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Rome, the Eternal Story: From Ben Hur to The Eagle
Posted January 21, 2011 to photo album "Rome, the Eternal Story: From Ben Hur to The Eagle"
The Eagle explores a part of ancient Roman history rarely seen on stage. But the history of Rome changes throughout history as well.
Slide 10: Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1959) and Making Rome Gay
Messala (Stephen Boyd) and Ben-Hur celebrate their friendship––or was it something more?
Decades after the film’s debut, the Rome portrayed in Wyler’s Ben-Hur again become a contested cultural site. In The Celluloid Closet, a documentary based on the historian Vito Russo book on gay and lesbian in Hollywood films, one of Ben-Hur’s screenwriters Gore Vidal revealed that he’d scripted the scene where Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston) and Messala (Stephen Boyd) re-meet as adults as a “lovers’ quarrel.” Even more, Vidal divulged that the director William Wyler and he had discussed adding this homoerotic element. According to Vidal, “the only way one could justify several hours of hatred between those lads––and all those horses––was to establish without saying so in words, an affair between them as boys…the Roman…wants to pick up where they left off and the Jew, Heston, spurns him.” Archconservative Heston roared back that Vidal was “out of his head,” for claiming anything of the sort. Vidal simply reiterated his point that Wyler never told Heston for fear of his reaction. The feud was played out for several weeks in the popular press, but since no one else from the production was alive, neither account could be verified or repudiated.