Originally William Wyler had planned only to film the first unit and leave the second unit duties to producer Sam Zimbalist. These plans had to be scrapped after Zimbalist's premature death. MGM persuaded Wyler to see the film through to completion by offering him a greater financial stake in the film.
In the Roman ship galley scenes, Judah Ben-Hur is referred to as "number 41." In the original General Lew Wallace novel, he is "number 60" (Book 3, Chapter 3, page 123, Harper Brothers 1922). In the Dell Movie Classic comic book, he is referred to as "number 40" (Dell Comics #1052-5911, 1959, pages 15 and 16). And in both Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925) and the 1958 Classics Illustrated comic book there is no reference to any number, either by scene decor, dialogue, or intertitle.
Sergio Leone has an uncredited second unit director credit. In later years, he claimed that he directed the chariot race scenes, but that is an apparently self-serving exaggeration (Leone had a reputation for stretching the truth).
Charlton Heston had about a month to learn how to drive a chariot properly. Stephen Boyd - who was cast much later in the production - only had two weeks to do so.
While Ben-Hur (1959) was occupying most of the stages and back lot at Cinecitta, Federico Fellini was shooting La Dolce Vita (1960) on a small corner of the back lot.|