Newsletter: Classic Hollywood: Stewart Copeland scores and remixes 1925 ‘Ben-Hur’

Susan King, our beloved guardian of the Golden Age of Hollywood galaxy, has left the building and will be dearly missed. I’m Kevin Crust and I will be your new tour guide as we continue to write about notable birthdays and deaths, movie and TV milestones, fun events around town and the latest in DVDs and books every Friday in our Classic Hollywood newsletter. You can also follow us on the Classic Hollywood Los Angeles Times Facebook page and our film staff will continue to write about historic Hollywood.

I grew up in the Los Angeles area (29 miles east of downtown to be precise) and have fond memories of sneaking around studio backlots (the statute of limitations has surely passed, right?), and seeing movie triple-headers with friends on Fridays in Westwood and then arguing about their merits over coffee and corned beef into the wee hours at Canter’s. We would then hit the newsstand on Robertson near Pico before schlepping back to the suburbs. I look forward to digging through the L.A. Times archives and sharing content as we continue to explore the cinematic past that is so entwined with the history of Los Angeles.

Who doesn’t like a good chariot race?

In 2009, Stewart Copeland, drummer for the Police and composer of scores for “Rumble Fish,” “Wall Street” and TV’s “The Equalizer,” was commissioned to do a score for a live arena version (with chariot race!) of Civil War Gen. Lew Wallace’s 1880 novel, “Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ,” that toured Europe. After the tour, Copeland was commissioned by the Virginia Arts Festival to edit Fred Niblo’s 2 1/2-hour 1925 silent film version and reassemble his score to create a concert with a live performance by an orchestra. Wednesday, at the Valley Performing Arts Center in Northridge, you can experience Copeland’s lean 90-minute version of “Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ” featuring the Pacific Symphony with Richard Kaufman conducting and Copeland on percussion. The event will also be presented at the Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa on March 18 and 19.


Here is the opening of the original Los Angeles Times’ review of the Biltmore Theater premiere:

“Caparisoned with a lavishness virtually beyond compare and enriched with thrills and romance and a rare mood of spiritual feeling, ‘Ben-Hur,’ a supreme effort of the motion-picture industry, last night came before Los Angeles audiences as one of that industry’s most glorious and without doubt also most lasting of achievements.”

-- Edwin Schallert, Aug. 3, 1926


‘Ben Hur’

May McAvoy and Ramon Novarro star in the 1925 silent film "Ben Hur."

(Los Angeles Times)

Wallace’s novel has inspired numerous other film and television versions, and the chariot race is often the most memorable set-piece. The story was told most famously in William Wyler’s 1959 “Ben-Hur,” written by Karl Tunberg and starring Charlton Heston, that won 11 Academy Awards, including best picture. The tale involves a Jewish prince, who is enslaved by Romans, has a close encounter with Jesus and becomes a champion charioteer. There is also a new version from MGM and Paramount due Aug. 12 starring fourth-generation Hollywood actor Jack Huston (son of Tony, nephew of Anjelica and Danny, grandson of John, great-grandson of Walter).

For an added treat, go see the Coen brothers’ “Hail, Caesar,” which also features a large-scale spectacle with the subtitle “A Tale of the Christ.”

Sneak peek

In this Sunday’s Classic Hollywood column, Susan King visits with Martin Landau, who can currently be seen on the big screen co-starring with Christopher Plummer in Atom Egoyan’s Holocaust revenge drama, “Remember.” Landau, who won an Oscar for playing Bela Lugosi in 1994’s “Ed Wood,” discusses the new film, the Actors Studio and working with directors.  

TV milestones

Day-and-date openings, apparently, are nothing new.

On March 11, 1956, Laurence Olivier’s film adaptation of “Richard III” by William Shakespeare aired on NBC the same day it had its U.S. opening at New York’s Bijou. The film debuted in London in December 1955, but would not reach the big screen in Los Angeles until September 1956, when it played the Beverly Canon. The film, co-starring John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson, Cedric Hardwicke and Claire Bloom, had some of its bloodier bits snipped for broadcast, running 3 1/2 minutes shorter.  


After seeing the film theatrically, the Los Angeles Times’ Philip K. Scheuer wrote, “to one who was baffled as often as he was stirred by the original telecast, the latter now seems to have been little more than a trailer for the main event.”

Perhaps that explains why the practice did not catch on.    

“A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a theatrical release!”

Bon anniversaire!

Funnyman Jerry Lewis celebrates his 90th birthday on March 16. Born Joseph Levitch, Lewis shot to fame with Dean Martin as the comedy duo Martin & Lewis, then embarked on a film career of his own as a comedic auteur and is especially revered in France. For decades, he worked tirelessly for the Muscular Dystrophy Assn., hosting a Labor Day telethon from 1966 until 2010, raising more than $2 billion. In 2009, Lewis was presented the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences’ Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.   

Turner Classic Movies will honor him by showing the Martin-Lewis vehicle, “The Caddy” (1953), directed by Norman Taurog, on Tuesday at 7 p.m.; and Lewis’ triple-threat outing as writer-director-star in 1960’s “The Bellboy,” on Wednesday at 5 p.m.

‘The Bellboy’

Jerry Lewis, left, and Milton Berle appear in a scene from the 1960 film “The Bellboy.”

(© 1960 Jerry Lewis Pictures Corp. / Paramount Pictures)

DVD Vault


“Exodus,” starring Paul Newman and Eva Marie Saint and based on the 1958 blockbuster best-seller by Leon Uris, arrives Tuesday on Blu-Ray from Twilight Time.

Directed by Otto Preminger from a screenplay by Dalton Trumbo, the 1960 film depicts events based on the blockade of the immigration ship Exodus in 1947 and the creation of the state of Israel. Along with “Spartacus,” Preminger’s hiring of the writer, depicted in last year’s biopic “Trumbo,” is credited with helping to end the Hollywood blacklist.

From the Hollywood Star Walk

Notable births this week include Dorothy Gish (March 11); Raoul Walsh (March 11); Lawrence Welk (March 11); Al Jarreau (March 12); Gordon MacRae (March 12); Liza Minnelli (March 12); Jon Provost (March 12); Sammy Kaye (March 13); William H. Macy (March 13); Billy Crystal (March 14); Quincy Jones (March 14); George Brent (March 15); Harry James (March 15); Bernardo Bertolucci (March 16); and Mercedes McCambridge (March 16).

‘A terrific fighter’

Susan Hayward went from fashion model to Hollywood star when producer David O. Selznick glimpsed her on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post in 1939. The actress went on to earn five Oscar nominations before winning an Academy Award for the 1958 film “I Want to Live!”

Here is the L.A. Times obit as it appeared in the paper on March 15, 1975.

Eddie Albert and Susan Hayward

Eddie Albert and Susan Hayward appear in the 1955 movie "I'll Cry Tomorrow."

(Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures)

Twitter: @storyspheare