Producer, Sam Zimbalist was awarded the Academy Award for ‘Ben-Hur’ in the Best Motion Picture category posthumously as he had died during filming of the movie. Mary Zimbalist accepted the award on his behalf.
One notable change in ‘Ben-Hur’ (1959) involved the opening titles. Concerned that roaring Leo, the Lion – the MGM mascot – would create the wrong mood for the sensitive and sacred nativity scene, Wyler received permission to replace the traditional logo with one in which Leo, the Lion is quiet.
The chariot race sequence required 15,000 extras, on a set constructed on 18 acres of backlot at Cinecittà Studios outside Rome. Tour buses visited the set every hour. Eighteen chariots were built, with half being used for practice. The race took five weeks to film.
One of the very few – and very expensive – 65mm cameras in the world, was wrecked during the filming of the chariot race.
The desert sequences in ‘Ben-Hur’ were all set to be filmed in Libya until the Muslim Libyan authorities realised that the film was promoting Christianity. The government ordered MGM out of the country, forcing the studio to shift filming to Spain, which has the only desert in Europe.
During the 18-day auction of MGM props, costumes, and memorabilia that took place in May 1970 when new MGM studio owner, Kirk Kerkorian was liquidating the studio’s assets, a Sacramento restaurateur paid $4,000 for a chariot used in the film. Three years later, during the energy crisis, he was arrested for driving the chariot on the highway.
‘Ben-Hur’ is the only Hollywood film to make it to the Vatican approved film list in the category of religion.