Skip to comments.SUPERSTAR HOLLYWOOD CONSERVATIVES Charlton Heston
Posted on 03/10/2005 3:18:06 AM PST by Liz
Charlton Heston (1924 - )
Biography from Baseline's Encyclopedia of Film
Born Charles Carter in Evanston, IL; educated at Northwestern University. Commanding male lead, a one-person Hollywood trek through the pages of world history and a forceful, Republican vision of a world in which America always wins.
An acting student at Northwestern, Charlton Heston first acted on film in a student production of PEER GYNT (1941). After WW II service, he and wife Lydia Clarke worked as models in New York and ran a theatre in Asheville, NC, before Heston found success on Broadway in Katherine Cornell's production of Antony and Cleopatra (1947). He also made a vivid impression on early TV, especially in a flurry of dashing romantic leads (Heathcliff, Rochester, Petruchio) on the famous drama anthology Studio One.
By the time he went to Hollywood to act in William Dieterle's moody film noir DARK CITY (1950) Heston was already a star, indeed was listed in the credits over the more established Lizabeth Scott. Over the next four decades he rarely had less than top billing.
With his role as the ill-tempered circus manager in his second film, Cecil B. DeMille's THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH (1952), Heston began his reign as the actor of choice for Hollywood epics. Solidly built, but with a lithe walk, boasting an iron jaw, a granite-carved profile and a voice to go with them, he could intimidate opponents with just a glare.
Few actors could dish up righteous anger with such force, yet even though many of his screen creations could be unpleasantly hostile, the power of his presence invariably commanded respect, conveyed integrity (even in villainous roles) and often managed to be likable.
There was something timeless about his rueful expression and his brand of gritty heroism. At the same time, though, he glorified a concept of the power of the individual which was perfectly in step with middle America's vision of how the world should be.
Consequently, even though Heston never quite disappeared into his roles, he was perfect for Hollywood's writing of an Americanized world history picture book and its equally splashy renditions of the Bible. Beginning with his take on Buffalo Bill in THE PONY EXPRESS (1953), Heston's gallery of historical and Biblical characters included Andrew Jackson (THE PRESIDENT'S LADY, 1953, THE BUCCANEER, 1958), Moses (in Cecil B. DeMille's landmark second version of THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, 1956, EL CID (in the 1961 film of that title), Thomas Jefferson (THE PATRIOTS, TV 1963) John the Baptist (THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD, 1965), Major Amos Dundee (MAJOR DUNDEE, 1965), Michelangelo (THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY, 1965), General Charles Gordon (KHARTOUM, 1966), Cardinal Richelieu (THE THREE MUSKETEERS, 1974 and its 1975 sequel), Henry VIII (CROSSED SWORDS, 1978 / THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER) and Sir Thomas More (A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS, 1988).
Indeed, it didn't really matter whether a charioteer named Judah Ben-Hur was actually transfixed by the sight of Christ or not; when history becomes Oscar-winning Heston legend (BEN-HUR, 1959), print the legend. As French critic Michel Mourlet infamously rhapsodized, "Charlton Heston is an axiom of the cinema."
Less indecisive and rebellious than Robert Mitchum, less Everymannish than William Holden, Heston, like these fellow 50s icons, was frequently called on to suffer, and frequently with his shirt off. Perhaps it all started with Moses making bricks, but Heston was still stripping down to either get down to work or be punished well into the 80s.
As historical epics gradually became passe in the late 60s, Heston made more Westerns, war sagas and, interestingly, science fiction films to take up the slack. 1968 marked a banner year with two fine landmark roles: the anguished hero of the highly entertaining, futuristic PLANET OF THE APES, and the aging, reflective cowpoke of WILL PENNY, one of his finest films. The 70s brought the cult classic sci-fi pic SOYLENT GREEN (1973) ("It's people!!") and a series of roles in films such as MIDWAY (1976) / BATTLE OF MIDWAY and GRAY LADY DOWN (1978) in which he held the rank of major, colonel or general. Some later roles, though, traded in wastefully on his iconic value, as in his cameo in TRUE LIES (1994).
Heston first directed a feature in 1971 with a decent adaptation of ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA and again went behind the camera for MOTHER LODE. He served as president of the Screen Actors Guild from 1966 to 1971 and later became chairman of the American Film Institute. Acting work in TV series ("The Colbys" 1985-87), miniseries (CHIEFS, 1983) and telefilms (PROUD MEN, 1987) kept him busy during the 80s, as did his role as the head of President Reagan's task force on the arts and humanities.
Heston has remained active in charity work (as with The Will Rogers Institute) and politics and earned a reputation as a staunch Republican and a supporter and eventual president of the National Rifle Association.
On August 9, 2002, Heston revealed that he had been diagnosed with symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease. He issued the following statement:
My Dear Friends, Colleagues and Fans:
My physicians have recently told me I may have a neurological disorder whose symptoms are consistent with Alzheimer's disease. So... I wanted to prepare a few words for you now, because when the time comes, I may not be able to.
