Stephen Boyd and Anthony Mann – “The Unknown Battle”, 1964

In mid 1963, as Stephen Boyd was wrapping up his role as the Roman General Livius in the epic production of “The Fall of the Roman Empire,” director Anthony Mann started to consider Boyd as the lead in his next project as well – “The Unknown Battle.” This movie was going to portray the true story of the top secret Allied mission to knock out the nuclear weapons plant run by the Nazi’s in Norway during the mid stages of WWII. Norwegians saboteurs, in a serious of heroic operations, destroyed a ‘heavy water’ plant in Telemark, Norway before if could be used to help develop a nuclear weapon which could have changed the outlook of the war in the most terrible way. Winston Churchill called it one of the most important single acts of World War II because it prevented the Nazis from developing the atomic bomb.


The Vemork Hydroelectric Plant – the setting for Anthony Mann’s WWII adventure film, “The Unknown Battle”

Originally Mann was seeking to cast Charlton Heston (who had worked with Mann on “El Cid” in 1961) and Stephen Boyd (currently working with Mann) as the two leads in the project. Yes, a reunion of the iconic “Ben-Hur” antagonists was initially the main objective!

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Boyd was set up for a decidedly busy schedule for the next few months and even lamented to one reporter, ” When will I get in a round of golf?” (Honolulu Star Bulletin, June 6, 1963).
By February of 1964 stunner Elke Sommer (Boyd’ future co-star in “The Oscar”) was signed to be the female lead on the film (whose title had now changed to “High Adventure.”) Boyd told Hedda Hopper that Sommer was as “sexy looking as any actress around”, and asked for her to be his leading lady. (Los Angeles Times, Feb 5, 1964)

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Meant for each other – Sommer and Boyd would reunite explosively in “The Oscar”, 1965

Heston had not been signed, and then Mann considered Boyd’s counterpart in “The Fall of the Roman Empire”, Christopher Plummer for the role. Then the merry-go-round of casting continued to some very curious participants!

For a key role opposite Boyd, Mann wanted Steve McQueen and offered him $500,000 plus a percentage of the gross.

Mann explained what unfolded next.

“McQueen told my representative : ‘I resent your calling me at home.’ So I forgot about him.

“Then I went after Marlon Brando, whose price is a million. I didn’t mind the price but he wanted to change the script.

“There were some actors in the cast he didn’t like. He insisted that they must play Nazis. I dropped him, too.” (The Progress Index, Feb 24, 1964)

Incredibly Anthony Perkins of “Psycho” fame, for a cheaper price than Brando of course, won the role.

So the main cast of “The Unknown Battle/High Adventure” was set – Stephen Boyd, Elke Sommer and Tony Perkins.


Boyd’s carousel of potential “Unknown Battle” co-star’s – from McQueen to Brando to Perkins!

In March Boyd was home in Hollywood to discuss the premise of the movie with the press. He seemed very excited about the story.


Smoking rising from Vemork hydroelectric plant after Allied air raid, Telemark, Norway, 16 Nov 1943 ww2dbase

The story if based on a little-known incident of 1943. It was in the spring just 23 years ago that Hitler announced he has discovered the basic elements to destroy the Free World with atomic bombs of his own. A group of seven men, Norwegians and British, were selected by Allied Intelligence Service to be smuggled into occupied territory to blow up the secret Heavy-Water experimental station in the mountains 100 miles north of Oslo. How these men helped to save the cause of democracy is a story, Boyd feels, must be told. Elke Sommer, herself a product of Germany, portrays a Norwegian girl who helps her countryman in the dangerous mission. The account of the venture has been fictionalized by Ben Barzman… (St Louis Jewish Light, March 18, 1964).

Stephen had packed his bags once more and headed to London and the cold ice fields of beautiful Oslo, Norway to start filming on location. Boyd has been waiting – and waiting – for the production to actually begin. Terrifying flashbacks to the “Cleopatra” debacle of a few years prior were most likely clouding his thoughts! Frighteningly, Anthony Mann was producing and directing the project. It didn’t take long for the money to run short.

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In late March journalist Sheilah Graham broke the story that Stephen, after arriving in London, discovered that the production has been indefinitely postponed. He hurriedly called his agent to join him there to find out what was going on! By April Stephen had filed a $500,000 breach of contract suit against Mann for time wasted and other opportunities lost (Mann didn’t seem to mind to much- he was at the Cannes Film Festival when the suit was filed!). (Philadelphia Inquirer, April 25, 1964)

Boyd has missed some other excellent film offers, including Sophia Loren’s project “Lady L.” Carlos Ponti, Loren’s husband/producer, had told Boyd that “your love scenes with my wife were the greatest (From “The Fall of the Roman Empire”). I’d like you to costar with her in Lady L.” (Los Angeles Times, Feb 5, 1964) Boyd wanted the role, and Loren was insistent that Boyd star as her lover, but as Boyd was tied up with “The Unknown Battle”. Loren had to settle for a lackluster and totally miscast Paul Newman! In addition, Boyd chose not to fly all the way back to Hollywood to attend the premiere of Paramount’s “The Fall of the Roman Empire.”

By July of 1964 Boyd had cooled a bit and explained to Sheilah Graham what had happened with the production.

“But I sat on my rear end in London, waiting for it to start. A major studio was supposed to provide 50 perfect if the finance. Two weeks before production, they backed out. Tony Mann, the director, has promised me we will make the picture later this year, when the snows come again in Norway.” (Asbury Park Press, July 2, 1964)

Two weeks after this interview, Kirk Douglas replaced Boyd in his role. Boyd had signed on to be the villain in “Genghis Khan” and he was off to make this film instead.

