It’s hard for me to write about Charlton Heston who died yesterday. You see, at one time, I considered him my favorite actor. Oh, he was pretentious, posturing and somewhat larger-than-life (to use a line from several obits) but he was a powerful and enjoyable performer when cast in roles that fit his particular abilities and eccentricities. One of my all-time favorite actor biographies was Heston’s collection of journal entries entitled THE ACTOR’S LIFE from the late seventies. My problem with him came when he was cast in the role of the head of the National Rifle Association. Now this is NOT a political blog so I am NOT going to get into any gun debates with readers but, in my opinion, the political lobbying forces behind the once valuable NRA organization cast Heston just as DeMille or any Hollywood producer, director or casting director had ever done. He played his role well, but the character he played eventually turned my stomach.
I first saw Charlton Heston in the second PLANET OF THE APES movie where his Taylor character turns up only in brief bits in the beginning and at the apocalyptic ending. By the time I saw the first movie a year or so later, I had become a fan of him through television runs of THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH and THE TEN COMMANDMENTS. I saw SOYLENT GREEN on Good Friday of 1973 at the International 70 theater in downtown Cincinnati. School got out at noon that day and I walked a block to a bus stop and headed straight across the river to the theater. I enjoyed it so much that I sat through it twice that day (you could DO that then.)! Never cared for BEN-HUR but his sly portrayal of Cardinal Richelieu in Richard Lester’s Musketeers films is another favorite. Going backwards, Heston was great as the Mexican cop in Welles’ TOUCH OF EVIL (Okay, so his accent wavered and he didn’t really look Mexican in any way but it’s all about the illusion isn’t it?). WILL PENNY, EL CID, AIRPORT 1975 (with Linda Blair!)
I sold my copy of THE ACTOR’S LIFE at one point but remembering how good it was, I was pleased when cousin Rick (from Mail It To Team-Up) got me a signed copy of Heston’s later autobiography. It wasn’t the same, though. He wasn’t the same. With my permission (and for the deliberate irony), I later let my wife auction off the signed volume on E-bay specifically to get enough money to send one more Mom to the Million Mom March for Safer Gun Laws in 2000. When C-Span covered the March live, you could see Rosie O’Donnell giving my wife a high five after she had just told that story to her.
Various websites have gone with the obvious joke about Heston’s passing so I will just offer condolences to his family and add thanks for the enjoyable performances over the years.