Lewis "Lew" Wallace (1827 –1905) was a lawyer, governor, Union general in the American Civil War, American statesman, and author, best remembered for his historical novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ.
He served as governor of New Mexico Territory from 1878 to 1881, and as U.S. Minister to the Ottoman Empire from 1881 to 1885. While serving as governor of New Mexico Territory, Wallace completed the novel that made him famous: Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1880). The novel was the result of seven years research and writing, most of which was carried out underneath a beech tree near Wallace’s residence in Crawfordsville, Indiana. The book has never been out of print.
The novel grew in such popularity during Wallace’s lifetime that it was adapted into a stage play in 1899. That dramatization was followed by the motion picture productions in 1907, 1925, and 1959. Since the last film, Ben-Hur has been adapted into several cartoons and a musical.
In 1959, M-G-M decided to film Ben-Hur. William Wyler, who had already earned two Academy Awards for best director, was selected to direct the film. British actors were cast as Romans and American actors, for the most part, were cast as Jews. Charlton Heston was chosen to play Ben-Hur and Stephen Boyd was cast as Messala. Filming was done in both Italy and California. The 1960 Academy Awards presented Ben-Hur with eleven of twelve awards for which it had been nominated. The major categories, Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor, were all won. In 1998 the American Film Institute listed Ben-Hur as one of the 100 Greatest Movies.
Ben-Hur is a story of two very different heroes. Judah Ben-Hur, a prince of Jerusalem, is involved in an accident to the Roman procurator which is taken to be intentional. He is seized and sent to the fleet as a galley-slave, while his family is imprisoned and the family goods confiscated. When Ben-Hur saves the fleet captain from drowning after his ship is sunk in a fight with pirates, that officer adopts him as son and heir. With Roman training, Ben-Hur distinguishes himself in the arena and the palistrae and appears to be on the way to high military command.
With the help of a faithful family retainer and a generous Arab sheik, Ben-Hur is enabled to take part in a widely touted chariot race, where one of the other charioteers is the boyhood friend who connived to punish him for the accident and split his estate. That rival is crippled, financially and bodily, in a no-holds-barred race (memorable from the 1959 movie with Charlton Heston).
Ben-Hur turns his attention to the prophesied King of the Jews, when through the sheik he meets Balthasar, one of the Three Wise Men, and hears of the child born years ago. Will Ben-Hur be the general who brings victories to the King, and finally liberates Israel from the oppressive Roman yoke? In his quest for the answer, Ben-Hur seeks out the Nazarene, now rumored to be The Messiah.