April 6, 2008


'Larger than life' actor Heston dies (Bob Thomas, April 6, 2008, Washington Times)

"Charlton Heston was seen by the world as larger than life. He was known for his chiseled jaw, broad shoulders and resonating voice, and, of course, for the roles he played," Heston's family said in a statement. "No one could ask for a fuller life than his. No man could have given more to his family, to his profession, and to his country."

Charlton Heston, Oscar-winning star of Ben Hur, dies (Times of London, 4/06/08)
The actor assumed the role of leader offscreen as well. He served as president of the Screen Actors Guild and chairman of the American Film Institute and marched in the civil rights movement of the 1950s. With age, he grew more conservative and campaigned for conservative candidates.

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 Bill Clinton, saying, “America doesn’t trust you with our 21-year-old daughters, and we sure, Lord, don’t trust you with our guns.”

Heston stepped down as NRA president in April 2003, telling members his five years in office were “quite a ride. ... I loved every minute of it.”

Later that year, Heston was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honour. “The largeness of character that comes across the screen has also been seen throughout his life,” President Bush said at the time.

Charlton Heston dies at 84 (Reuters, April 06, 2008)
In his heyday, Heston's rugged features and conservative lifestyle seemed to belong to another age. As director Anthony Mann said: "Put a toga on him and he looks perfect." Frank Sinatra once joked: "That guy Heston has to watch it. If he's not careful, he'll get actors a good name."

Between super-spectacles (The 10 Commandments, Ben Hur), science fiction movies (Planet of the Apes, Soylent Green) and disaster epics (Earthquake), Heston pushed for screen versions of Shakespearean plays, directing one, Anthony and Cleopatra.

Heston's most controversial role was not in a movie but as leader of the National Rifle Association, the gun-rights lobby group, from 1998 to 2003. He often stood at the podium at conventions, holding an antique flintlock rifle above his head and telling gun-control advocates they would not get his gun unless they could pry it "from my cold, dead hands."

Born John Charlton Carter (Heston was his stepfather's name) on Oct. 4, 1923, in Evanston, Illinois, he made his theatrical debut as Santa Claus in a school play at age 5 and studied acting at Northwestern University.

After a World War Two stint as a gunner in the Army Air Corps, Heston headed to Broadway, where he briefly supported himself with nude modeling between acting jobs.

In 1944, he had married fellow Northwestern drama student Lydia Clarke and their marriage lasted 64 years until his death. They had two children, Fraser and Holly Ann.

Heston gained attention in 1947 in Anthony and Cleopatra, which landed him a job in the Studio One television series that re-enacted famous plays.

The television work led to movies and Cecil B. DeMille put him in The Greatest Show on Earth (1952), portraying a circus manager determined that the show must go on.

In 1956, DeMille cast Heston as Moses for The 10 Commandments, saying the actor reminded him of Michelangelo's statue. The $7.5 million epic was the most expensive film up to that time and became the second-biggest money maker of the time, behind Gone With the Wind.

In addition to playing Moses, Heston did the voice of God in the film. His 3-month-old son, Fraser, played the baby Moses floating down the Nile in a basket.

-SPEECH: Winning the Cultural War (Charlton Heston, 16 February 1999, Austin Hall, Harvard Law School)

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 (Robert W. Welkos and Susan King, April 6, 2008, LA Times)

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."

Heston also was blessed by working with legendary directors such as DeMille in "The Greatest Show on Earth" and again in "The Ten Commandments," Welles in "Touch of Evil," Sam Peckinpah in "Major Dundee," William Wyler in "The Big Country" and "Ben-Hur," George Stevens in "The Greatest Story Ever Told," Franklin Schaffner in "The War Lord" and "Planet of the Apes" and Anthony Mann in "El Cid."

"Four or five of those men would be on anybody's all-time great list," Heston said in a 1983 interview. "And if I picked up one scrap, one piece of business, from each of them, then today I would be a hell of a director."

