Stephen Boyd (as Messala) talks about that famous chariot race in “Ben-Hur”

Stephen Boyd gives a fun, facetious account of how Messala should have run that famous chariot race!

Stephen Boyd Interview from The Miami News July 10, 1960

The Good Guys Finish Last

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by Art Buchwald

Paris  – The greatest race of the year was in the motion picture “Ben Hur.” The winner of the race was Charlton Heston, who received an Academy Award for it. The loser was Stephen Boyd, who, as Messala, was the favorite until he got knocked out in the seventh round. Mr. Boyd is now in Paris making a filme called “The Big Gamble” for Darryl F. Zanuck. The picture stars Mr. Boyd, David Wayne and Juliette Greco.

When we saw Mr. Boyd on the set he still felt he should have won the race. He believes that if he had won, things would have been a lot different for him now.

“I should have used my spikes sooner,” he said. “It was my fault.”

For those who haven’t seen the picture, the chariot race, which goes on for about fifteen minutes, is its establishing feature. Messala has challenged Ben-Hur and, unbeknownst to Ben-Hur, has fitted a razor-sharp spike to this chariot to cut the spokes of Ben-Hur’s wheel. This, according to the Imperial Chariot Jockey Club, was fair.

“What went wrong?” we asked Mr. Boyd. “Did your trainer give you bad advice?”

“No,” he replied, “I never took orders from anyone. I had won my last seven races and I figured this would be a piece of cake. I bet more money on myself than I had ever bet before. The only thing that bugged me was that Ben-Hur intended to ride a clean race, which is much more dangerous. I should have fixed his chariot before the race, but I was over-confident.”

“It happens a lot with Romans.”

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“My strategy was perfect,” he said. “I was running second on the first round on the outside, an excellent position. If anyone tried to pass me I could knock him against the Spina, the giant inside wall of the track.

“I wasn’t worried about the other chariots. Most of them were dogs and broken-down pace-setters. But my big mistake was the way I played it when Ben-Hur made his move.”

Mr.  Boyd relieves it as if it had only happened yesterday. “I should have gone for his wheel with my blade. Instead, I decided to close in and whip him. I had ripped open the side of his chariot, and instead of concentrating on his axle, I tried to pull his wheel off. It was a great mistake, because I pulled off mine instead.

“But everyone had complained over the fact that I used my whip on Ben-Hur. Why don’t they mention that he used his whip on me? My trainer complained to the stewards after the race was over, but even after viewing the film they gave Ben-Hur the race.”

Mr. Boyd said he had an opportunity to do away with Ben-Hur in the third round, but he became overconfident. “I should have killed when I had the chance. Maybe then I would have gotten the Academy Award.”

Instead Ben-Hur killed Mr. Boyd, this ruling out a chance for a rematch.

“What is your advise to other young charioteers?” we asked.

“If you’ve got a blade on your wheel, use it. If you try to use your whip on the other guy, you don’t have enough control of your horses. Chariot racing is a dirty business and the good guys finish last.”

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Stephen Boyd attends the Academy Awards, April 4, 1960

Stephen Boyd attended the 32nd Academy Awards on April 4, 1960 at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/32nd_Academy_Awards)

On his arm that evening as his date was a young woman named Romney Tree, who was a Belfast socialite (actress?). This was a HUGE night for Stephen as Ben Hur was nominated for 12 Academy Awards that evening, and by the end of the night it had won 11 of those awards, including Charlton Heston for Best Actor. Sadly, Stephen was not even nominated for his performance as Messala, even though he had won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor.  Apparently that fact was the elephant in the room that night. Hedda Hopper was puzzled, as were several other Hollywood press writers. This was Hedda’s comment:

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Apparently the studio had forbidden Boyd to pick up Griffith’s award in person should Griffith not attend the ceremony:  Hugh Griffith was nominated for the Best Supporting Actor for Ben Hur instead of Boyd. Griffith was on hand to receive this award, so that awkwardness was avoided.

Stephen took the evening in stride, however, and was the first to congratulate Charlton Heston on his award at the after parties.  Here was a few pics of Stephen that evening.

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Can you find Stephen Boyd  in the crowd?

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Photos of Stephen Boyd from “Ben Hur”, 1959

Easter is almost upon us, and that means it’s Ben Hur time! TCM will be airing Ben Hur on Sunday afternoon, April 16th, 2017. To celebrate, here are some pictures of Stephen Boyd during the filming and promotion of the epic classic, Ben Hur, from 1959.

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Stephen Boyd and Charlton Heston in the  ‘Circus’ at Cinecitta Studios, Rome.

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A tall order –  Six footer Stephen Boyd gets to test out a plumed Roman helmet for size.

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Ready for the cameras to roll – Messala comes to life!

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Stephen Boyd as Messala

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Friendly adversaries : Heston and Boyd pose for the press on a Vespa in the back lot of Cinecitta Studios in Rome.