I've lived my whole life on the stage and screen before you. I've found purpose and meaning in your response. For an actor there's no greater loss than the loss of his audience. I can part the Red Sea, but I can't part with you, which is why I won't exclude you from this stage in my life.
For now, I'm not changing anything. I'll insist on work when I can; the doctors will insist on rest when I must. If you see a little less spring in my step, if your name fails to leap to my lips, you'll know why. And if I tell you a funny story for the second time, please laugh anyway.
I'm neither giving up nor giving in. I believe I'm still the fighter that Dr. King and JFK and Ronald Reagan knew, but it's a fight I must someday call a draw. I must reconcile courage and surrender in equal measure. Please feel no sympathy for me. I don't. I just may be a little less accessible to you, despite my wishes.
I also want you to know that I'm grateful beyond measure. My life has been blessed with good fortune. I'm grateful that I was born in America, that cradle of freedom and opportunity, where a kid from the Michigan Northwoods can work hard and make something of his life. I'm grateful for the gift of the greatest words ever written, that let me share with you the infinite scope of the human experience. As an actor, I'm thankful that I've lived not one life, but many.
Above all, I'm proud of my family ... my wife Lydia, the queen of my heart, my children, Fraser and Holly, and my beloved grandchildren, Jack, Ridley and Charlie. They're my biggest fans, my toughest critics and my proudest achievement. Through them, I can touch immortality.
Finally, I'm confident about the future of America. I believe in you. I know that the future of our country, our culture and our children is in good hands. I know you will continue to meet adversity with strength and resilience, as our ancestors did, and come through with flying colors -- the ones on Old Glory.
William Shakespeare, at the end of his career, wrote his farewell through the words of Prospero, in The Tempest. It ends like this:
"Be cheerful, sir. Our revels now are ended. These our actors, As I foretold you, were all spirits and Are melted into air, into thin air: And, like the baseless fabric of this vision, the cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces, the solemn temples, the great globe itself, yea all which it inherit, shall dissolve and, like this insubstantial pageant faded, leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep."
Thank you, and God bless you, everyone.
Son Fraser Heston is a director, screenwriter and producer.
* Actor 1959: BEN-HUR
* Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award 1977
1 nomination, 1 Award, 1 Honorary Award
Your legacy at the NRA will never be diminshed.
In a thread the other day I commented that with our 2008 crop, I wished that Heston wasn't sick. He would be my choice.
I will always get choked up when he holds up that musket - "from my cold dead hands."
This man is one of the great Americans of the 20th century.
One can only offer best wishes, and certainly prayers. It's all one can do.
He writes that he does not fear for this country's future, only that it might be an ugly fight that we're up against: "I know you will continue to meet adversity with strength and resilience, as our ancestors did, and come through with flying colors -- the ones on Old Glory."
And he is a man who understands proportion and the situation: "Please feel no sympathy for me. I don't. I just may be a little less accessible to you, despite my wishes." Sadly, Michael Davies recently met his end in much the same way, but in his case with so many open questions about his own position, and unable to even answer in his last days, the like that Heston has never had to face in his vocation and avocations.
Again, prayers for Mr. Heston, and his family, and all those close to him, all those close to him as fans from who he will not be separated, and even all those who share his opinions like myself.
Brando manipulated his stardom to milk the Follywood publicity machine.
Heston would never resort to such tactics. He is more laid back, and has enormous dignity.
We'll try Mr Heston. We'll certainly try.
Indeed. So are you and many on this site. Stay vigilant and keep your powder dry.
Is that really you, Mr. Heston?
I have to say that I watched The Ten Commandments on TV the other night. I was so proud to sit there with my four year old son. I was so proud that there once was a day when father and son could both learn something from true drama, put out by Hollywood. If young boys had more of this, they wouldn't need cartoons.
When you raised your staff and started "Hear O Israel!" I always got a bit choked up. Honestly, if God spoke through Moses, as the Bible teaches (and therefore I believe), then I believe it must have been something like that.
I will teach my son the lessons of the Bible, the lessons of the Constitution, how to stand up straight, how to carry himself with dignity, and how to speak clearly. And my job will be much easier because of you.
I think of you often. You are truly - truly - one of the great men and the great Americans of our age, indeed, of any age. If I could do 1% of what you have done in art and for the cause of freedom, I would consider my life well lived.
God bless you, Mr. Heston. We will carry this conversation on in heaven someday. We see dimly now, but then we will see face to face.
With highest regards,
Charlton Heston and I went to the same high school, New Trier, East in Winnetka, Illinois, although we attended many years apart. According to school legend, Heston was suspended once for riding a motorcycle throught the halls and into the swimming pool. It is generally considered his first attempt at parting a body of water.
I am shy around movie stars. True, if odd. My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth and all I can think to say is I loved you in ... So it is with Charlton Heston.
In his presence I seem to nod idiotically like one of these doggies in the back of rear windows of cars. He always tries to make my agonies a bit smaller since he is such a gentleman. We've talked about children and gun control but usually it's hopeless and I just end up trying not to stare.
