By Brigitte Ivory ã 2002.
Born William “Billy” Millar July 4th, 1931 at White House by Belfast, Northern Ireland. Mother was Martha Boyd, father a Canadian truck driver James Alexander Millar who worked for Fleming’s on Tomb Street in Belfast. Billy was one of nine children (Courtesy Robert Armstrong).
He attended Glengormley & Ballyrobert primary school and then moved on to Ballyclare High School and studied bookkeeping at Hughes Commercial Academy (Courtesy Robert Armstrong).
In Ireland, he worked in an insurance office and travel agency during the day, 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 at that time (Courtesy Robert Armstrong).
He was a leading man with the professional company for three years, playing all kinds of roles. He did quite a bit of radio work in between as well but then decided this was distracting him from acting and completely surrendered to his passion. “You don’t need money when you’re happy in your work”. “The luxury of working at what you like is worth a great deal more than anybody can pay you.” Eventually, he went to London as an understudy in an Irish play that was being given there- it was called “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, Billy 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. Actor Sir Michael Redgrave discovered Billy one night at the Odeon Theatre and landed him an introduction with 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 they had 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 eighteen months he was in every big play on TV-the “Playhouse 90” type series. One of the major roles in his early career was the one in Barnett’s Folly, which he himself ranked amongst one of his favorite roles.
By 1956 he signed a 7-year contract with 20th Century Fox. This assignment lead to his first role in a motion picture as the Irish spy in the movie “The Man Who Never Was”, offered to him by the legendary Alexander Korda.
William Wyler was so impressed with Boyd’s performance in The Man Who Never Was that he asked Fox to lend him out and cast him for the now famous role of Messala in the 1959 remake of the epic film opposite Charlton Heston. He was honored for his work by receiving a Golden Globe award but was surprisingly by-passed on Oscar night.
Still under contract with the major movie studio, Stephen Boyd waited around to play the role of Marc Anthony in Cleopatra opposite Elizabeth Taylor. Miss Taylor however 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.
Stephen Boyd made several films under contract before going independent. One of the highlights was the movie Fantastic Voyage, a science fiction move about a crew of scientists that are miniaturized and injected into the human body as if in inner space. Boyd also received a nomination for his role of Inspector Jongman in the move Lisa aka The Inspector co-starring with Dolores Hart.
Boyd’s career faded from the spotlight by the late sixties as he began to spend more time overseas in Europe where he seemed to find better roles suitable by his own personal interests. When he became independent his work displayed that he chose movie parts that spoke to him and told a story that was often times controversial. The movies Slaves and The Black Brigade were good examples of this. 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. A good example on how he perceived a role and analyzed the assignment on a completely different level than most actors was the comment he made regarding the making of a sequel to the movie “Man Called Noon” starring the character he played in it: Rimes:
“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 glamour. I think a lot of the glamour 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 ‘glamour’. It is almost impossible to have glamour without mystery. If there is too much explanation, too much knowledge, the glamour 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 glamour.” (Photoplay Magazine).
Throughout his life and no matter how glamorous he himself was at one point in time, he never forgot where he came from, always reminded everyone he was above all Irish and ensured his family was taken care of first and foremost. He was particularly close to his mother Martha Millar and his brother Alex Millar.
Boyd was married twice. The first time to MCA executive, Italian-born Mariella di Sarzana which only lasted officially two weeks in 19598 during the filming of Ben Hur. The second time to Elizabeth Mills who was a secretary at the British Arts Council and his friend since 1955. Liz Mills followed Boyd to the USA in the late fifties and was his personal assistant and secretary for years before they married about 10 months before his death on June 2, 1977 in Tarzana, California.
Stephen Boyd died of a massive heart attack while playing golf at the Porter Valley country club, one of his favorite past-times. He is buried at Oakwood Memorial Park in Tarzana, California. It was a terrible and shocking loss just as he seemed to be making a comeback with his last roles in the American series Hawaii Five-O and the English movie “The Squeeze”. It seemed that the movie studios and his peers had all but forgotten about Stephen Boyd the actor, a very special actor that once said:
“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” (Photoplay).
His great passion for the art of acting often times got him into trouble with the executives in the movie industry. In the mid-seventies, towards the end of his life he was quoted as saying: “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.”
It is a real shame 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 till this day, exactly 25 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 glamour as he defined it by remaining himself a mystery.