Charlton the Great, A Look at Charlton Heston
Charlton Heston - The Early Years
Everyone has a favorite movie star. Mine is bigger than life, he had quite a physical presence aside from his good looks. After all he is not just any movie star but has played venerable roles like Moses in the Ten Commandments and Juda Ben Hur in Ben Hur. Just look into those eyes. He is the rugged, sexy Charlton Heston.
Born John Charles Carter on October 4, 1923 in Evanston, Illinois, he took his stepfather’s name “Heston” and his mother’s maiden name Charlton. He earned a drama scholarship to Northwestern University after high school. He was also in the US Army Air Force.
Early in his acting career he did television and NYC theater. His very first film was an amateur film called Peer Gynt. In 1952 he was cast in The Greatest Show on Earth – best picture of the year. Not a bad start. Then came Moses in 1956. Some even say he resembled Michelangelo’s statue of Moses. He was truly imposing as Moses leading his people out of Israel and trying to reason with Pharaoh, masterfully played by Yul Brenner. There was a moment when Pharaoh’s son died that I actually felt sorry for him (Pharaoh that is), but only a moment. One fact I wasn't aware of until recently was that Charlton Heston's son, Fraser Heston, played the baby Moses in the Ten Commandements. Fraser was born just as the movie began filming and Cecile B. DeMille called and said he wanted Fraser in the movie!
Ben Hur to Dynasty
In 1959 Charlton won an Oscar for his role as Ben Hur. He was biblically type cast for a while but oh what a Ben Hur. Again it was almost as if the part was written for him. Who else could have done that chariot race? His deep voice gave him an edge over other actors.
He played El Cid, and then Michelangelo in The Agony and The Ecstasy, the story of Michelangelo and the difficulties of painting the Sistine Chapel. Of course many know him as George Taylor in The Planet of the Apes. Who can forget lines like "Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!" or when Taylor realizes where the Planet of the Apes actually is, "You Maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!"
I would have to say Planet of the Apes was the most shocking, and very good. I’m a scifi fan so it fit well with me. I thought the apes were marvelous and Roddy McDowall definitely out of character yet surprisingly well cast. It was interesting to watch the different personalities of the apes, as well as their representation of different species of apes, but nothing compares to the ending, talk about shock factor, as if having apes rule the world wasn’t surprise enough. Humans are used as target practice, slaves and put in zoos. Seems they have lost their ability for speech. The sequels were good but never came near the original. The New Yorker's film critic Pauline Kael, in her review of 1968's "Planet of the Apes," wrote: "All this wouldn't be so forceful or so funny if it weren't for the use of Charlton Heston in the [leading] role. With his perfect, lean-hipped, powerful body, Heston is a god-like hero; built for strength, he is an archetype of what makes Americans win. He represents American power -- and he has the profile of an eagle."
In the early 60’s there was no one like Charlton Heston. I didn’t know anything about his political aspirations or beliefs, I just had his movies to go by. His chiseled chin and muscular physique as he played the morally correct characters. What couldn’t you like? I must’ve seen the Ten Commandments ten times. He’s been gone three years but his legacy lives on.
He starred in other movies including westerns like Will Penny and Three Violent People. He did more television in the 80’s including The Colbys. Prior to The Colbys becoming its own show, he played Jason Colby on Dynasty.
I don’t think he can be topped. As I sit here I try to decide which of his movies is my favorite. I find it a very hard decision. His role as Moses was excellent but I think my favorite would be Ben Hur just because of the character’s will and morality. It’s “an epic tale of redemption.” What a strong personality Ben Hur was. Not just physically but in his convictions and his love of family. Who didn’t cry when his mother and sister became lepers? The Los Angeles Times said, “Heston won the Academy Award for best actor in another religious blockbuster in 1959's "Ben-Hur," racing four white horses at top speed in one of the cinema's legendary action sequences: the 15-minute chariot race in which his character, a proud and noble Jew, competes against his childhood Roman friend.”
Facts About Charlton Heston
- Father of director Fraser Clarke Heston and Holly Heston Rochell.
- Elected first vice-president of the National Rifle Association of America (1997).
- Co-chairman of the American Air Museum in Britain.
- Elected president of the National Rifle Association of America (June 1998).
- President of the Screen Actors Guild from 1966-1971.
- Marched alongside the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the the 1963 March on Washington.
- His wife called him Charlie, but everyone else called him Chuck.
- He was a World War II U.S. Army veteran and visited troops fighting during the Vietnam War in 1967.
Charlton Heston - Later Years
He was a political activist, and was a president of the NRA and the Screen Actors Guild. “I've played three presidents, three saints and two geniuses - and that's probably enough for any man” His quote says it all. Heston also helped create the American Film Institute and supported the National Endowment for the Arts.
For those of you who support guns and like Charlton Heston, he did say owning guns is our "God-given right".
A surprise to some, in 2003 President Bush awarded Heston the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, for his accomplishments in movies and politics. He was also awarded by the American Film Institute to honor acting talent. He also received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, plus the Kennedy Center Lifetime Achievement Award. Many awards came his way because in addition to his marvelous acting career, Charlton Heston believed in civil rights and was a strong advocate.
After fighting alcoholism and prostate cancer, he died on April 5, 2008 from complications cause by Alzheimer's disease.
After Heston's death, Richard Corliss wrote in Time magazine, "From start to finish, Heston was a grand, ornery anachronism, the sinewy symbol of a time when Hollywood took itself seriously, when heroes came from history books, not comic books. Epics like Ben-Hur or El Cid simply couldn't be made today, in part because popular culture has changed as much as political fashion. But mainly because there's no one remotely like Charlton Heston to infuse the form with his stature, fire and guts."
In his obituary for the actor, film critic Roger Ebert noted "Heston made at least three movies that almost everybody eventually sees: Ben-Hur, The Ten Commandments and Planet of the Apes."
Which of Charlton Heston's movies will you see? Or, did you already see them all like me?
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March on Washington
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