A Tribute to Charlton Heston
In many ways, Charlton Heston was an enigma — a Shakespearean actor who later became known for playing what were often one-dimensional characters in adventure films and potboilers; a one-time liberal who supported Martin Luther King but in his later years was most identified with the Republican Party and the conservative National Rifle Association. A rugged heroic type who is probably best remembered for an ability to bring to life some of history’s greatest figures, including Michaelangelo, Moses, El Cid, and John the Baptist, he lost his battle with Alzheimer’s disease on April 5, 2008 at the age of 84.
He was born John Charlton Carter, on October 4, 1924, in Evanston, Illinois, but grew up in northern Michigan. His parents divorced in the early 30s, and when his mother remarried, he took his stepfather’s last name, Heston. After his family moved to Chicago, Charlton became involved in theatre in high school, and earned a scholarship to Northwestern in 1942, where he starred in several plays. He met Lydia Marie Clarke, who was also a drama student there, and married her on March 17, 1944. He served three years in the Army in the 40s, then returned to acting after WWII.
Heston began his career in television, playing leads in a number of serious productions, including Jane Eyre, which resulted in a movie contract. He made his major film debut in Dark City in 1950, one of over 100 theatrical films and TV movies in which he has appeared.
He held his own with Jimmy Stewart in The Greatest Show on Earth (1952), and co-starred with Jennifer Jones in Ruby Gentry (1952) and Susan Hayward in The President?s Lady (1953). The big break came with his signature role of Moses in Cecil B. DeMilles sound remake of The Ten Commandments (1956). Two years later he appeared with Orson Welles in Welles’ critically-praised box-office flop Touch of Evil.
In 1959, Heston won a Best Actor Oscar for his title role in the Oscar-showered Ben-Hur. Among his best films following Ben-Hur: he co-starred with Sophia Loren in El Cid (1961), starred in 55 Days at Peking (1963), with David Niven and Ava Gardner, The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), with Max von Sydow, Angela Lansbury, and Martin Landau, and The Three Musketeers (1973), with Oliver Reed, Richard Chamberlain, and Michael York. He worked extensively in the 1980s and 90s, and into the new century, often on TV, but with somewhat less critical acclaim. His three directorial efforts did not meet with great success. Heston is a favorite of science fiction fans for his roles in imaginative dramas such asPlanet of the Apes (1968), Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970), The Omega Man (1971), and Soylent Green (1973).
Aside from his film appearances, Heston was a civil rights activist in the 1960s, marching beside Martin Luther King, served as president of the Screen Actors Guild from 1966-1971, sat on the National Council of the Arts during those same years, was elected president of the National Rifle Association (NRA) in 1998, and is the author of several autobiographical books, including The Actor?s Life, In the Arena, and To Be A Man. He is still married to his first wife, and they have two children, Fraser Clarke and Holly Ann.
He won a battle with prostate cancer, but in August of 2002 announced that he had “symptoms consistent with the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease.” He chose not to hide this, in a desire, as he put it, to remain in touch with his audience. Regardless of how one may feel about his political stands, it is undeniable that he was a person with great influence and respect in Hollywood, and an actor with great presence, which often overcame any deficiencies in acting technique.
Part I: Introduction
Part III: Movie Reviews & Where to Find His Movies
Part IV: Photos, Art, and Posters