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Saturday, April 05, 2008

Charlton Heston, dead at the age of 84 R.I.P.

Fark: Time to pry the gun out

Statement by the family of Charlton Heston

Wikipedia.com - Charlton Heston


[edit] Early life

Heston was born John Charles Carter in Evanston, Illinois, the son of Lilla (née Charlton) and Russell Whitford Carter, a mill operator.[3] When he was ten, his parents divorced. Shortly thereafter, his mother married Chester Heston. The new family moved to well-off Wilmette, Illinois, a northern suburb of Chicago. Heston (his new surname) attended New Trier High School.

He enrolled in the school's drama program, where he performed with such outstanding results that he earned a drama scholarship to Northwestern University from the Winnetka Community Theatre in which he was also active. While still in high school, he played in the silent 16 mm amateur film adaptation of Peer Gynt made by David Bradley. Several years later the same team produced the first sound version of William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, in which Heston played Mark Antony.

Charlton Heston as Mark Antony in Julius Caesar, 1950
Charlton Heston as Mark Antony in Julius Caesar, 1950

In 1944, Heston left college and enlisted in the United States Army Air Forces. He served for two years as a B-25 radio operator/gunner stationed in the Alaskan Aleutian Islands with the Eleventh Air Force, rising to the rank of Staff Sergeant.

While in the service, he married fellow Northwestern student Lydia Marie Clarke in 1944. After the war, the two lived in Hell's Kitchen, New York City, where they worked as models. They have a son, Fraser Clarke Heston and an adopted daughter, Holly Ann Heston.

Seeking a way to make it in theater, Charlton and Lydia Heston decided in 1947 to manage a playhouse in Asheville, North Carolina. In 1948, they went back to New York where Heston was offered a supporting role in a Broadway revival of Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra, starring Katharine Cornell. He also had success in television, playing a number of roles in CBS's Studio One, one of the most popular anthology dramas of the 1950s.

[edit] Acting career

Heston's most frequently played roles on stage include the title role in Macbeth, Sir Thomas More in A Man For All Seasons, and Mark Antony in both Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra. He also cited Mister Roberts as one of his favorite roles, and tried unsuccessfully to revive the show in the early '90s.

from the trailer for the film Ben-Hur (1959)
from the trailer for the film Ben-Hur (1959)

He was unable to use his birth name, John Carter, as an actor because it bore too close a resemblance to the name of the hero in Edgar Rice Burroughs' first novel A Princess of Mars, which was in development at the time although the production fell through. In 1950, he earned recognition for his appearance in his first professional movie, Dark City. His breakthrough came in 1952 with his role of a circus manager in The Greatest Show on Earth. Heston was Billy Wilder's first choice to play JJ Sefton in Stalag 17 (1953). The role was eventually given to Oscar winner William Holden. But the muscular, 6 ft 3 in, square jawed Heston became an icon by portraying Moses in The Ten Commandments, a part he was chosen for reportedly because director Cecil B. DeMille thought that he bore an uncanny resemblance to the statue of Moses by Michelangelo.

He played leading roles in a number of fictional and historical epics—such as Ben-Hur, El Cid, 55 Days at Peking, The Agony and the Ecstasy (as Michelangelo himself), and Khartoum—during his long career. He won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his 1959 performance in the title role of Ben-Hur, one of 11 earned by that film. Heston accepted the role in Ben-Hur after Burt Lancaster, another similarly tall, muscular, square jawed, blonde, blue eyed actor, turned it down. Many years later, Lancaster charged that if Heston became typecast in heroic roles it was his own fault, because "he accepted the limitation." And although Lancaster later took on the role of Moses in a TV version of Moses' life, it was Heston who would be identified with the Biblical epic more than any other actor, voicing the role of Judah Ben-Hur for a cartoon version of the Lew Wallace novel as late as 2003.

