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Charlton the Great, A Look at Charlton Heston

Updated on March 20, 2015

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

Charlton Heston as Ben Hur
Charlton Heston as Ben Hur | Source

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?

Copyright Tillsontitan - All Rights Reserved

March on Washington

Charlton Heston at the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King's March on Washington
Charlton Heston at the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King's March on Washington | Source


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    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 3 years ago from New York

      Needless to say his NRA stance was very controversial but still was a great actor.

    • profile image

      Rich 3 years ago

      Loved him til the NRA, then whoosh it disappeared.

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 4 years ago from New York

      Well Levertis, it seems Heston was taught how to drive a chariot and did much of the chariot driving himself but did have a stuntman for some of the more "dangerous" portions. I have to say after seeing Ten Commandements I was totally in awe of him and followed almost every movie he ever made. Now, if I can find a chariot I'll give you a call ;)

    • Levertis Steele profile image

      Levertis Steele 4 years ago from Southern Clime

      Charlton Heston! Who can forget his role as Moses in THE TEN COMMANDMENTS? I have viewed and enjoyed it many times. The only other work I had viewed as much as this one was THE WIZARD OF OZ. I often wondered if Heston really drove that chariot in Ben Hur or if a stuntman did it. Either way he was awesome. After watching him in furious action, I was quite winded and felt that I had had enough practice to handle a chariot quite well myself. I never got a chance to prove myself wrong. Good!

      What a great hub!

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 5 years ago from New York

      I know exactly what you mean Steve. Since I appear to be your senior, I saw Ben-Hur and the Ten Commandments in their original the theater!

    • Steve Lensman profile image

      Steve Lensman 5 years ago from London, England

      The real 'John Carter'. :)

      An enjoyable tribute to one of the screen greats Mary. I was a big fan of 'Mr. Epic' when I was young and saw some of his films at the cinema. I was lucky enough to see Ben-Hur and Ten Commandments on the big screen in re-releases. Many of his films are huge faves of mine. He lost a few fans in later years with his stance on gun rights but I wasn't one of them. A legend.

      Voted Up and Awesome.

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 6 years ago from New York

      Hypersapien, he was a great man and actor. The chariot race was unbelievable in the silent movie as well.

    • Hypersapien profile image

      Hypersapien 6 years ago

      Great hub! I'm a big Charlton Heston fan, and I think I've seen just about every movie you listed. There's never been another scene to match the chariot race in Ben-Hur!

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 6 years ago from New York

      IMHO Charlton is always in the top ten. Can't deny John Wayne is up there too! So many great actors were "old timers" but there are some new ones now catching up.

    • Sky9106 profile image

      Sky9106 6 years ago from A beautiful place on earth.

      I could not pass up Ben Hur oh I mean Charlton Heston. growing up it was for me not in any order because my father was somewhat addicted to the Romans and Jack Pa lance and his only son was spared nothing related.

      It was Charlton J/Wayne and J/Westmiller(Tarzan).

      i Quickly ,wanted to know more as I grew.

      I say by far Charlton Heston stood top of the list until as time would have it my taste for things changed .

      If I ever have to name my best of the best ,it's an easy list to formulate.

      Thanks for sharing something usually played down by many.

      But these are questions I always ask those I get close to. Who are your favorite actors of all time?

      Who is the best?

      Bless "till" we write again.

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 6 years ago from New York

      Excellent idea, the link. I returned the favor and added your link to mine.

    • Cogerson profile image

      Cogerson 6 years ago from Virginia

      Hey tillsontitan....I can not believe it took me three months to finally write my Heston hub....where does the time go...I have indeed linked this hub to my Heston hub....the two hubs go well together.

    • minjin25 profile image

      Mary Jane Hardel 7 years ago from Illinois

      Good Hub. Voted up. I remember going to see Ben Hur with my class in grade school on a field trip. It is a classic movie that will never be outdated and Charlton was a classic movie star who will never be duplicated.

    • Cogerson profile image

      Cogerson 7 years ago from Virginia

      Very nice....I am about to do a Charlton Heston hub myself...when I complete it....I will link your excellent hub to my hub...three years since he passed away...time flies....voted up....