Monday, April 07, 2008

Charlton Heston: Larger Than Life

Some important news from a press release received today:

Turner Classic Movies (TCM) will honor the life and career of legendary actor Charlton Heston, who died Sunday at the age of 84. This Friday, April 11, the network will present a 15-hour marathon of memorable Heston performances, including his Oscar®-winning role in Ben-Hur (1959). Also featured will be two opportunities to watch an in-depth conversation between Heston and TCM host Robert Osborne in the TCM original special Private Screenings: Charlton Heston.

“Charlton Heston was a towering man both in person and on screen,” said Osborne. “He was also one of the nicest, most courteous gentlemen I ever met. He will forever stand tall among those rare few we know as genuine Movie Stars.”

The following is a complete schedule of TCM’s April 11 tribute to Charlton Heston:

2:30 p.m. Private Screenings: Charlton Heston (hour-long career interview)
3:30 p.m. THE BUCCANEER (1958) – co-starring Yul Brynner and Claire Bloom.
5:30 p.m. THE HAWAIIANS (1970) – co-starring Geraldine Chaplin and John Philip Law.
8 p.m. Private Screenings: Charlton Heston (hour-long career interview)
9 p.m. BEN-HUR (1959) – co-starring Jack Hawkins and Stephen Boyd.
1 a.m. KHARTOUM (1966) – co-starring Lawrence Olivier and Richard Johnson.
3:30 a.m. MAJOR DUNDEE (1965, pictured) – co-starring Richard Harris, Jim Hutton and James Coburn.
I had the good fortune to meet Mr. Heston briefly back in 1995, when he came to a northern Kentucky bookstore to sign copies of his then-new autobiography IN THE ARENA. Some of his obits are claiming he was 6' 2," but I'm 6' 2" and I remember being surprised by how much smaller in stature he was than I expected; nevertheless, he had the aura of a colossus. He was my mother's favorite actor -- she called him "Charleston Heston" -- and Donna and I took her to the bookstore to meet him. Everyone on queue was cautioned to have their book open to the title page for signing, not to ask for other items to be signed (however, an entire table of 8x10 photos of Heston on various film sets, taken by his wife Lydia, were available to be ordered and could be sent to you signed and inscribed), and not to engage him in too much talk, so that everyone could be accomodated.
When we reached his signing table, my mother pushed her book across the table to be signed... and, when he finished signing, she humbly asked, "Could I just touch you?" With a warm chuckle, he said "Certainly, madam!", put down his pen, and took both her hands in his. For my part, I asked him if there was going to be a second volume of his journals, to follow the first such collection called AN ACTOR'S LIFE: JOURNALS 1956-1976, which I had very much enjoyed. To this, he replied confidently, "Yes," saying that IN THE ARENA was not intended to take the place of that follow-up volume. In parting, I thanked him for helping Orson Welles to find work and moved on, but he called after me, "I'm very proud of that." "Rightly so," I called back.

I still have my copy of IN THE ARENA -- signed with a flourish that looks downright presidential. Like many, I was opposed to most of Mr. Heston's politics (it shouldn't be overlooked that he was an important civil rights crusader in the 1950s and '60s), but I was greatly disappointed by the way he was treated over the years by people, like Michael Moore, who share views closer to my own. I liked him -- as an actor, as an activist (for speaking out on behalf of what he believed in), for the way he used his clout to get TOUCH OF EVIL made and MAJOR DUNDEE finished; he was also a very good writer. I also liked him for the way he handled my mother.
Thirteen years after that meeting, the second volume of AN ACTOR'S LIFE still hasn't appeared, but perhaps it will now.
Postscript: For some of the best eulogistic writing about Charlton Heston that I've found online, see Sam Umland's essay on his 60x50 blog. He makes a strong case for Heston as the actor who not only best exemplified the Epic but also the Apocalypse.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous11:24 PM

    Charlton Heston was a great friend although we have never met except through the National Rifle Association.
    But in my opinion he will always be a great friend and will be a very great man, greater than any person I know of today and who have gone on before.


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