
There are some great Stephen Boyd clips on this page!
*Stephen acting as guest-host on a British TV show Film Fanfare from 1957
*An interview of Stephen on the set of Shepperton Studios talking about “Seven Waves Away” and Tyrone Power!
*Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh visits the set of Cleopatra in 1960 and talks to Stephen Boyd
*The premiere of “Shalako” in London, December 1968. Brigitte Bardot, Sean Connery, Diane Cilento and Stephen Boyd meet Princess Margaret. Stephen arrives with a beautiful, elegant Black woman – does anyone know who this mystery woman is?
*A quick video of behind-the-scenes of The Fall of the Roman Empire in Spain. The video features Sophia (sitting in Stephen’s on set chair), and Stephen Boyd and Christopher Plummer enacting a scene which was eventually cut from the film! It’s a scene where Commodus and Livius dash wine (rather cruelly) on captive German prisoners below. You can see the 2 captive girls in the crowd (one of them, Lena Von Martens). This whole storyline was cut from the film, but you can read excerpts from the novel of The Fall of the Roman Empire on this tag here, https://stephenboydblog.com/category/harry-whittington-novelization-of-the-fall-of-the-roman-empire/
I always wondered what this scene was from! It was (wisely) replaced by the ‘drunken’ Livius/Commodus scene instead.
Stephen Boyd used to joke that he should have been invited to Elizabeth Taylor’s wedding with Richard Burton. If it wasn’t for Stephen, the biggest celebrity couple of the 1960’s might never have met! Boyd, as many of his fans know, was chosen to be the original Marc Anthony in the Twentieth Century Fox mega-production of “Cleopatra”. Boyd had spoken to a Fox producer as early as late 1959 about the role, which Boyd seemed predestined to play.
“(Walter) Wanger talked with me about the role of Marc Anthony to ‘Cleopatra’…I told him I thought I was too young to play Anthony, who was 48 by the time he got together with Cleopatra. I’ve played it on stage, though.” (Hedda Hopper interview of Stephen Boyd from January 31, 1960, “Hollywood’s New Gable?”, https://stephenboydblog.com/2016/07/09/hollywoods-handsomest-hibernian-may-be-is-stephen-boyd-the-new-gable/)
Boyd was signed as Anthony in early 1960. “She (Taylor) had the approval of all the stars who were going to work with her, ” Boyd said proudly in a Film Show Annual interview in 1964, ” She approved of Peter Finch and myself…” (Sunday Express London Interview, August 11, 1963)
In late June, Taylor was struggling with acute bronchitis which left her unable to attend a lavish New York ‘Roman orgy’ party held by the studio. The worst was yet to come. When the movie began filming in October of 1960 with director Rouben Mamoulian, the film work was taking place at Pinewood Studios in London under cold, damp conditions. Almost immediately, the bronchitis Taylor had in June flared up again in and she was confined to bed with pneumonia. By November, she was rushed to the hospital because of an infected tooth which had caused a viral infection of the tissue at the base of her brain (‘meningism‘). The movie was postponed in December of 1960. But Taylor had more drama to come. On March 4 of 1961, with heavy lung congestion and double pneumonia, she was again rushed to the hospital in grave condition for an emergency tracheotomy.
Stephen Boyd : “I was outside the hospital door that day with Eddie (Miss Taylor’s fourth husband, singer Eddie Fisher) when the doctors came out and told us her had one hour to live. It was one of the saddest, most pathetic moments I can recall. But somehow she pulled through – nothing ever stops her when she wants something.” (Detroit Free Press, “Screen Star Stephen Boyd Since That Chariot Race”, August 1, 1969)
The Pinewood Studio Production of “Cleopatra”, 1960, directed by Rouben Mamoulian, Costumes by Oliver Messel, starring Peter Finch as Caesar, Stephen Boyd as Marc Anthony and Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra
Stephen’s one regret about missing out on “Cleopatra” was not getting to work with Elizabeth Taylor.