Stephen Boyd and Anthony Mann in 1963 during The Fall of the Roman Empire shoot in Spain

Mann did eventually get his project off the ground with Douglas, Michael Redgrave and Ulla Jacobssen. Richard Harris, who had been Mann’s original choice to play Commodus in “The Fall of the Roman Empire”, eventually became the second lead. Harris had just finished up his role as Cain in John Huston’s epic “The Bible”, which also featured Boyd as Nimrod.

Mann’s film was renamed “The Heroes of Telemark” and it was released in 1966. It’s a taut adventure movie with some truly heartracing action scenes and spectacular Norwegian scenery. But I still wish it had been made with the original cast!

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Boyd missed this opportunity to star with his favorite co-star, Sophia Loren

Stephen Boyd, Marlon Brando and Anna Kashfi

Stephen Boyd was compared to Marlon Brando early on in his career as an upcoming, masculine, rugged-type actor. Although Stephen never considered himself a method actor like Brando, he had nothing but high praise for who he considered hands down the best American actor.

Boyd and Brando

Asked whom he considered America’s finest actor, Boyd didn’t hesitate. “Marlon Brando, without doubt,” he said.
“America has never produced a talent like that, and I wonder whether it ever will again.
“I’ll tell you one interesting sidelight about him : If he invited you over for a drink, you’d often end up in some sort of impromptu drama class.
“You’d be sitting there with a drink talking about something someone said to you, or some incident that happened, and he’d say – ‘Hey, let’s play that as a scene, just for laughs;’
“He does that a lot with friends, and they turn out the performances of their lives for each other.
“Marlon told me not too long ago that his next film will be his last – and his best.
“‘It’ll be my 100 percent,’ he said.
“And you know what ? I believe him.
“There is no other actor in America that even comes near to touching his shoelaces.”,  Stephen Boyd Reveals Offscreen Personalities Of Top Stars by Chris Pritchard (National Enquirer)

It’s also interesting to note that Stephen’s own favorite stage performance as Stanley in “A Streetcar Named Desire” on the British stage was of course the role made famous on the screen by Brando in 1951.

Stephen also happened to briefly date Marlon Brando’s ex-wife Anna Kashi immediately after her divorce from Brando in 1960.  Anna was a mysterious looking beauty born in India and raised in Wales. Unfortunately I have been unable to find a photo of Stephen and Anna together, but there are several news snippets about the pair at that time.

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“Stephen Boyd finds both Anna Kashfi and British Actress Elizabeth Mills very attractive. But it was Elizabeth whose hand Boyd was holding after dinner.” (January 11, 1960 by Louella Parsons. Yes, this is Stephen’s personal secretary and close friend Liz Mills! Interesting point made by Louella. Liz is rarely mentioned in any other news snips during the 1960’s)

Boyd with Liz Mills in the early 1960’s

“Her (Anna’s) first date in her new freedom will be Stephen Boyd.”  (Jan 30, 1960 by Harrison Carroll)

“Marlon Brando’s ex, Anna Kashfi, is dating Stephen (“Ben Hur”) Boyd. (Feb 5, 1960 by Earl Wilson)

“Anna Kashfi and Stephen Boyd, who usually seek out the quieter places for their dates, and eye-catching duo at dinner at “Chasen’s” (Feb 6, 1960 by Louella Parsons)

“At La Scala, Anna Kashfi and writer producet Alan Reisner were having an Italian dinner. The the next booth, Elana Eden and Stephen Boyd were eating spaghetti. Stephen, remember, sometimes dates Anna.” ( Mar 8, 1960, by Louella Parsons)

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Stephen and Elana Eden

“Stephen Boyd slammed a car door on his right hand, broke his index finger. And speaking of Boyd, his favorite date, Anna Kashfi, is feeling much better. She was able to attend a special showing at MGM of “Ben Hur,” in which Stephen plays Messala” (March 10, 1960 by Hal Boyle)

“The ex-Mrs. Brando (Anna Kashfi) has become Stephen (Ben Hur) Boyd’s favorite date. (March 19, 1960 by Erskine Johnson)

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There was a while that his friendship with exotic and excitable Anna Kashfi waxed hot and promising. While it lasted – and while presumably, Steve felt the numbers were right – Steve enjoyed it, and wasn’t even coy about discussing it.

“I wouldn’t say this is a romance,” he fenced only slightly, ” but then it might be construed as a romance. I’m very fond of Anna. She’s a wonderful girl and we’re very good friends. This is not a publicity thing where I’m saying this, nothing of the sort. I like Anna and she likes me. We are good friends, but romantically I don’t know.”

His indecision was but another manifestation of his abiding conviction that love is a numbers game.

“Anna is fun to be with,” Steve continued with a grin. “She’s intelligent and she’s quite a conversationalist. She’s a little bit kookie, but intelligent. She’s eccentric in some of her sayings and in some of her thoughts, but don’t ask me for specifics. I don’t like specifics because I would only give a specific to you as I see her now. Tomorrow if you ask the same question I’d have to give you something else.” (“Stephen Boyd, Love Gambler” from Screenland, November 1960)

I am sure Stephen Boyd got to hear from interesting Brando stories from Anna at the time of her tumultuous divorce!


A match made in hell apparently! Brando and Kashfi. 

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Boyd in early 1960- around the time her was dating Anna Kashfi. Here Stephen is seen prepping for “To the Sound of Trumpets” for Playhouse 90 TV which aired in February 1960.

Boyd looking “Brando-esque” – brooding in white t-shirts from “Lisa” and “The Oscar”