April 8, 2008

WHERE THE GIPPER LED:

Charlton Heston: as you won't remember him (Andy McSmith and Ciar Byrne, 7 April 2008, Independent)

From 1966 to 1971, he was president of the Screen Actors' Guild, following in the footsteps of Ronald Reagan. He opposed the Vietnam War, but went out to entertain the GIs there. He thought that Richard Nixon was a disaster for America.

But as his 50th birthday approached, a change came over Heston's screen career – and, following on quickly, his politics. The roles as a leading man dried up and he had to settle for supporting parts, even playing a bad guy for the first time, when he appeared as Cardinal Richelieu in The Three Musketeers. And there was the Dynasty spin-off, The Colbys.

He also watched from a distance as his friend Ronald Reagan carved out a political career in the Republican Party. In 1981, Reagan offered him a job as co-chairman of the President's task force on arts and humanities, which he accepted with some reservations.

Then in 1987, Reagan nominated a conservative legal scholar, Robert Bork, to the Supreme Court. Senator Edward Kennedy reacted with a speech that warned: "Robert Bork's America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions [and] blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters." Gregory Peck fronted a successful campaign to block the nomination.

In his younger days, Heston might have been there campaigning with them. Instead, he reacted to this public humiliation of President Reagan as if his own face had been slapped, and joined the Republican Party. Heston felt he was still battling for civil liberties, except that now he was standing up for the liberty of the average white middle-class American male against the spread of "political correctness".

It was also clear that, in Heston's mind at least, the very fact that he had spent his life bringing heroes to the screen such as Moses or Ben-Hur, or geniuses such as Michelangelo, gave him political authority.

A famous speech that he delivered to the Harvard Law School in February 1999, a cry of rage against gun control, gay rights, violent lyrics in rap music and other Heston bugbears, opened with the observation: "If my creator gave me the gift to connect you with the hearts and minds of those great men, then I want to use that same gift now to reconnect you with your own sense of liberty, your own freedom of thought, your own compass for what is right."

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 8, 2008 9:43 AM
Comments

To see a description of Charlton Heston which does not attempt to trivialize his ideas (as the one quoted above, like most others, does) see this one from Wretchard.

Posted by: ZF at April 8, 2008 1:16 PM

It was also clear that, in Heston's mind at least, the very fact that he had spent his life bringing heroes to the screen such as Moses or Ben-Hur, or geniuses such as Michelangelo, gave him political authority.

How about his civil rights marches with MLK before it was pc and convenient to do so?

Posted by: ic at April 8, 2008 1:34 PM
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