“I think she’s marvelous. I remember one day when several of us were reading for the part, and Elizabeth was ill, and we went around to her house when she was just, as it were, getting up. And God! She’s the most beautiful thing. You know what you look like getting up? …Not Elizabeth. This vision came out of the bedroom.” (Sunday Express London Interview, August 11, 1963)
“I think she’s a dream.” (Asbury Park Press, July 3, 1964)
“The only thing I didn’t like about Elizabeth Taylor in ‘Cleopatra’ was her make-up – all that heavy eye-shadow and stuff.” (Sunday Express London Interview, August 11, 1963)
“She’s more sensational in her beauty, her lavender eyes, without make-up, just being her natural self.” (Valley Morning Star, Sep 18, 1966)
“While waiting for ‘Cleo’ to get started, I went to Cairo for the big lighting of the Sphinx. That was when they were planning to shoot the picture in Egypt – but, of course, that fell through.
“I’d say that about the personal high point of those 24 months was my trip to Cairo and Lebanon. The countries are beautiful, and it’s too bad so many things came up to prevent shooting ‘Cleopatra’ there.” (Philadelphia Daily News, March 8, 1962)
“Unfortunately, I couldn’t wait around until they decided to shoot. The script was being rewritten, there was a new director, the whole Shaw and Shakespeare concept of a personal drama was being thrown out in favor or spectacle. So I left. They gave my part to a fellow named Richard Burton. They even gave him my costume, and to this day every time he sees me, he says ‘Jesus, you’ve got big feet!” (Detroit Free Press, “Screen Star Stephen Boyd Since That Chariot Race”, August 1, 1969)
Boyd and Burton- sharing Roman costumes, other than footwear!
Burton and Boyd were no strangers to epics: Burton in Alexander the Great (1956) and Boyd in The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964)
Boyd was also apparently mistaken for Burton occasionally in Hollywood, which caused Boyd to explain himself once : “He’s Welsh, I’m Irish. He sings Welsh songs, I sing Irish songs. He drinks, I don’t drink.” (Tintypes, Stephen Boyd, by Sidney Skolski)
Boyd also gave his opinion at the time about the most infamous love affair in the world between Taylor and Burton, and about his own lost chance with Taylor.
“Why, you know, they were starting rumors about Liz and me before we’d even met! I think Burton is a fine actor and I like Elizabeth as an actress – during the time I spent on the picture, she was marvelous – but I think Burton would be foolish to leave Sybil. I was amused by his reply when asked if he was going to divorce her and marry Liz; ‘It’s not bloody likely.'” (Hedda Hopper Interview, June 16, 1962)
“She’s not my type, and I don’t think I’m hers…I’m sure the reason she fell in love with him (Burton) is because he has the strength of mind and body of Mike Todd….True, Richard Burton became a big star in Rome, because of all the gossip and slander. He’s one of the finest actors, but he was not important until his love affair with Elizabeth. I find that shocking. “ (Courier Journal Dec 30, 1962, ‘ Stephen Boyd is Glad he Escaped Cleopatra Role with Liz Taylor)
Stephen Boyd: “My only regret is not getting a chance to be on screen with Elizabeth Taylor…the fact the I dropped out allowed them to meet, and Richard makes a great Anthony” (The ABC of Stephen Boyd interview, 1965)
More about Cleopatra
For more about Cleopatra the Movie, see this excellent website, http://www.elizabethtaylorthelegend.com/Elizabeth%20Taylor%20-%20Cleopatra%20Contents.html
For more about Cleopatra the Historical Person, I have found that there is almost too much information out there about her and it is hard to find the right book. For an excellent historical novel about Cleopatra, I highly recommend Margaret George’s “The Memoirs of Cleopatra” . Having just started reading it recently, I find that it really brings her personality, as well as Caesar and Antony, to life.
