Crowded out by many other anniversaries this year, "Ben Hur" is looking for applause on the other side of the Atlantic. This classic story of a Jewish prince's encounter with Jesus Christ is on stage in London this week, including 46 horses for the chariot race.
But in Indiana, where Lew Wallace wrote much of the original story, the 50th anniversary of the 1959 film of "Ben Hur'' is passing without much notice.
The movie swept the Academy Awards for 1959, with 11 Oscars -- a feat matched only by "Titanic" and "Lord of the Rings: Return of the King." The book, released in 1880, has never been out of print.
Lew Wallace, a Civil War general, wrote much of the book, which became the best-selling novel of the 19th century, in Crawfordsville.
The book tells the story of Christ, from the perspective of Judah Ben Hur. Ben Hur is unjustly accused of an assassination attempt against a Roman governor and wants revenge for the injustice. The story follows his stint as a galley slave and his daring feats in the famous chariot race.
With the Heartland Film Festival next month in Indianapolis, President Jeff Sparks wonders how to honor this classic.
"Ben Hur is a tough one because it already has proliferated in the market," he said. "Everybody's seen it, and it's on TV all the time."
Far from Indiana, though, Ben Hur has recaptured the dramatic imagination. In London this week, "Ben Hur Live" makes its world premiere, with real horses on stage, in a 360-degree arena. Then the production tours Europe. The promoter, Franz Abraham, is hoping to at least break even after spending $14 million on the operation.
A past Formula One race car driver, Abraham understands the risk of bringing the great story to the stage. He calls the production an "opera for God," and tickets in London go for $190.
English choreographer Liam Steel put it a little differently in an interview with the London Times: "Franz is a mad genius attempting the equivalent of climbing Everest naked."
Wallace has not been completely forgotten back in Indiana. In Crawfordsville his old study is a historical site. Indiana Historical Society editor Ray Boomhower wrote a solid, if brief, Lew Wallace biography in 2005.
Wallace reflected on his life as a Civil War general, governor of the New Mexico territory and diplomat in Turkey when he had returned to Crawfordsville in retirement. "I shall look back on 'Ben Hur' as my best performance," he concluded.
Russell B. Pulliam, journalist, book author, associate editor and columnist at The Indianapolis Star, is a syndicated columnist, whose columns focus on topics ranging from politics to social issues to family life. He may be contacted at: email@example.com