Ben Hur

One Saturday morning during the production of Ben-Hur (1926), producer Irving J. Thalberg and unit manager Joe Cohn prepared to shoot the legendary chariot race scene. Thalberg stood in the middle of the coliseum and surveyed the toga-wearing extras in the stands. "How many people do you have up there, Joe?" he asked. "Thirty-nine hundred," Cohn replied. "We need more," Thalberg insisted. But how, Cohn asked, would they find extras at eight o'clock on Saturday morning? "Pull them in off the street, if necessary," Thalberg ordered.

Cohn and his assistants did just that, dutifully plucking four hundred people from streets, restaurants, buses, and grocery stores. As they were preparing to shoot, however, a thick fog rolled in from the Pacific. By the time it had dispersed, it was time for lunch. Unfortunately, Cohn told Thalberg, there were only 3,900 box lunches for 4,300 extras. No problem, Thalberg replied, they would skip lunch altogether and keep shooting into the afternoon. "But those people are hungry," Cohn protested. "They may riot." "Fine," Thalberg insouciantly replied. "That'll add realism to the scene!"

[To add further realism to the legendary chariot race scene, a $5,000 prize was offered to the "winner" of the race. As a result, one of the leading chariots overturned coming out of a corner -- and caused a massive pile-up. Fortunately no one was seriously hurt.]

[To shoot the chariot race, forty-two cameras were placed around the set: behind statues, in sandpits, on pillars, and among the hundreds of people filling the coliseum.]

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