It's a serious and silly business, acting. Grown people running around pretending the clothes they're wearing are their own, pretending the words they're saying are their own, pretending that they're not pretending. That stuff can really make you feel silly if you're not careful. A thousand times more silly if you're wearing a toga or staring offstage at a burning bush that isn't there. But as silly as it might be at times, acting has awesome power to mirror our reality and give shape to our best and most noble pictures of ourselves.
When I was a kid and yearning to act, there were scads of actors whose work I admired and tried to emulate: (Spencer) Tracy and (Charles) Laughton, Paul Muni, Irene Dunne, and Jimmy Cagney. There were also Errol Flynn and John Wayne and Charlton Heston.
I thought, being cocky, that I could be something like Tracy, something like Cagney, something like Laughton (well maybe not Laughton). I watched them all. I knew I would never be as sexy as Flynn, never as heroic as Wayne, never as mythic as Heston. I never thought for a minute I could be like Heston.
There are some performances that could not possibly be acted by anyone other than who played them. Even though we hear stories about Ronald Reagan being cast in Casablanca, we know in our gut it just couldn't be right, couldn't happen. God gave Bogart the role. God gave John Wayne Red River. And God cast Charlton Heston as Moses. And Ben Hur. God I think cast Heston as God, because (if I'm not mistaken) his voice is the voice of God in the Ten Commandments, playing against himself. They say Cecil B. DeMille did the voice, but it sounds like Heston to me. I believe it anyway. Makes a better story.
Millions of Jewish kids grew up with the confusion that A) Charlton Heston was Moses B) Charlton Heston was not Jewish. I believe that films like Ben Hur were conceived because Heston was there to make them. He allowed these stories to be told because he was there to play the parts. Ben Hur starring Robert Montgomery. (Please.) Tyrone Power as Moses. (I don't think so.) With all due respect, and I have loads of that, Heston is inescapable. He was necessary. There would be no Chariot Race worth its salt without him. I would never watch Heston on TV because he was too big. It would be like watching the promos to the Incredible Hulk, with the giant bursting through his shirt. He was too big for television. TV is small, it's manageable, it's less. Heston was almost too big for the 20th century, let alone TV. But in the darkened mysterioso of the movie theatre, Charlton Heston was "just right."
When I saw Charlton Heston as a kid, he took me far, far away, to places few actors could go. The only other American actor so comfortable outside of this era was Wayne, and Heston could time travel farther. Both held the magical alchemy that made me forget the commonplace of here and now completely. John Wayne allowed us into our American past. Heston, because of his perfectly male face, the depth of his voice, the measured almost antique rhythm of his speech, the oddly innocent commitment that allowed him to dive without looking into the role, took me farther, before the common era, as they say.
Somehow he was able to cut the myriad strings that connect us to our current lives, so he could inhabit our imagined past and imagined future so perfectly. So well did he do this that his discomfort was obvious when he played in the Now (actually, make that my discomfort, because he more than likely had a ball in the rare instances when he played something current). If it wasn't the past it was the future. I could never have gotten to Ancient Rome without him, nor Ape City.
Is so and so a great actor? A good actor? A bad actor? Speaking as an expert it's a stupid question. The actor either gets you to where you have to go, or not. Heston did; priceless. He could portray greatness, which is no longer an artistic goal; he could portray a grandeur that was so satisfying. What he was able to personify so perfectly for us was a vision of ourselves called heroic. Is this out of favor? Out of step? Antique? Yes, antique as in gorgeous, incredibly valuable, and not produced anymore but this is a critique of the world, not him (hopefully we will one day come back to all that).
As someone who has seen Ben Hur two million times I am totally grateful.
Self-consciousness is the anticipation of being silly and often is the spoiler for many actors. Charlton Heston had no such problem. He would dive into the story with what I can only call measured abandon and make me believe. And it was fun watching him.
It has become fashionable to characterize his politics; almost as if his politics were a separate thing, like Diana's popularity. People are either defensive or patronizing (if not contemptuous). I can only say I wish all the liberals and all the conservatives I knew had the class and forbearance he has. Would I be as patient or serene when so many had showed me such contempt, or tried to make me feel stupid or small? I doubt it, truly I do. This is dignity, simply and completely. A much more important quality than political passion at the end of the day, and far more lacking, don't you think?
It is a terrible, terrible, terrible thing that Charlton Heston is going through this (earlier this month, Heston announced he had been diagnosed with symptoms consistent with Alzheimer's disease), but I confess that there is a part of my heart where I am grateful for the opportunity to let him know what he's meant to me.
It will make him smile that I'm writing this on National Review's website (among other publications). Come to think of it, it is kind of funny.
Oh, the author was Richard Dreyfuss.
That is one of the best essays I have ever read.
And heartfelt, too. Actor or not, there is no way he could have faked the feelings that came out in that article.
And like many, not appreciated as much as he should be except, possibly, by NRA folks.
Cute cycle story........thanks for both contributions to the thread.
Thanks for posting that (IIRC, the title is "He's not Moses, But he's Something Else"). I was just about to go Google it up.