Stephen Boyd was born William Millar on July 4, 1931, at Glengormley, Northern Ireland, one of nine children of Martha Boyd and Canadian truck driver James Alexander Millar, who worked for Fleming's on Tomb Street in Belfast. He attended Glengormley & Ballyrobert primary school and then moved on to Ballyclare High School and studied bookkeeping at Hughes Commercial Academy. In Ireland he worked in an insurance office and travel agency during the day and rehearsed with a semi-professional acting company at night during the week and weekends. He would eventually manage to be on the list for professional acting companies to call him when they had a role. He joined the Ulster Theatre Group and was a leading man with that company for three years, playing all kinds of roles. He did quite a bit of radio work in between as well, but then decided it was distracting him from acting and completely surrendered to his passion. Eventually he went to London as an understudy in an Irish play that was being given there, "The Passing Day".
In England he became very ill and was in and out of work, supplementing his acting assignments with odd jobs such as waiting in a cafeteria, doorman at the Odeon Theatre and even busking on the streets of London. Even as things turned for the worst, he would always write back to his mother that all was well and things were moving along so as not to alarm her in any way or make her worry. Sir Michael Redgrave discovered him one night at the Odeon Theatre and arranged an introduction to the Windsor Repertory Company. The Arts Council of Great Britain was looking for a leading man and part-time director for the only major repertory company that was left in England, The Arts Council Midland Theatre Company, and he got the job. During his stay in England he went into television with the BBC, and for 18 months he was in every big play on TV. One of the major roles in his early career was the one in the play "Barnett's Folly", which he himself ranked as one of his favorites.
In 1956 he signed a seven-year contract with 20th Century-Fox. This led to his first film role, as an IRA member spying for the Nazis in The Man Who Never Was (1956), a job he was offered by legendary producer Alexander Korda. William Wyler was so struck by Boyd's performance in that film that he asked Fox to loan him Boyd, resulting in his being cast in what is probably his most famous role, that of Messala in the classic Ben-Hur (1959) opposite Charlton Heston. He received a Golden Globe award for his work on that film but was surprisingly bypassed on Oscar night. Still under contract with Fox, Boyd waited around to play the role of Marc Anthony in Cleopatra (1963) opposite Elizabeth Taylor. However, Taylor became so seriously ill that the production was delayed for months, which caused Boyd and other actors to withdraw from the film and move on to other projects.
Boyd made several films under contract before going independent. One of the highlights was Fantastic Voyage (1966), a science-fiction film about a crew of scientists miniaturized and injected into the human body as if in inner space. He also received a nomination for his role of Insp. Jongman in Lisa (1962) (aka "The Inspector") co-starring with Dolores Hart.
Boyd's Hollywood career began to fade by the late 1960s as he started to spend more time in Europe, where he seemed to find better roles more suited to his interests. When he went independent it was obvious that he took on roles that spoke to him rather than just taking on assignments for the money, and several of the projects he undertook were, at the time, quite controversial, such as Slaves (1969) and Carter's Army (1970) (TV). Boyd chose his roles based solely on character development and the value of the story that was told to the public, and never based on monetary compensation or peer pressure.
Although at the height of his career he was considered one of Hollywood's leading men, he never forgot where he came from, and always reminded everyone that he was, first and foremost, an Irishman. When the money started coming in, one of the first things he did was to ensure that his family was taken care of. He was particularly close to his mother Martha and his brother Alex.
Boyd was married twice, the first time in 1958 to Italian-born MCA executive Mariella di Sarzana, but that only lasted (officially) during the filming of "Ben Hur". His second marriage was to Elizabeth Mills, secretary at the British Arts Council and a friend since 1955. Liz Mills followed Boyd to the US in the late 1950s and was his personal assistant and secretary for years before they married, about ten months before his death on June 2, 1977, in Northridge, California, from a massive heart attack while playing golf - one of his favorite pastimes - at the Porter Valley Country Club. He is buried at Oakwood Memorial Park in Chatsworth, California. It was a terrible loss, just as he seemed to be making a comeback with his recent roles in the series "Hawaii Five-O" (1968) and the English movie The Squeeze (1977).
It is a real tragedy to see that a man who was so passionate about his work, who wanted nothing but to tell a story with character, a man who was ahead of his time in many ways ended up being overlooked by many of his peers. One fact remains about Stephen Boyd, however--his fans are still passionate about his work to this day, almost 30 years after his death, and one has to wonder if he ever realized that perhaps in some way he achieved the goal he set out for himself: to entertain the public and draw attention to the true art of acting while maintaining glamor as he defined it by remaining himself a mystery.
|Elizabeth Mills||(August 1976 - 2 June 1977) (his death)|
|Mariella di Sarzana||(30 August 1958 - 23 September 1958) (divorced)|
Often cast in historical epics
Died of a heart attack while playing golf, shortly after completing a guest-starring role on "Hawaii Five-O" (1968).
Was the original choice to play James Bond 007 in Dr. No (1962).
Was associated with the lead role in a film version of Mary Renault's novel of ancient Crete, "The King Must Die." The film was never made.
In 1976, in what would be his final interview, Boyd expressed regret at concentrating so heavily on movies and said he wished he had acted more on stage and on television.
While working as a doorman in 1955, Boyd was discovered by Sir Michael Redgrave, who got him his first film role.
In 1995, Charlton Heston denied a claim by screenwriter Gore Vidal that there was a gay subtext to the film Ben-Hur (1959). Vidal claims he wrote the script with such an implication and mentioned the subtext to director William Wyler. Boyd, who played Ben-Hur's friend (and later nemesis) Messala, supposedly was in on this subtext and played his scenes as if he had been spurned by his gay lover. Heston was not informed of this as they thought he would not like it. Heston went on to state that after writing one scene, Vidal was dismissed from the project. Vidal responded by producing extracts from Heston's 1978 journal "The Actor's Life", in which he admitted Vidal had written most of the finished screenplay.
He blamed the massive commercial failure of The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964) for ruining his movie career.
Nearly died during the great flu epidemic in London in 1952.
I decided that perhaps now I'm at an age when film producers and the major companies might accept me again as I am rather than as they thought I was. (1976)
[on Brigitte Bardot] All I can say is that when I'm trying to play serious love scenes with her, she's positioning her bottom for the best angle shots.
[on Sophia Loren] She is not the most attractive lady in the world at first glance but, my God, two seconds later you felt like you were in a dream world. Just for her to say "Hello" was enough. You just capitulated. For me she is the most beautiful person I've ever met.
I am sick and tired of acting. I want to make decisions at production level. I have tried to fight the system and do things my way, but I haven't been able to. Now I feel that whatever talent I may have had is gone. The time has come to move on.
They tried to make me a star, a leading man. Well, I'm not a star even though they thought I looked like one. I'm a character actor. When I've had the choice I've always opted for the character role. I'd rather be the pillar that holds up the star than the star himself.
He's a mystery man and I think it's a good idea to occasionally bring back a good character. He's a bit like the man with no name, but he's got more depth, more humor. I think he's capable of more things on either side of the law. He's got glamor. I think a lot of the glamor is missing in motion pictures today and it's very necessary to bring it back. It's interesting to really get to the bottom of the word 'glamor'. It is almost impossible to have glamor without mystery. If there is too much explanation, too much knowledge, the glamor is diminished. It doesn't matter how much you interview Elizabeth Taylor, Marlon Brando or Steve McQueen, there is always the mystery. Once that goes, so too does the glamor. - On The Man Called Noon (1973)
My whole life has been in entertainment. I like to look at people and see them smile - when the face smiles the soul comes through.
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