-OBIT: Charlton Heston dies, aged 84 (Bonnie Malkin, 4/06/08, Daily Telegraph)
-OBIT: Charlton Heston, Epic Film Star and Voice of N.R.A., Dies at 83 (ROBERT BERKVIST, April 6, 2008, NY Times)
Every actor dreams of a breakthrough role, the part that stamps him in the public memory, and Mr. Heston’s life changed forever when he caught the eye of the director Cecil B. De Mille. De Mille, who was planning his next biblical spectacular, “The Ten Commandments,” looked at the young, physically imposing Mr. Heston and saw his Moses.

When the film was released in 1956, more than three and a half hours long and the most expensive that De Mille had ever made, Mr. Heston became a marquee name. Whether leading the Israelites through the wilderness, parting the Red Sea or coming down from Mount Sinai with the tablets from God in hand, he was a Moses to remember.

Writing in The New York Times nearly 30 years afterward, when the film was re-released for a brief run, Vincent Canby called it “a gaudy, grandiloquent Hollywood classic” and suggested there was more than a touch of “the rugged American frontiersman of myth” in Mr. Heston’s Moses.

The same quality made Mr. Heston an effective spokesman, off-screen, for the causes he believed in. Late in life he became a staunch opponent of gun control. Elected president of the National Rifle Association in 1998, he proved to be a powerful campaigner against what he saw as the government’s attempt to infringe on a Constitutional guarantee — the right to bear arms.

Charlton Heston, hero of American movies, dies aged 84 (Xan Brooks, April 6, 2008, guardian.co.uk)
In a career spanning 60 years, Heston provided the world with a seemingly inexhaustible roster of resolute screen heroes, from Michelangelo to Moses, El Cid to Judah Ben-Hur. "If you need a ceiling painted, a chariot race run, a city besieged, or the Red Sea parted, you think of me," he once explained.

-OBIT: Legendary US Actor Charlton Heston Dies at 84 (VOA News, 06 April 2008)
Actor, Activist Charlton Heston Dies at 83 (Adam Bernstein, 4/06/08, Washington Post)
Compared with acting peers such as Marlon Brando, Paul Newman or Burt Lancaster -- all of whom would downplay their brawn to convey a character's anguish or vulnerability -- Heston portrayed men of action who seldom displayed flaws.

Important exceptions were "Will Penny" (1968), in which he played an aging, illiterate cowboy, and "Number One" (1969), as an older gridiron star. Of the second, New York Times film reviewer Howard Thompson wrote that Heston "tackled a starkly unadorned role in one of the most interesting and admirable performances of his career" and called the film a "brooding, scorching and beautifully disciplined tour de force for the actor."

Poorly marketed -- the advertising focused on his body -- "Will Penny" and "Number One" did not do well in theaters. The commercial failure of those movies bothered Heston, who said the loner character in "Will Penny" came closest to how he saw himself.

Heston wrote he was deeply saddened by the critical and popular failure of his starring roles in "Julius Caesar" (1970) and "Antony and Cleopatra" (1972), movie adaptations of Shakespeare. He directed the second and called Shakespeare "the measuring stick against which you measure an actor's work."

He said doing those smaller pictures with limited audiences made it important for him also to star in high-salaried 1970s projects, including "Earthquake" and "Airport 1975."

He lost at least one important part because of his screen image. Director Steven Spielberg reportedly chose Roy Scheider over Heston in the thriller "Jaws" (1976) because Spielberg felt it would ruin the suspense to have "Moses" battle a great white shark.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 6, 2008 8:33 AM

Charton Heston's last movie role was as the Player King in Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet. It was a minor role but Heston made it awesome, a grand finalé for a great actor.

You can see his last speech on YouTube. Although the YT audio is out of sync it is still breathtaking. Judi Dench is Hecuba, and John Gielgud is Priam.


Posted by: Gideon7 at April 6, 2008 12:21 PM


What a great actor he was. You're completely right: That was an awesome way for him to go out. Thanks for posting that.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at April 6, 2008 4:25 PM