Tuesday, November 29, 2022
Miles from the Mainstream
D. R. ZUKERMAN, proprietor

Was Wikipedia Snookered
by Gore Vidal?

April 19, 2022 --

Courtesy of YouTube, LPR  recently viewed a short documentary on the actor Stephen Boyd, probably best known for portraying Messala in the film "Ben- Hur."  After watching the documentary, LPR went to Wikipedia's article on Boyd and found this anecdote, attributed to writer Gore Vidal:

Years after the movie was released, interim Ben-Hur screenwriter and novelist Gore Vidal revealed that Boyd had portrayed his famous character Messala in Ben-Hur with an underlying homosexual energy, as instructed to by Vidal when he greets Judah Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston) in the opening sequence. In Gore Vidal's autobiography Palimpsest: A Memoir[24] Vidal describes his discussion first with director Wyler, concerning Messala's underlying motivation, namely that Messala and Judah Ben-Hur had previously been lovers. This was based on an idea by Vidal to enhance the tension between the two main antagonists. Wyler specifically told Vidal, "You talk to Boyd. But don't you say a word to Chuck or he'll fall apart."[25]

Then, curious what Charlton Heston, star of Ben-Hur, had to say about Boyd, LPR went to his copy of Heston's autobiography, "In the Arena," and found this at page 187:

"[Novelist Gore Vidal was briefly imported for a trial [to improve the dialogue in the "Ben-Hur" script]....It didn't play. Vidal was dismissed--though ["Ben-Hur director William] Wyler later told me that he, incredibly, insisted that he wrote the entire script up to the chariot race.

"Vidal also claims his parting recommendation to Wyler was that the key to the Judah-Messala friendship  was to make it homosexual. His comment is no doubt  based on a story (also probably apocryphal) about Laurence Olivier, playing Iago to Ralph Richardson's Othello, suggesting to director Tyrone Guthrie that it might be interesting to play Iago as homosexually obsessed with Othello. 'Oh, I suppose you can try it for a bit,' said Guthrie. 'But for God's sake don't tell Ralph."

It would seem that rather than "Chuck" falling apart, Heston, in his autobiography, tore apart Vidal's anecdote.