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Sunday, April 06, 2008

Charlton Heston, 1923 - 2008


Charlton Heston, 84; Oscar-winning actor played larger-than-life figures

The Oscar winner played Moses and Michelangelo, then later became a darling of conservatism.

By Robert W. Welkos and Susan King, Special to The Times
April 6, 2008, Los Angeles Times (Excerpts)

“Charlton Heston, the Oscar-winning actor who achieved stardom playing larger-than-life figures including Moses, Michelangelo and Andrew Jackson and went on to become an unapologetic gun advocate and darling of conservative causes, has died. He was 84.

Heston died Saturday at his Beverly Hills home, said family spokesman Bill Powers. In 2002, he had been diagnosed with symptoms similar to those of Alzheimer's disease.

With a booming baritone voice, the tall, ruggedly handsome actor delivered his signature role as the prophet Moses in Cecil B. DeMille's 1956 Biblical extravaganza "The Ten Commandments," raising a rod over his head as God miraculously parts the Red Sea.

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.

Heston stunned the entertainment world in August 2002 when he made a poignant and moving videotaped address announcing his illness.

Late in life, Heston's stature as a political firebrand overshadowed his acting. He became demonized by gun-control advocates and liberal Hollywood when he became president of the National Rifle Assn. in 1998.

Heston answered his critics in a now-famous pose that mimicked Moses' parting of the Red Sea. But instead of a rod, Heston raised a flintlock over his head and challenged his detractors to pry the rifle "from my cold, dead hands."

Like the chariot race and the bearded prophet Moses, Heston will be best remembered for several indelible cinematic moments: playing a deadly game of cat and mouse with Orson Welles in the oil fields in "Touch of Evil," his rant at the end of "Planet of the Apes" when he sees the destruction of the Statue of Liberty, his discovery that "Soylent Green is people!" in the sci-fi hit "Soylent Green" and the dead Spanish hero on his steed in "El Cid."

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."

For decades, the 6-foot-2 Heston was a towering figure in the world of movies, television and the stage.

"He was the screen hero of the 1950s and 1960s, a proven stayer in epics, and a pleasing combination of piercing blue eyes and tanned beefcake," David Thomson wrote in his book "The New Biographical Dictionary of Film."….

John Charles Carter was born Oct. 4, 1923, in Evanston, Ill. His father, Russell Whitford Carter, moved the family to St. Helen, Mich., where Heston lived an almost idyllic boyhood, hunting and fishing.

He entered Northwestern University's School of Speech in 1941 on a scholarship from the drama club. While there, he fell in love with a young speech student named Lydia Clarke. They were married March 14, 1944, after he had enlisted in the Army Air Forces. Their union was one of the most durable in Hollywood, lasting 64 years in a town known for its highly publicized divorces, romances and remarriages.

Theatrical name choice

After the war, he went on countless auditions as a stage actor in New York. His professional name was a combination of his mother's maiden name, Charlton, and the last name of his stepfather, Chester Heston.

He made his Broadway debut opposite legendary stage actress Katharine Cornell in Shakespeare's "Antony and Cleopatra" as Proculeius, Caesar's aide-de-camp.

Heston found steady employment in the new medium of television. His big break occurred in 1949, when he appeared in the CBS live "Studio One" production of Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar."

In 1949, he attracted the attention of veteran film producer Hal Wallis. Without an audition, Wallis signed Heston to an independent contract for five pictures with the option he could accept other roles.

Heston's first picture for Wallis was the 1950 film noir "Dark City" opposite femme fatale Lizabeth Scott. He played a troubled World War II veteran, and the film did respectable business.

But it was his chance meeting on the Paramount Pictures lot with DeMille that propelled Heston to stardom. The role that the flamboyant director wanted him for was the rugged circus manager in the 1952 big-top spectacular, "The Greatest Show on Earth," which won the Academy Award for best picture.

Over the next three years, Heston made 11 movies, playing Buffalo Bill Cody in "Pony Express" and Andrew Jackson in "The President's Lady."

Then DeMille entered his life again, casting Heston as Moses in "The Ten Commandments."

"My choice was strikingly confirmed," DeMille wrote, "when I had a sketch made of Charlton Heston in a white beard and happened to set it beside a photograph of Michelangelo's famous statue of Moses. The resemblance was amazing; and it was not merely an external likeness."

He wasn't the only Heston in the film. His baby son, Fraser, made his screen debut as the infant Moses who is carried downstream in a basket.

"The Ten Commandments," a blockbuster hit, was followed by "Touch of Evil" and "The Big Country."

Then came "Ben-Hur."

