When it comes to the golden age of Hollywood, no film stands taller than the historical epic, Ben Hur. Made with a record budget on the largest sets ever seen with thousands of extras, it went on to claim a record 11 Academy Awards and become, behind Gone With the Wind, the second highest grossing film to that time.
On Friday, December 16, DuMouchelles takes a trip down Hollywoods memory lane when they offer props from the 1959 production of Ben Hur in their Antique Furniture & Fine Arts sale. And, with the less than enthusiastic response greeting this year’s high-tech remake, we thought it a good time to fill you in on few interesting facts concernng the groundbreaking MGM blockbuster.
Lot 3 - a Roman style chariot - a great way to pick up your coffee of a morning...
Fact 1: Charlton Heston was no where near director William Wylers first choice to play Judah Ben-Hur. The part was turned down by Burt Lancaster, who found the script dull, and Paul Newman, who claimed he didnt have the legs for Roman costumes. Filmmakers considered Marlon Brando, Rock Hudson, Kirk Douglas, and even some Italians who didnt speak English before settling on Heston, who went on to win an Oscar in the role.
Lot 4 - two prop gold-painted breastplates - should make a real impression at the office
Fact 2. Gore Vidal, one of several high-profile script doctors called in to revise the original screenplay, claimed hed inserted a homoerotic subtext into the friendship between Judah and Messala, and that Messalas motivation when he turns against Judah is that of a spurned lover. Vidal claimed he broached the idea with Wyler, who agreed but told Vidal not to mention it to Heston because "Chuck will fall apart."
Lot 8 - a pair of prop cornua - a brilliant way to start your own brass section
Fact 3. Of the 365 speaking parts in Ben-Hur, only four went to Hollywood actors: Heston, Martha Scott (whod played his mother in "Ten Commandments" and backed up here), Cathy ODonnell (Wylers sister-in-law, cast as Judahs sister), and Sam Jaffe (as Ben-Hur family slave Simonides).
Lot 7 - a group of prop shields - great for fending off kids and other predators
Fact 4: The original novel’s author, Lew Wallace, was a general in the Union Army during the Civil War. His inspiration came from a train ride he shared with an agnostic colonel. Wallace, who was a Christian, said the conversation made him realize just how little he knew about his religion — something he immediately resolved to fix . Ben Hur, subtitled “A Tale of the Christ,” was published in 1880, became the best-selling book in America until it was gazumped by ongoing nemesis Gone With the Wind.
Lot 12 - a group of props from Ben Hur. Scatter them about your house and soak up the history
Fact 5: For the movies centerpiece sequence, the chariot race, the producers built what was then the biggest movie set ever constructed. The arena, a duplicate of an actual Roman stadium outside Jerusalem, was five stories tall and big enough to enclose a track 2000 feet long and 65 feet wide. There were actually two tracks, one built outside of camera range, for horses and riders to train and rehearse. For the track surface, 40,000 tons of white sand were imported from Mexico. The arena cost $1 million to build and spanned 18 acres.