The handprints of Charlton Heston in front of The Great Movie Ride at Walt Disney World's Disney's Hollywood Studios theme park.
The handprints of Charlton Heston in front of The Great Movie Ride at Walt Disney World's Disney's Hollywood Studios theme park.

Heston starred in a number of science fiction films and disaster films between 1968 and 1974, some of which, like Planet of the Apes (1968), Soylent Green (1971), The Omega Man (1973), and Earthquake (1974), were hugely successful at the time of their release and have since become classics.

Heston fought at times for his artistic choices. In 1958, he maneuvered Universal International into allowing Orson Welles to direct him in Touch of Evil, and in 1965 he fought the studio in support of Sam Peckinpah, when an attempt was made to interfere with his direction of Major Dundee, despite the fact that Peckinpah was so temperamental that at one point the normally even-keeled Heston found himself threatening the diminutive director with his cavalry sabre when he felt that Peckinpah was mistreating his cast[citation needed].

In 1970, he portrayed Mark Antony again, this time in a Technicolor film version of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. His co-stars in the nearly all-star cast included Jason Robards as Brutus, Richard Johnson as Cassius, John Gielgud as Caesar, Diana Rigg as Portia, Robert Vaughn as Casca, and Richard Chamberlain as Octavius.

In 1971 he made his directorial debut with Antony and Cleopatra, an adaptation of the William Shakespeare play that he had performed during his earlier theater career, and portrayed Mark Antony once more. Hidegarde Neil was Cleopatra, and Eric Porter was Enobarbus. After receiving scathing reviews, the film never went to theaters, and now rarely turns up on television. It has not been released on DVD.

Beginning with 1973's The Three Musketeers (as Cardinal Richelieu), Heston's time as a Hollywood leading man began to draw to a close and he was seen in an increasing number of supporting roles and cameos. He starred in the prime-time soap, The Colbys from 1985 to 1987, his only stint on series television. With his son Fraser, he also starred in and produced several TV movies, including remakes of "Treasure Island" and "A Man For All Seasons". Heston received excellent reviews for his 1992 series on the A&E cable network, "Charlton Heston Presents The Bible", which achieved great success on video and DVD. In 1993, he appeared in a cameo role in Wayne's World 2, in a scene wherein main character Wayne Campbell (Mike Myers) requests that a small role be filled by a better actor than the performer currently filling it. That same year, he hosted Saturday Night Live. He subsequently had cameos in the films Hamlet, Tombstone and True Lies.

He continued to be a major drawing card in live theatre as his film stardom declined, especially at the Los Angeles Music Center where he appeared in such plays as Police Story, The Caine Mutiny Court Martial, and as Sherlock Holmes in The Crucifer of Blood opposite Jeremy Brett as Dr. Watson, who would later win acclaim for his own interpretation of the great detective.

In 1992, Heston appeared in a short series of videos called Charlton Heston Presents the Bible. It was filmed in the Middle East where Heston read passages from the King James Version of the Bible.

In 2001, Heston also made a cameo appearance in Tim Burton's remake of Planet of the Apes. In the film, he plays an elderly, dying chimpanzee who introduces arms to his species by giving a pistol to his son, General Thade.

His last film role was an uncredited appearance in Shrek 2 (2004) as the voice of nobleman.

[edit] Death

On April 5, 2008, Heston died in his Beverly Hills, California home with his wife by his side.[4].

[edit] Off screen

Heston had a hip replacement in 1998, shortly after he was elected President of the National Rifle Association. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1998. It went into remission in the next year following a course of radiation treatment. In August 2002, Heston publicly announced that he was diagnosed with symptoms consistent with Alzheimer's disease.[5] In July 2003, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, from President George W. Bush at the White House. In March 2005, various newspapers reported that family and friends of Heston were apparently shocked by the rapid progression of his illness, and that he was sometimes unable to get out of bed. In August 2005, a rumor circulated that Heston had been hospitalized with pneumonia at a Los Angeles hospital, but this was never confirmed by the family. In April 2006, various news sources reported that Heston's illness was at an advanced stage and his family were worried he might not survive the year.