Horace’s Ode to Cleopatra
Now drink we deep, now featly tread
A measure; now before each shrine
With Salian feasts the table spread;
The time invites us, comrades mine.
‘Twas shame to broach, before today,
The Caecuban, while Egypt‘s dame
Threaten’d our power in dust to lay
And wrap the Capitol in flame,
Girt with her foul emasculate throng,
By Fortune’s sweet new wine befool’d,
In hope’s ungovern’d weakness strong
To hope for all; but soon she cool’d,
To see one ship from burning ‘scape;
Great Caesar taught her dizzy brain,
Made mad by Mareotic grape,
To feel the sobering truth of pain,
And gave her chase from Italy,
As after doves fierce falcons speed,
As hunters ‘neath Haemonia’s sky
Chase the tired hare, so might he lead
The fiend enchain’d; she sought to die
More nobly, nor with woman’s dread
Quail’d at the steel, nor timorously
In her fleet ships to covert fled.
Amid her ruin’d halls she stood
Unblench’d, and fearless to the end
Grasp’d the fell snakes, that all her blood
Might with the cold black venom blend,
Death’s purpose flushing in her face;
Nor to our ships the glory gave,
That she, no vulgar dame, should grace
A triumph, crownless, and a slave.
Mark Anthony is sent to Egypt!
In April of 1961, Stephen Boyd had just moved into his newly purchased house in Tarzana, California, a ranch-style home which was built in 1949. Stephen would own this home until his death in 1977. Stephen had been lingering on for quite some time waiting for the call back to the set of “Cleopatra” in London, which he had left in December of 1960. The full cast and crew had been waiting forever for an ailing Elizabeth Taylor to get better. Eventually the project would be revamped with a new cast, director and location. But during this time, the Twentieth Century Fox moguls were talking to the government of Egypt for the possibility of filming some scenes there (obviously – this is “Cleopatra”!). The Egyptian government was under the sway of strongman President Gamal Abdel Nasser Hussein, who had overthrown the Egyptian monarchy in 1952. Interestingly, because Elizabeth Taylor had recently married singer Eddie Fisher and converted to Judaism, Egypt did not want her coming to their country because she was now Jewish. Nasser also banned all Elizabeth Taylor movies in the country! This made the possibility of filming some of “Cleopatra” in Egypt rather awkward for Fox Studios. (Los Angeles Times, July 29, 1960)
The filming of Cleopatra in London, September of 1960. Stephen can be seen on the right in full Mark Anthony costume. Elizabeth Taylor on the horse? It’s hard to say.
Fox Chairman Spyros Skouras was still trying other ways to flatter the ego of the Egyptian President. At this time, Egypt itself was prepping for an exciting new tourist gimmick – a sound and light show at the Great Pyramids of Giza. The light show (which I have seen myself in person when I was in Egypt in 2009), is an impressive display of multi-colored lights highlighting both the Great Sphinx and the Pyramids, and the sound show (at least in 2009) was narrated by actor Omar Sharif telling the tale of the ancient Pyramids and Sphinx. The inauguration of the sound and light show was set for the end of April and, along with other dignitaries and celebrities, Twentieth Century Fox decided to round up a few of its own (since Nasser was demanding glitch and glamour) and shuffled a few actors off to Egypt to attend the ceremony. Because Stephen had been part of the original cast of “Cleopatra” (he was still technically scheduled to be Mark Anthony, as he had not yet dropped out of the role), he was an ideal choice for this publicity tour. He was joined by svelte, blonde beauty Barbara Eden, soon to be of “Bewitched” fame, and TV star Julie Newmar, who would be better known later on as Catwoman from the 1960’s “Batman” TV series.
Julie Newmar, Barbara Eden, Stephen Boyd
Stephen got the call from Fox executives almost immediately after he was moving into his home. His reaction was – not pleased, according to Hedda Hopper.
