Stanley Kubrick’s sword-and-sandals epic SPARTACUS (1960), starring Kirk Douglas as the leader of a slave revolt against the mighty Roman empire, turns sixty this October. To celebrate, here are ten fascinating facts about a movie once dubbed “The thinking man’s star-studded spectacle.”
- Born around 111 BC, Spartacus was, in reality, a soldier in the Roman army. Many historians believe he achieved the rank of auxiliary officer, in which case he would’ve been a volunteer.
- After producer-star Kirk Douglas publicly announced that blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo wrote the script for SPARTACUS, president-elect John F. Kennedy pointedly crossed American Legion picket lines to see the film.
- Dalton Trumbo wrote the 225-page script for SPARTACUS in just two weeks. His blistering pace effectively derailed a rival production set to star Yul Brynner.
- Sir Peter Ustinov won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Lentulus Batiatus, becoming the only actor ever to win an Oscar in a Stanley Kubrick film.
- When cinematographer Russell Metty threatened to quit following on-set clashes with Kubrick, the notoriously exacting director told him: “You can do your job by sitting in your chair and shutting up. I’ll be the director of photography.” The film won Metty the Oscar for Best Cinematography, even though Kubrick did most of the work.
- Woody Strode, who plays the gladiator Draba, was one of the first four black players in the American professional football league. His outstanding physique was also featured in a painting commissioned by Adolf Hitler to celebrate the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
- The scene where Crassus (played by Sir Laurence Olivier) attempts to seduce his slave Antoninus (Tony Curtis) was originally cut by the censors. It was reinstated for the 1991 restoration, but owing to a technical glitch, the dialogue had to be re-recorded. Curtis dubbed his own lines, while Olivier’s were spoken by Sir Anthony Hopkins who, according to Olivier’s widow Joan Plowright, did a note perfect impersonation of her late husband.
- Howard Fast, author of the book on which SPARTACUS is based, was jailed for refusing to testify at the HUAC hearings on alleged Communist infiltration of the movie industry. He wrote the novel in prison.
- Thirty years after SPARTACUS was made, Jean Simmons met the baby she held in the film. Although the baby is a boy (the love child of Spartacus and Varinia) the person who played him was a girl, and was by then working in the industry as a stunt-woman.
- For the iconic final scene, Kubrick recorded 76,000 spectators at a Michigan State vs. Notre Dame college football game yelling “I’m Spartacus!”
Although SPARTACUS received a rousing thumbs up from critics and audiences alike, its director was not entertained. Kubrick detested Trumbo’s script and fought constantly with Douglas on set and off. After its release, he distanced himself from the film and never relinquished full artist control of a project again.