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American actor Charlton Heston and British actor Stephen Boyd, wearing stage costumes, having fun in riding a Vespa and a bicycle on the set of the film ‘Ben Hur’ in the studios of Cinecittà. A background actor is with them. Rome, 1958
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Heston offers his help to Boyd, who has fallen off the overturned Vespa.
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Stephen chatting with the Roman Centurion extras of Ben Hur.
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An iconic Messala pose- whip in hand.
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Heston, director Wyler, and Boyd are ready for the chariot race.

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The magnificent chariot race of Ben Hur!
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Messala (Stephen Boyd) takes a soda-pop break during the chariot race.
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Boyd and Heston are prepped by director William Wyler for their initial meeting.
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Stephen Boyd : ready to ride into cinema history as the Roman Tribune Messala
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Hail Caesar! Messala (Stephen Boyd) makes the Roman salute before the chariot race begins.

Happy One Year Anniversary from the Stephen Boyd Blog!!!

Dear Blog Readers and Visitors,

I wanted to say a huge thank you for all of you who have visited and perused my Stephen Boyd WordPress Blog! A year ago on March 27, 2016,  I started this blog to get some material out there about the movies, life and personality of this talented, unique, sexy & ruggedly handsome actor who seems to have been somewhat forgotten by Hollywood. Obviously, Stephen has amazing fans worldwide! This blog has had almost 30,000 views and over 3000 visitors. I have had views from more than 75 countries worldwide from every continent except Antarctica. The United States, France, Poland, South Korea, Argentina, Spain, UK and Japan are the big hitters, but I’ve also had visits from places like Russia, India, China, Pakistan, Egypt, Iraq, Uganda, Faroe Islands, New Caledonia, Jordan, Benin, Turkey, The Seychelles and Jersey. Now THAT is a worldwide audience! For an actor who’s popular height was in the 1960’s, this really show that Boyd’s popularity is still going strong.

I am always on the lookout for rare Stephen Boyd photos, mementos, articles and films, so please feel free to share! My hunt for some copy of “The Hands of Cormac Joyce” and television show “The Wall Between” are ongoing!

Thanks again for keeping Stephen’s film career and memory alive and please keep visiting and revisiting the Stephen Boyd WordPress Blog!

Stephen Boyd- “Tiger by the Tail” 1959-1960 articles

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This is a fascinating article released just as Boyd’s career was rocketing  at the opening of Ben Hur in late 1959. Famed  columnist Hedda Hopper, always a major fan of Boyd’s, highlights some of Stephen’s persistent characteristics – specifically his desire to have more character roles instead of leading men parts. Hedda describes Boyd has having “terrific screen impact and vitality beyond any actor I know.” That is certainly high praise! This article also includes Boyd’s notorious comment that “I won’t work in a brass hat to the end of my days,” a comment which did not please his studio Twentieth Century Fox, as they had several ‘brass hat’ roles lined up for him, including “The Story of Ruth”, “The King Must Die”, and perhaps even an off-shoot Messala project. Stephen had already talked to the studio about playing Mark Anthony at this point (late 1959) for the upcoming Cleopatra. It was a role he would eventually sign up for. This is also the comment which may have in fact prevented Stephen from even being nominated for an Oscar for his performance as Messala in Ben Hur. Stephen did win the Golden Globe as Best Supporting Actor for Ben Hur, but he was strangely overlooked for an Academy Award. See below for Stephen’s opinion about being overlooked as a Supporting Actor by the Academy for Ben Hur (See below article “Supporting Actors Pose Movie Woe”.)  Stephen also mentions, interestingly, that he would have liked to have played a few famous Lawrence Olivier roles for live TV -including  Rebecca and Wuthering Heights. I have always wished that Stephen could have played Heathcliff! I am surprised this movie never got remade in the 50’s or 60’s. Stephen would have been a perfect choice!

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Boyd in Woman Obsessed, 1959– the closest Stephen got to a ‘Heathcliff’ type role

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Released by the Chicago Tribune, November 29, 1959

Even the mainstream press was shocked that Boyd was overlooked for his performance as “Messala” in Ben Hur by the Academy. He wasn’t even nominated. Stephen was quite outspoken at the time, and this article by Bob Thomas is full of rebellious Boyd quotes such as this.

 Yet he drew no Oscar nomination, because he had star billing in the film. “Ridiculous!” declares the outspoken Irishman, “I was a supporting player in the picture. Every other role in Ben Hur was in support of Chuck Heston. Why, not counting the chariot scene, my role lasted a half-hour on the screen. Now how can you call that a starring role?”

Luckily for us, Ben Hur still is well known by movie-goers, and Stephen’s amazing performance as Messala sometimes still gets referred to (mistakenly) as an Oscar winning performance! Frankie Fane would be proud.

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Corpus Christi Caller Times 23 March, 1960