• First published in 2004 as Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion (BNOR).

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Bible Film Stories

At this time of year TV brings us the usual Hollywood Biblical epics. Here are a couple of great legends which, alas, have to be debunked:

(1) From Michael Munn’s 2004 biography John Wayne: The Man Behind the Myth, on Wayne’s famous cameo as the Roman Centurion at the Crucifixion in The Greatest Story Ever Told (p.261):

According to legend, Wayne said his line “Truly this was the Son of God” three times, none of them  to [Director George] Stevens’s satisfaction. So Stevens said, “Can you give it a little more awe, Duke?” and Duke said, “Aw, this was truly the Son of God.” Very funny. But not true.

Apparently the studio originally wanted Wayne just to be an extra, but after filming Stevens was embarrassed that Wayne had been used in this way and asked him to record his famous Biblical line later. Wayne agreed reluctantly, but complained that being in a studio meant he had “nothing to react to”.

(2) From Charlton Heston’s autobiography In the Arena, responding to Gore Vidal’s claim that he added a homosexual subtext to Ben-Hur and that there was a conspiracy not to tell Heston about it (p. 187):

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 we could try it for a bit,’ said Guthrie. ‘But for God’s sake don’t tell Ralph.’

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