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


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!

OBSESSEDFullscreen capture 10202015 113541 AM (1)
Boyd in Woman Obsessed, 1959– the closest Stephen got to a ‘Heathcliff’ type role


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.

Fullscreen capture 352017 85455 AM.bmp.jpg

Corpus Christi Caller Times 23 March, 1960

The Ghost of Messala – 1962 Stephen Boyd Interview

Stephen Boyd Is Escaping Career in Costume Roles

Jan 7, 1962, The Reading Eagle


Hollywood (UPI) – Stephen Boyd rode to fame on a chariot in “Ben Hur,” but the horse drawn buggy took his career so far off course it’s only now getting straightened out.

“I finished Ben Hur in July, 1959,” Boyd said. “The next picture I made was in May of 1960 and the next in May of 1961. It slowed me down from at least 2 1/2 pictures a year to one a year.”

In discussing “Ben Hur,” Boyd qas quick to explain he wasn’t critical of the film. He said his appearance in the epic affected his contractual obligations to 20th Century Fox. The problems were reflected in the amount of pictures in which he worked.

When Boyd played Ben Hur’s evil adversary,  Messala, in the Academy Award – winning movie, there were many picturegoers who thought the Irish actor should have won an Oscar. Charlton Heston was awarded one for his work in the title role.

“The miracle to me is that I’m still on my way,” said Boyd, lunching in the Metro-Goldwyn-Mater commissary during a break from his role in “Jumbo.”  “It didn’t give me the push that some people thought it would.”

In the first place, Hollywood producers were anxious to keep Boyd in costume pictures for the rest of his life, hoping to capitalize on the image he had in the film.

“It seemed that everybody who was making costume pictures wanted Messala,” he said. “They didn’t ask for Stephen Boyd, they wanted Messala. One studio planned to make a picture called The Life and Times of Messala.”

It has been more than three years since Boyd became associated with “Ben Hur” and it’s still the most discussed aspect of his career. It would be only natural if he despaired in mention of the picture, but he doesn’t.

“I think you have to live with any successful picture as long as it’s playing,” he said. “I’ll be reminded of Ben Hur as long as Francis X. Bushman was for his part in the silent picture version. I personally finished with the picture when it opened, like every other film. Ben Hur, made in 1958, won’t pay my rent in 1962.”

Since he finished that picture, Boyd admits his career went off course. It has taken almost three years for him to get back on the track.

Boyd renegotiated his contract with 20th Century Fox and now has a non-exclusive agreement with that studio which allows him to do pictures for other producers. In fact, he did “Ben Hur” for MGM even before the renegotiation.

“I think the career began to get on track when I started my role in The Inspector last May,” he said. “From now on, things will start buzzing. There will be a different driver on my train, and by that I mean different producers and studios.”

The handsome actor is taking roles now that indicate an artistic branching out for him. He’s doing his first TV filmed show in a segment of “G.E. Theater” and takes a crack at singing in “Jumbo.” Following that, he’s back in a period costume again for a Napoleonic picture to be filmed in Italy.

Stephen is the last to claim vocal talents. Even his accompanying press agent was honestly silent on that point.

“I wouldn’t call it singing,” he said candidly. “There are scenes that have to be played with music and I vocalize. Nobody is going to say Stephen Boyd is a singer. If they do, I’ve failed.”

Looking into the future, Boyd said he would like to appear in what he described as simple, ordinary pictures.

“Even Ben Hur was that,” he said, “You didn’t want to go see a psychiatrist after watching it.”