|A. Arnold Gillespie in his waders in the MGM Lot 3 tank during the Ben Hur sea battle miniatures shoot.|
The hero foreground ships were built at 1/6th scale and had molded rubber figures with poseable wire armatures populating the decks. A few of the figures were made to mechanically "walk the decks" while others were mounted to springs to effect some movement. There were motorised mechanisms inside to move the galley oars.
Distant ships were built at a smaller scale while the most distant were photographs of the models mounted on flat board cutouts pulled on tracks outside the tank.
The camera shot at three times normal speed, 72 frames per second while the ships were made to move at around 3 feet (1m) per second. The sinking ship was pulled down into the deeper well part of the tank by two cable and pulley systems.
There are some very interesting detailed layout drawings and photographs of the tank set up in the book The wizard of MGM Memoirs of A. Arnold Gillespie. There is also an interesting and detailed blog article by the author about the planning and filming of some of the miniature shots for Ben Hur on the Wizard of MGM book site. http://www.wizardofmgm.com/2016/12/ben-hur-1959-miniature-ships.html
The photo below shows one of the 1/6th scale models as it is displayed in the Baltimore Convention Center.
One other of the larger ship models was reported to be on display in a Ripleys believe it or not traveling exhibition, in this case at the San Diego Air and Space museum.
In 2012 nineteen smaller models came up for auction. According to the auction description the models were originally built for the 1925 silent version of Ben Hur and refurbished and modified for the 1959 version. They were between 5 and 9 feet long (1.5m - 2.7m) and made of wood with copper hulls. Some still had the rowing mechanisms inside in various states of disrepair. Another auction site has a single model of this series with an intact rowing mechanism and a description stating its use in 1925 but no mention of re-use at all.
Another of these 1925 models in somewhat better condition, can be seen in the National Museum of Ship Models and Sea History, Sadorus, Illinois, USA.
I had no idea that tors tors tors even used models! I've always wondered where they got so many ships after ww2. Great article! Please sign me upReplyDelete
Where are you located? I would like to talk with you offline about your model building information. please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org at your earliest convenience / I need your expertise. thanksReplyDelete
Any images of the rubber 11" models on the decks of these ships ?ReplyDelete
I don't have any close up shots. All the photos I have are in the post however the 6th photo, which is black and white, clearly shows the rubber figures on the decks of the model ships.ReplyDelete
I worked for wehrenberg theaters, the oldest movie theater chain in the united states. wehrenberg bought the 19 ships at the profiles in history auction in California in 2012 with the intention of putting one under glass on display in each theater for the customers to marvel at. I am the person who was restoring them for that purpose. the owner of wehrenberg died in the fall of 2015 and the theater chain was sold in dec. of 2016. the new owner, marcus theaters did not want the ships so they were sold in the last month. not as a group as originally but individually at a private sale. I was given one of the roman ships by the owners wife and will treasure it for life. I retired at the sale of the company after 35 years with wehrenberg and will spend some time restoring the ship I have.ReplyDelete
Another site with a description and three more photos of the Baltimore Convention Center galley:ReplyDelete
One of those 1925/1959 refurbished galley models mentioned above came up for auction in December 2017 and sold for $84000 USD:ReplyDelete
But the real treasure trove on this web page are 16 photos that ain't thumbnails...
Woa there - a slip on the key - again. The model sold for $8400 NOT $84000 - but give it time - it will get there.ReplyDelete
I wish there was an after post 'edit' button - and while I am at it a way of attaching images...
There were several Ben Hur models on display at the Worlds of Fun amusement park in Kansas City during the 80’s. Not sure of their disposition.ReplyDelete
Hi I bought 1ship. It is same as pictured. Mine has the side rails that was inside the ship.. The oars and the sails missing. I made the two sails and oars out of. Brass. What a beautiful ship. I need a electric motor. For the motor carriage.ReplyDelete
Many of these ships (the 6' variety) went to Worlds of Fun in Kansas City, Missouri. Lamar Hunt and Jack Steadman attended the 1971 MGM Backlot Auction and bought the Victorix (All the Brothers Were Valiant), Cotton Blossom (Show Boat), at least one gypsy wagon, and several Macedonian and Spartan 6' models. One, a galley ship was in front of one of the park's rides, and several were put in a lagoon next to Victorix. I have several pictures I can share with you if you contact me. I know the Ben Hur Galley Ship was removed in the early 90's and I am pretty sure the lagoon ships went before that as they would have been mauled by the man-o-war firing range on the nearby Victrix. I interviewed a gentleman about a year ago that restored them for the park back in 1972, he was a friend of Jack Steadman and literally had several of these boats sitting in his driveway! He gave me two of the small shields of a Macedonian ship (he made copies of the originals which he put on the ships and kept the originals). I am trying to find out what happened to these ships after they were removed from the park, because unlike many other theming elements they weren't dumped in a parking lot, or back grassy area and allowed to rot away. I think someone has them, or at least some of them, and I would love to find what happened to them. Please contact me.ReplyDelete
And two of these Roman galleys which first appeared in "Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ" (1925) and then were reused in "Ben Hur" (1959) have appeared again:ReplyDelete
Profiles in History "Hollywood Auction 96" December 11-14, 2018
Using their pdf catalog:
On page 90:
"392. Roman War Galley medium size model miniature visual effects galley from Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. (MGM, 1925/1959) Vintage original model miniature ship measuring 70 in. long x 12 in. tall x 16 in. wide. The central mast stands 34 in. tall. From the sea battle scenes in the early epic film. Created by master modelmaker Fred Niblo and crew at great studio expense and the ships were repurposed for the 1959 remake. Constructed from a variety of materials including copper, aluminum, steel and wood. Retaining prow embellishment details and 2-wooden masts. Ships like this were used leading up to and in the spectacular sea battle. At nearly a century old, this beautifully detailed and expertly studio finished model exhibits age, wear and some material loss. An example of Hollywood’s finest miniature craft from one of history’s most enduring stories and filmmaking’s most epic achievements. In vintage good condition. This item is located in Ohio and special shipping arrangements will apply. $4,000 - $6,000"
Includes one photo of the model and a film still.
On page 91:
"393. Roman War Galley large size model miniature visual effects galley from Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. (MGM, 1925/1959) Vintage original model miniature ship measuring 105 in. long x 36 in. tall x 17.5 in. wide. The masts stand 49 in. tall and the hull depth is 15.5 in. From the sea battle scenes in the early epic film. Created by master modelmaker Fred Niblo and crew at great studio expense and the ships were repurposed for the 1959 remake. Constructed from a variety of materials including copper, aluminum, steel and wood. Retaining prow embellishment details and 2-wooden masts. Ships like this were used leading up to and in the spectacular sea battle. At nearly a century old, this beautifully detailed and expertly studio finished model exhibits age, wear and some material loss. An example of Hollywood’s finest miniature craft from one of history’s most enduring stories and filmmaking’s most epic achievements. In vintage good condition. This item is located in Ohio and special shipping arrangements will apply. $6,000 - $8,000"
Includes one photo of the model and a film still.