Heston was the chairman and co-founder of Agamemnon Films.

[edit] Political activism

Charlton Heston (left) with Marlon Brando, James Baldwin, and Harry Belafonte at Civil Rights March 1963
Charlton Heston (left) with Marlon Brando, James Baldwin, and Harry Belafonte at Civil Rights March 1963
Heston with United States President Ronald Reagan during a meeting for the Presidential Task Force on the Arts and Humanities in the White House Cabinet Room, 1981
Heston with United States President Ronald Reagan during a meeting for the Presidential Task Force on the Arts and Humanities in the White House Cabinet Room, 1981

In his earlier years, Heston was a liberal Democrat, campaigning for Presidential candidates Adlai Stevenson in 1956 and John F. Kennedy in 1960. A civil rights activist, he accompanied Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights march held in Washington, D.C. in 1963, even going so far as to wear a sign that read "All Men Are Created Equal". Heston later claimed it a point of pride that he helped in the civil rights cause "long before Hollywood found it fashionable", as he often says in his speeches. Heston had also planned to campaign for Lyndon Johnson, but was unable to do so when filming on Major Dundee went over schedule.

In 1968, following the assassination of Senator Robert F. Kennedy, Heston appeared on The Joey Bishop Show and, along with fellow actors Gregory Peck, Kirk Douglas and James Stewart, called for public support for President Johnson's Gun Control Act of 1968.

He was also an opponent of McCarthyism and racial segregation, which he saw as only helping the cause of Communism worldwide. He opposed the Vietnam War and considered Richard Nixon a disaster for America. He turned down John Wayne's offer of a role in The Alamo, because the film was a right-wing allegory for the Cold War[citation needed].

By the 1980s, however, Heston had begun to support more conservative positions on such issues as affirmative action and gun rights and changed his political affiliation from Democratic to Republican. He controversially praised David Duke.[6][7] He has campaigned for Republican candidates and Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush.

In 1996 Charlton Heston attended the Conservative Political Action Conference, an annual gathering of conservative movement organizations. There he posed for a group photo that included Gordon Lee Baum, the founder of the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC) and former White Citizens Council organizer. Former conservative Republican Senator George Allen (VA) also appears in the photo[8] which was published in the Summer 1996 issue of the CCC's newsletter, the Citizens Informer. Notably, many other notable conservative personalities and politicians have also spoken to or otherwise have been involved in activities where the CCC was present and this itself is not particularly indicative of racist beliefs, but rather less than thorough investigation of the background of the organizations involved.

He was an honorary life member of the NRA and was its president and spokesman from 1998 until his resignation in 2003. As NRA president, he was perhaps best known, while raising a hand-made Brooks flintlock rifle over his head at the 2000 NRA convention, for saying that presidential candidate Al Gore would take away his Second Amendment rights "from my cold, dead hands." (In announcing his resignation in 2003, he would again raise a rifle over his head, this time repeating only the famous five words of his 2000 speech.)

Heston has been harshly criticized by advocates of gun control. Michael Moore interviewed Heston in his home in the 2002 documentary film Bowling for Columbine. Moore asked questions regarding an NRA meeting held in Denver, Colorado in April 1999, shortly after the Columbine high school massacre in nearby Littleton and the timing/planning of Heston's speech at a "get out the vote" rally in Flint, MI eight months after the very publicized shooting and death of 6-year-old Kayla Rolland in her first grade classroom in Mt. Morris, Michigan.[9] Moore begins the interview by showing Heston that he is a fellow member of the NRA, gaining his interest. Heston eventually excuses himself and walks away from the interview when Moore repeatedly suggests that Heston should apologize to the people of Flint for holding the meeting mentioned above. Many of the festivities and activities of the convention in Denver after the Littleton massacre were in fact, cancelled. An annual meeting was still held, in compliance with New York state and Federal laws governing the meeting practices of non-profit corporations.[10]

