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Dying to Get into the Movies
During the making of the 1926
version of Ben-Hur, several scenes were filmed in Italy.
The movie's famous sea battle between Roman soldiers and
pirates was shot at the seaport of Livorno. The director
needed hundreds of extras, so he hired local residents
to play these parts. The only requirement was that they
had to be able to swim. The scene would be magnificent.
Several Roman galleys had been built for the battle and
were anchored offshore. The extras were outfitted in
replicas of Roman armor, including heavy metal
breastplates and helmets. The cameramen and the director
were on modern boats anchored on the perimeter of the
The director shouted, "Action!"
and the battle began.
Everything was going perfectly.
The costumed residents of Livorno put their hearts into
the fight. The special effects people had arranged for a
few fires to break out on the Roman galleys to create
even more excitement. But on one of the galleys, the
fire got out of control and began to spread through the
Frightened extras jumped into the
sea to escape the flames.
"This is great!" the director
"No it's not!" said his assistant.
"Look out there! Some of the extras are having trouble
swimming. Stop the filming so we can pull them out of
One of the cameramen looked at the
"Keep the cameras rolling!" the
"But they're drowning!" the
"I can get more extras for ten
dollars a head. But this scene is costing me a hundred
grand!" As several of the extras sank beneath the waves,
the director yelled to the cameramen, "Keep the damn
Ben Hur 1926 Movie Poster
Story by Eric
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