Ironically, though it was arguably Heston's most famous role, and the only one that earned him an Oscar, he was not the first actor considered. Burt Lancaster, Paul Newman and Rock Hudson were under consideration for the role of heroic Judah Ben-Hur.

The film's breathtaking chariot race, directed by legendary stuntman Yakima Canutt, took five weeks to film and required 15,000 extras.

The film went on to win 11 Oscars, including best picture and best director for Wyler.

Playing larger-than-life heroes seemed to carry over into real-life politics for Heston. He was one of the major Hollywood stars who marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights era.

But Heston's politics soon veered right and he became an admirer of conservative Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona, who was the Republican Party nominee for president in 1964.

"My politics haven't changed -- it was the Democratic Party that changed," the actor said
.


Always a political animal, Heston relished his role as a lightning rod for criticism over his passionate defense of gun ownership. He once told the Times of London, "In this country, if someone breaks into your house, you can shoot them. And I would do that in a second if my wife were back there sleeping and someone broke in."

In 1998, with his acting career waning, Heston became president of the National Rifle Assn. and instantly became one of the more politically polarizing figures in America.

During his five-year reign as NRA president, Heston vowed to push the group "back into the mainstream" of American politics.

His name was so synonymous with the defense of guns and gun owners that Michael Moore sought him out for an interview in his 2002 Academy Award-winning documentary "Bowling for Columbine." But the aging Heston walked out of the on-screen interview as Moore peppered him with probing questions about the nation's gun use, and the usually unflappable actor seemed angry and flustered.

Heston was not afraid of taking on entertainment corporations such as the giant Time Warner, which in 1992 came under scrutiny for releasing rapper Ice-T's controversial CD "Cop Killer." Heston, who owned several hundred shares of Time Warner stock, stood up at the stockholders' meeting in Beverly Hills and read every profane lyric in that song as well as another explicit cut from the rap album.

Though his film work occupied most of his career, he never abandoned his theatrical roots. He was a mainstay for years on stage, especially at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles, tackling everything from Eugene O'Neill's "Long Day's Journey into Night," Robert Bolt's "A Man for All Seasons" and "Macbeth" with co-star Vanessa Redgrave. …..

Throughout his life, Heston was active in various areas of the entertainment industry. Besides serving as president of the Screen Actors Guild, he also was chairman of the American Film Institute, head of President Reagan's Task Force on the Arts and Humanities, and involved in several charities. President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed him to the Council on the Arts, the executive body controlling grants made by the National Endowment for the Arts.

In addition to his Oscar, Heston received numerous U.S. and international awards and honors, among them the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn.'s Cecil B. DeMille Award, the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award and the Kennedy Center Honors Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2003, he was awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush.

In later years, Heston battled physical ailments. In 1996, he underwent hip replacement surgery and two years later he was treated for prostate cancer. In 2000, he revealed in the National Enquirer tabloid that he had entered a rehab clinic for a drinking problem.

In addition to his wife and son, Heston is survived by a daughter, Holly Heston Rochell; and three grandchildren.

Services will be private. His family has requested that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Motion Picture and Television Fund, 22212 Ventura Boulevard, Suite 300, Woodland Hills, CA 91364. Details: www.mptvfund.org.”

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3 Comments:

At 8:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Charlton Heston also did one very small video clip to introduce a controversial Pro-Life video called "Eclipse of Reason".
In that short clip, he talked about the number of deaths each day, and presented some basic facts that most uncommitted folks probably didn't know.
He then criticized the American media for not showing the informing the public about this reality.
He then said "If you are watching this video on TV then they did something right".

Many years ago, I hosted a special presentation of that video clip on our local Access Cable system which allowed us to run it.
The video features Dr. Bernard Nathanson who was able to obtain color video of a fetuscope showing a baby in the mother's womb pointing out the details of the fingers, feet, closed eyes, eye brows, etc. and then the destruction of that baby by a surgeons forceps.
The rest is very graphic and few people who I've ever shown it to ever walk away without changing their minds.
These are the kinds of activities that film actors do that are not well known to the public.

 
At 9:01 AM, Anonymous Joe said...

Charlton Heston was one of of the biggest stars to ever come out of Hollywood. He never forgot his routes and stayed true in the love of his country and his traditional conservative upbringing. Some of his radical Left Hollywood counterparts will never achieve the kind of respect and love that his fans had for him. He was a true American hero, and a patriot.

 
At 5:38 AM, Anonymous Roy Bourgeois said...

"In June 1998, Heston was elected president of the National Rifle
Association, for which he had posed for ads holding a rifle. He
delivered a jab at then-President Clinton, saying, "America doesn't
trust you with our 21-year-old daughters, and we sure, Lord, don't
trust you with our guns."

Roy B.

 

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