Heston was also often accused of homophobia; he asked why it is all right to leave "homosexual men alone in tents with young boys"[citation needed] but it is not all right to allow innocent gun owners to own their guns. He denied that Michelangelo, whom he played in The Agony and the Ecstasy, was homosexual[citation needed]. In 1995 he denied a claim by screenwriter Gore Vidal that there had been a gay subtext to his most famous film, Ben Hur, though Vidal, one of the screenwriters, recalls writing that implication into it, and agreeing never to mention the subtext to Heston though he did so to Stephen Boyd.[11] However, Heston never directly or openly professed to disdain homosexuals.

Actor George Clooney joked about Heston having Alzheimer's Disease and defended his comments saying that Heston deserved whatever was said about him for his involvement with the NRA;[12] Heston responded by saying that Clooney lacked "class," and said he felt sorry for Clooney, as Clooney had as much of a chance of developing Alzheimer's as anyone else.[13]

According to his autobiography In the Arena, Heston recognized the right of freedom of speech exercised by others. In an address to students at Harvard Law School entitled Winning the Cultural War, Heston expressed his disdain for political correctness and its chilling effect on free speech, stating "If Americans believed in political correctness, we'd still be King George's boys - subjects bound to the British crown."[14] He also stated that "Political correctness is tyranny with manners".[15]

Heston was an opponent of abortion and gave the introduction to a 1987 pro-life documentary by Bernard Nathanson called Eclipse of Reason which focuses on late-term abortions. Heston also served on the Advisory Board of Accuracy in Media (AIM), a conservative media watchdog group founded by the late Reed Irvine.

[edit] Heston in popular culture

The Bills were a youth subculture that thrived in Léopoldville (modern-day Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo) in the late 1950s, basing much of their image and outlook on the cowboys of American Western movies, especially Heston's film Pony Express (1953).[citation needed]

In the video game "Postal²", there are many allusions to Heston, such as a difficulty level called "Hestonworld" and the "Postal Dude" considering him as "his President".

Spotswoode's voice in the film Team America: World Police is an homage to Heston. The Switchfoot song, Might Have Ben Hur is dedicated to Charlton Heston.

On the sketch comedy show MADtv, Heston was parodied by then-cast member Pat Kilbane.

Heston was parodied by the animated show The Angry Beavers on multiple occasions. The line "Get your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty apes!" (from Planet of the Apes) was spoken by the show's lead characters Daggett and Norbert in several episodes, and in one episode the two quoted a passage of dialogue from Ben-Hur (1959).

Anglo-Irish band Stump released a single entitled Charlton Heston about his film The Ten Commandments. The song contains the short chorus "They'd always ask us to describe, How Charlton Heston put his vest on" amidst humorous descriptions of scenes from the film.[16]

Boston hardcore punk band Slapshot has a song called "Shoot Charlton Heston". It has appeared, amongst others, on their greatest hits album.

Boston ska band Big D And The Kids Table has the lyrics "Let Charlton Heston have his gun, let somebody shoot him just for fun". It appeared on their album Strictly Rude in the song Hell On Earth.

Heston was mentioned in the song "The Idiots Are Taking Over" by the punk rock band NoFX, in the line "And I'm starting to feel a lot like Charlton Heston, stranded on a primate planet."

Heston is referenced in the song "My Favorite Mutiny" by hip-hop group The Coup on their album Pick a Bigger Weapon, and in "In the Music" by The Roots from their album Game Theory (album).

Oklahoma City sports radio station WWLS (AM) "The Sports Animal" features a segment with a man claiming to be Charleton Heston. The segment, which airs during the morning of football games, is called "Charleton Heston's Football Firing Line" and includes Heston giving his top choices for point spread victories. The segment plays on the fact that Heston is a member of the NRA and uses terms like "shotgun blast of the week game".

Heston's work in films was the inspiration for US patent 4,441,794 and several other


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