Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Facts About Ben-Hur

Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ was written by General Lew Wallace. It was published in 1880 and it became a bestseller, selling more copies than Uncle Tom's Cabin.

General Lew Wallace fought in the Union army during the Civil War. He flubbed things up at the Battle of Shiloh in 1862 by taking his division the long way around the barn and arriving late at the battlefield. In 1864, he redeemed himself at the Battle of Monocacy, near Frederick, Maryland, when he fought a successful delaying action against Confederate forces threatening Washington. After the war he led the commission that investigated the assassination of Lincoln and he presided over the war crimes trial of Henry Wirz, commandant of notorious Andersonville Prison Camp in Georgia.

His popular novel was adapted and produced as a stage play first presented in 1899. The spectacular London version was first performed in 1902. Both extravagant productions included hundreds of cast members, a sinking slave ship, and a chariot race with real horses, chariots on a treadmill, and a rotating backdrop to create the illusion of speed.

When I directed drama with middle and high school students, I toyed with the idea for a Ben-Hur stage adaptation. Wish I had done it.

This hilarious ad announcing a broadcast of Ben-Hur, on Turner Classic Movies is a wonderful parody of the 1959 film. At the same time, it shows how much fun a stage production could have been.

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