May McAvoy: Esther from the original Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ is the only member of the original MGM film to appear in Ben-Hur as well. She's an extra in a crowd scene.
Audrey Hepburn visited the set during the filming of the chariot race (she was in the midst of shooting The Nun's Story). This led to the false legend that she was an extra in the crowd scenes, as a favor to her former director, William Wyler.
Cesare Danova screentested to play Ben-Hur.
Burt Lancaster, a self-described atheist, claimed he turned down the role of Judah Ben-Hur because he "didn't like the violent morals in the story" and because he did not want to promote Christianity.
Charlton Heston himself wrote some additional scenes between Ben-Hur and Messala. They were never used as William Wyler deemed them to be "the phoniest thing" he'd ever had to deal with from an actor.
Charlton Heston was taught to drive a chariot by the stunt crew, who offered to teach the entire cast. Heston was the only one who took them up on the offer. At the beginning of the chariot race, Heston shook the reins and nothing happened; the horses remained motionless. Finally someone way up on top of the set yelled, "Giddy-up!" The horses then roared into action, and Heston was flung backward off of the chariot.
Rock Hudson was offered a record $750,000 to star in the movie, but turned it down in order to star in A Farewell to Arms.
Leslie Nielsen made a screen test for the part of Messala, part of which can be seen in the documentary Ben-Hur: The Making of an Epic.
Gore Vidal was uncredited as a screenwriter, although producer Sam Zimbalist promised he and Christopher Fry, who worked on the script independently from Vidal, a screen credit. Karl Tunberg, who wrote the original screenplay that had been very much rewritten into a shooting script by Vidal and Fry, claimed the credit. Zimbalist died before the movie ended, and thus could not testify at the guild arbitration hearing. Tunberg won the credit, but failed to win the Oscar. The film had been nominated for 12 Oscars, and won a record 11 (since tied). The movie's sole loss was for Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium, and usually is attributed to the fallout from the credit dispute, which Vidal made widely known.
Paul Newman was offered the role of Judah Ben-Hur but turned it down because he said he didn't have the legs to wear a tunic.
Sidney Franklin had initially been courted to direct the film.
Stephen Boyd wore dark contact lenses for this film.
Stephen Boyd, Jack Hawkins and all other actors, that had the role of a Roman, they had to wear darkened contact lenses, if their eye color was not brown. William Wyler didn't want his two leading men to have the same eye color. Boyd's lenses constantly irritated and scratched his eyes, often leading to days where shooting had to be halted to allow the actor's eyes time to recover.
William Wyler missed just 2 days of the lengthy shoot due to flu.
William Wyler was a renowned stickler for detail. Charlton Heston recalled one particular scene where Judah Ben-Hur simply walks across a room upon his return from slavery. Such a simple scene required 8 takes before the actor finally asked Wyler what was missing. The director informed him that he liked the first take where Heston had kicked a piece of pottery to give the scene its only sound. Heston on the other hand had assumed that Wyler didn't like the kicking and had therefore deliberately avoided doing it again.
William Wyler was an assistant director on the original Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ and 34 years later directed its remake, Ben-Hur.
Sergio Leone has an uncredited second unit director credit. In later years, he claimed that he directed the chariot race scenes, but that is a falsehood (Leone had a reputation for not always being truthful).
Martha Scott was 45 at the time of filming, only 10 years older than her screen son. She also played Charlton Heston's mother in The Ten Commandments the same year.