Charlton Heston, actor

Fiona came into the room early in the morning and told me that some famous Hollywood person had died.

Then she came into the room and told me that Charlton Heston had died and I realised the earlier incident was a dream. I’ve never had deja vu like that before. Weird.

Then, as Edinburgh was briefly swamped by snowflakes the size of nachos, I began to think I must commemorate the great Chuck’s passing.

My first, dark thought, was that Heston’s Altzheimer’s had in some way, tragic though it was, aided his reputation. At least with me — I no longer thought of him as a wingnut and a gun-nut, but as a victim of an illness. Reagan’s senility never affected me that way. In some way I always wanted to like Heston. I know his illness had nothing to do with his arch-Republican stance, which preceded it by decades, but in some unreasonable way the illness erased my image of Heston as spokesman for opinions I loathe. It helps that, despite his right-wing views he was a supporter of the civil rights movement and an eager collaborator with the liberal Orson Welles and the politically somewhat complex Peckinpah.

I thought of my favourite Heston performance, in Wyler’s THE BIG COUNTRY. Heston can really play arrogance and aggression. In the same director’s BEN-HUR he’s stuck with trying to play nobility, which can’t be acted at all, only embodied by the right actor in the right role. The impossible task turns Chuck in on himself and, always prone to self-consciousness, he becomes stiff and monumental (I still can’t picture anybody else in the role though).

Wyler pulled one of his nasty tricks in a scene where Heston struggles with Carroll Baker. Heston traps both her tiny wrists in one of his great bone-sculpture hands and she tries to pull away. WW privately instructed her to break free of Heston’s grasp, while taking Heston aside and telling him to on no account allow Baker to get away. After a couple of takes, her wrists were red-raw, and there’s a real tremor in Heston’s voice as he struggle with her — he’s not a happy actor, but it works for the character. It’s a rare moment of seeing a human being instead of an icon. It makes me like Heston that playing this scene upset him so much — but he also respected Wyler for getting the effect.

Oh, and I love his last scene in Lester’s THE FOUR MUSKETEERS, where he dismisses Michael York’s D’Artagnan with a little wave of his hand. One doesn’t normally think of Chuck as a WITTY actor, but he respected Richard Lester and maybe the gesture was scripted or suggested. Anyhow, he does it beautifully.

Go away, you small boys

A flick of the wrist.

I want to be alone.

“Charlton Heston” by Stump, from the album A Fierce Pancake.

The pyramids were in construction,
The pharoah glowed with satisfaction,
But then to his immense surprise,
His empire fell before his eyes.
A hundred thousand busy slaves,
Downed their tools and stood and stared.

The Red Sea walls stood like a canyon,
The pharoah pulled up in his wagon,
And saw within those walls of glass,
A herd of whales go racing past.
A hundred thousand fishy tales,
Crossed his mind about the day.

Then Charlton Heston put his vest on.

The broken tablets had been mended,
The golden calf had been up-ended,
And old folk sitting round the fire,
Would talk of voices from the sky;
Babies sailing down the Nile;
The recipe for locust pie;
A hundred thousand frogs per mile —
We’d always ask them to describe,

How Charlton Heston put his vest on.

Thou shalt not kill; thou shalt not steal;
Shalt not commit adultery.
Boils the size of fifty pee,
Lights! Camel! Action!

Bushes that refuse to burn.
See these sandals hardly worn.
Raining blood, raining bread,
The night we painted Egypt red.
Thou shalt not covet; shalt not lie;
Thou shalt not bonk your neighbour’s wife.
The recipe for egg fried lice;
A hundred ways to kill a fly;
Love your daddy, love your mummy;
Put your bread in milk and honey.
Loved his fish, he did, he did,
Never beat the wife and kids.
Slouch though desert, slouch through sand,
Until we reach the promised land.
Thou shalt not kill; thou shalt not steal;
Shalt not commit adultery.
Boils the size of fifty pee.
Lights! Camel! Action!

12 Responses to “Charlton Heston, actor”

  1. I was just admiring it! I urge everyone to head over there.

  2. ayeball Says:

    Finally we can prise the gun from his cold, dead hands.

  3. Watch he doesn’t sit up and say “Get your filthy hands off me you damn dirty ape!”

  4. ayeball Says:

    Some quotes…

    “For an actor, there is no greater loss than the loss of his audience,”


    “I’ve played three presidents, three saints and two geniuses – and that’s probably enough for any man”


  5. Ahem and amen to that.

    I still have a sneaking affection for Chuck though — sometimes he was a very good actor and sometimes he made it not matter that he wasn’t.

  6. Christine Says:

    As a late babyboomer, I grew up loving to watching Heston as a child in Biblical epics (seeing him in some of the skimpy outfits helped me decide I was heterosexual!!), as a cool anti-hero in the late ’60s and ’70s (okay, Chuck was still cool, even though I was growing out of Biblical epics) and as a right-wing Fundamentalist icon during an embarrassing early adulthood period of my life when I subscribed to such nonsense. By the time I finally grew up and to the left, Chuck was becoming ill and poignantly said goodbye.

    My dad is suffering with the same affliction now. My heart goes out to Heston’s family.

    His son Fraser’s version of “Treasure Island” with Heston as Long John SIlver and the fantastic Christian Bale as Jim Hawkins is my favorite adaption of that book. It is not available on dvd (yet).

    Just recently saw “The Wrong Man” with Orson Welles, another of my favorites. Yeah, Chuck was cool. Rest in peace.

  7. Christine Says:

    “Touch of Evil”…not “The Wrong Man”!! Sorry

  8. Another star with altzheimers here:

    It’s a terrible illness. Heston dealt with it with great dignity — maybe he should have retired from public life a little earlier, but as soon as he realised he could no longer function as a spokesman, he withdrew.

    I like James Cameron’s reasoning (!) for hiring Heston in True Lies: “I need someone who can convincingly intimidate Arnie.”

  9. great man without contest

  10. Great star… I’m unsure if he was a great man, but then I didn’t know him personally.

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