Steve Boyd was just moving into his Encino home when he was ordered on a plane to Egypt where he’ll attend ceremonies inaugurating light and sound on the Sphinx and Pyramids outside of Cairo. He’ll be gone ten days, said: “I’m leaving my home in utter and abysmal confusion.” (Los Angeles Times, April 13, 1961)
Stephen was dutiful, however, and traveled to Egypt as the handsome, male film celebrity. It was on this first trip to Egypt where he first met Omar Sharif and his wife, who were also attending the celebration. Stephen recalled their meeting during the filming of “The Fall of the Roman Empire.”
“Omar Shairf and I met two years ago in Egypt on a publicity tour for 20th Century Fox. Omar and his wife Fatem Hamama are the biggest stars in Egyptian films today. With Omar working on ‘Fall of the Roman Empire’ now, its like old home week between us.
“Lo and behold,” says Stephen, “Omar and I are working out a deal to costar in a picture to be made late this year. Naturally his lovely wife would have an important role. It would be a join project between my company and his. So far we have the temporary title of ‘The Secret’ and it’s a mystery comedy with romance.” (Philadelphia Inquirer, Feb 22, 1963)
Now that would have been interesting! Anyhow, Stephen also seems to have enjoyed himself and the sound and light show as well, telling Hedda Hopper the details after he returned from his adventure abroad.
Steve tells me he had a wonderful time in Cairo. He said: “The new sound and light is turned on at night and the Pyramids are the most beautiful sight I’e ever seen. Barbara Eden and her husband, Michael Ansara, and Julie Newmar got a terrific reception there. Nasser attended the opening of their movie, but Spyros Skouras, our host, left before we arrived…” (Chicago Daily Tribune, May 11, 1961)
Stephen was finally freed up from his “Cleopatra” obligation in June of 1961, and was off to London to begin filming “The Inspector” with Dolores Hart. By late June, Richard Burton to stepped into the role of Mark Anthony to replace Boyd. Stephen Boyd could finally leave this role behind.
Even though he never got to star in “Cleopatra,” at least Stephen Boyd, the original Mark Anthony, has the small consolation of visiting Egypt, the Great Sphinx and the Pyramids before he moved on to other projects. The only thing he was missing was Elizabeth Taylor as “Cleopatra” on her purple barge floating down the Nile!
On July 31 of 1963, Stephen attended the London opening of the Twentieth Century Fox epic, Cleopatra. What a good sport! Stephen was originally set to play the main male character Mark Anthony, but due to Taylor’s long illness during the filming of the movie in London during 1960, Stephen, as well as most of the rest of the original cast, moved on to other projects. Stephen was in London filming “The Third Secret” during the summer of 1963. Apparently Burton and Taylor both boycotted the London premiere because of the scathing London critical reviews of Taylor’s performance at the time.
As for Boyd’s opinion – from The Sunday Express London on August 11, 1963:
“My only regret in not being in it was not working with Elizabeth Taylor,” he said. “I think she’s marvelous.
“I remember one day when several of us were reading for the part, and Elizabeth was ill, and we went around to her house when she was just, as it were, getting up. And God ! She’s the most beautiful thing. You know what you look like getting up ?” Mr. Boyd collapsed his face and looked extremely unwell. “Not Elizabeth. This vision came out of the bedroom”.
“The only thing I didn’t like about Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra was her make-up – all that heavy eye shadow and stuff. Ugh ! I can see why English girls wear so much of it : you’re walking up the Kings-road in the cold, and you’ve got to do sumpin to cover up the purple.
“But I’ve never liked a lot of make-up on women. You don’t know how to break through. It’s almost like being in prison. You know ? Let-me-know-when-I-touch-skin. What do they put so much on for ? Huhh ? It takes longer to take off. And time is a very important thing” (http://leglatin.pagesperso-orange.fr/boyd/boyde.htm)
Look for Stephen at about :19 seconds into the video….