MoPo Remembers

Charlton Heston 1923-2008

Charlton Heston 1923-2008

Charlton Heston often played larger-than-life characters in his movies, including Moses, Michelangelo, Andrew Jackson and El Cid.  It was the larger-than-life role of prince-turned-slave Judah Ben-Hur in 1959's Ben-Hur that earned him an Academy Award.

Born in Chicago in 1923, his real name was John Charles Carter. He took his stage name from his mother's maiden name (Charlton) and his step-father's last name (Heston). After attending college at Northwestern University on an acting scholarship and serving in the Army Air Force, he moved to New York in 1947 to seek out acting roles. By that time, he had married Lydia Clarke, also an aspiring actor. Their marriage lasted 64 years until his death.

Heston appeared on Broadway and on several live television productions, where he caught the attention of producer Hal Wallis.

It was Wallis that cast Heston in his first Hollywood movie, 1950's  Dark City, co-starring Lizabeth Scott, a good crime drama in the film-noir style. While not great, it was a respectable start for a young actor. (Heston's actually first appeared on film in 1941's independent production Peer Gynt directed by his friend David Bradley. Bradley would later direct Heston again in another independent, Julius Caesar , released 8 months before Dark City.)

A chance meeting on the Paramount lot with director Cecil B. Demille brought Heston his big break, that of circus manager Brad Braden in 1952's The Greatest Show on Earth. The movie won 2 Academy Awards, including Best Picture.  In a 1998 interview with Robert Osbourne on Turner Classic Movie's Private Screenings, Heston recalled that serendipitous moment: he was driving off the Paramount lot in a convertible and raised his hand above the car to wave goodbye to Demille who was passing by with his secretary close behind. "'Who is that?' Demille asked. His secretary said 'That's Charlton Heston, Hal Wallis signed him, from Broadway, he's done one film, Dark City, you ran it 10 days ago, you didn't like it.' Demille said 'I liked the way he waved just now' and presto, I played the lead in my second picture which won the Academy Award."

Heston worked steadily after that, appearing in Ruby Gentry (1952),  1953's The President's Lady (where he played his first larger-than-life character, President Andrew Jackson), Lucy Gallant (with Jane Wyman) and The Private War of Major Benson (1955), an attempt at family comedy. He also appeared in some less memorable B-pictures including The Naked Jungle (1954) and Secret of the Incas (1954).

Demille again called upon Heston to star as Moses in The Ten Commandments in 1956, a remake of Demille's 1923 silent version. The Hollywood epic borders on camp as it's stars chew up the scenery.  But the public loved it anyway.

Later in the 1950's Heston continued his success, appearing in Orson Welle's Touch of Evil, (1958) with Janet Leigh,  in what many consider his best screen performance. His casting in 1959's Ben-Hur insured his title as King of the Hollywood Epic. The movie won 11 Academy Awards, a feat not equaled until 1997 when James Cameron's Titanic also took home 11 Oscars.

Heston continued into the 1960's appearing in big screen epics including El Cid (1961), 55 Days at Peking (1963), The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), Major Dundee (1965), as Michelangelo in 1965's The Agony and the Ecstasy, and Khartoum (1966).

In 1968 Heston took a turn towards sci-fi when he appeared in Planet of the Apes and (briefly) in its 1970 sequel Beneath the Planet of the Apes. Other memorable sci-fi roles include 1971's The Omega Man and 1973's Soylent Green.  During the 1970's Heston also took part in the era's disaster movie craze, starring in Skyjacked (1972),  Earthquake (1974) and Airport 1975 (1974).

He continued working steadily in the 1980's and 1990's, both on the big screen and on television (appearing in 49 episodes of The Colbys, a Dynasty spin-off on ABC). As a homage to his earlier work, he appeared, uncredited, in Tim Burton's 2001 remake Planet of the Apes. He even hosted NBC's Saturday Night Live in 1987 and 1993.

While early in his life Heston supported liberal candidates and causes, he became more conservative as he aged. His passionate support of the NRA (he was elected President in 1998) caused much controversy, especially when he was quoted as saying the only way his gun would ever be taken away "is from my cold, dead hands." His appearances on behalf of the NRA in communities recovering from cases of gun violence involving children (such as Columbine and Flint, Michigan) was documented in director Michael Moore's 2002 Bowling for Columbine, which featured a bewildered Heston walking out on Moore's interview. Click here to view the clip.

In August 2002, Heston made a dramatic public announcement about his medical condition stating...

"My physicians have recently told me I may have a neurological disorder whose symptoms are consistent with Alzheimer's disease. So ... I wanted to prepare a few words for you now, because when the time comes, I may not be able to. I've lived my whole life on the stage and screen before you. I've found purpose and meaning in your response. For an actor there's no greater loss than the loss of his audience. I can part the Red Sea, but I can't part with you, which is why I won't exclude you from this stage in my life."

After that Charlton Heston slipped from public view. His last screen appearance was in 2003's My Father, Rua Alguem 5555.

Charlton Heston died on April 5, 2008 from complications related to Alzheimer's Disease in Beverly Hills, California. He was 84.

 

Charlton Heston
at the Movies

 

Dark City Lobby Card #2

Dark City (1950) Lobby Card #2 (11X14)

 

Dark City One-Sheet

Dark City (1950) One-Sheet (27X41)

 

Greatest Show on Earth Lobby Card

The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) Lobby Card (11X14)

 

Ruby Gentry 1SH

Ruby Gentry (1952) One-Sheet (27X41)

 

Lucy Gallant Color Still

Lucy Gallant (1955) Color Still (8X10)

 

The Ten Commandments Color Still

The Ten Commandments (1956) Color Still (8X10)
[The One-Sheet can be seen on the Yvonne DeCarlo Memorial Page]

 

Touch of Evil Black and White Still

 Touch of Evil (1958)  Black & White Still (8X10)
[The Belgian Poster can be seen on the Janet Leigh Memorial Page.]

 

Ben-Hur Jumbo Lobby Card

Ben-Hur (1959) Jumbo Lobby Card (16X20)

 

Major Dundee One-Sheet

Major Dundee (1965) One-Sheet (27X41)

 

The War Lord One-Sheet

The War Lord (1965) One-Sheet (27X41)

 

Khartoum One-Sheet

 Khartoum (1966) One-Sheet (27X41)

 

Planet of the Apes Color Still

Planet of the Apes (1968) Color Still (8X10)

 

Will Penny One-Sheet

Will Penny (1968) One-Sheet (27X41)

 

The Omega Man Italian Folio

The Omega Man (1971) Italian Folio (39X55)

 

Soylent Green Six-Sheet

Soylent Green (1973) Six-Sheet (81X81)

 

Airport 1975 One-Sheet

Airport 1975 (1974) One-Sheet (27X41)

 

Earthquake Lobby Card #8

Earthquake (1974) Lobby Card #8 (11X14)

 

My Father, Rua Alguem 5555

My  Father [My Father, Rua Alguem 5555--US Title] (2003) Italian Locandina (13X28)

 

Click for More on Don Knotts

Click on the Ticket for IMDB's Complete Filmography for Charlton Heston

 

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