09 April 2008

RIP: Charlton Heston

Charlton Heston
4 Oct 1923 - 5 Apr 2008

ZUI this article from the Los Angeles Times:
Charlton Heston, the Oscar-winning actor who achieved stardom playing larger-than-life figures including Moses, Michelangelo and Andrew Jackson and went on to become an unapologetic gun advocate and darling of conservative causes, has died. He was 84.

Heston died Saturday at his Beverly Hills home, said family spokesman Bill Powers. In 2002, he had been diagnosed with symptoms similar to those of Alzheimer's disease.

With a booming baritone voice, the tall, ruggedly handsome actor delivered his signature role as the prophet Moses in Cecil B. DeMille's 1956 Biblical extravaganza "The Ten Commandments," raising a rod over his head as God miraculously parts the Red Sea.

Heston won the Academy Award for best actor in another religious blockbuster in 1959's "Ben-Hur," racing four white horses at top speed in one of the cinema's legendary action sequences: the 15-minute chariot race in which his character, a proud and noble Jew, competes against his childhood Roman friend.


John Charles Carter was born Oct. 4, 1923, in Evanston, Ill. His father, Russell Whitford Carter, moved the family to St. Helen, Mich., where Heston lived an almost idyllic boyhood, hunting and fishing.

He entered Northwestern University's School of Speech in 1941 on a scholarship from the drama club. While there, he fell in love with a young speech student named Lydia Clarke. They were married March 14, 1944, after he had enlisted in the Army Air Forces. Their union was one of the most durable in Hollywood, lasting 64 years in a town known for its highly publicized divorces, romances and remarriages.

After the war, he went on countless auditions as a stage actor in New York. His professional name was a combination of his mother's maiden name, Charlton, and the last name of his stepfather, Chester Heston.

He made his Broadway debut opposite legendary stage actress Katharine Cornell in Shakespeare's "Antony and Cleopatra" as Proculeius, Caesar's aide-de-camp.


In 1949, he attracted the attention of veteran film producer Hal Wallis. Without an audition, Wallis signed Heston to an independent contract for five pictures with the option he could accept other roles.

Heston's first picture for Wallis was the 1950 film noir "Dark City" opposite femme fatale Lizabeth Scott. He played a troubled World War II veteran, and the film did respectable business.

But it was his chance meeting on the Paramount Pictures lot with DeMille that propelled Heston to stardom. The role that the flamboyant director wanted him for was the rugged circus manager in the 1952 big-top spectacular, "The Greatest Show on Earth," which won the Academy Award for best picture.

Over the next three years, Heston made 11 movies, playing Buffalo Bill Cody in "Pony Express" and Andrew Jackson in "The President's Lady."

Then DeMille entered his life again, casting Heston as Moses in "The Ten Commandments."

ZUI also this article from the Washington Post:
Heston, who died Saturday night at 84, was a towering figure both in his politics and on screen, where his characters had the ear of God (Moses in "The Ten Commandments"), survived apocalyptic plagues ("The Omega Man") and endured one of Hollywood's most-grueling action sequences (the chariot race in "Ben-Hur," which earned him the best-actor Academy Award).

Better known in recent years as a fierce gun-rights advocate who headed the National Rifle Association, Heston played legendary leaders and ordinary men hurled into heroic struggles.


The actor died at his home in Beverly Hills with his wife, Lydia, at his side, family spokesman Bill Powers said. He declined to comment on the cause of death or provide further details Sunday.

One of the biggest box-office draws of the 1950s, '60s and '70s, Heston's work dwindled largely to small parts and narration and other voice roles from the 1980s on, including an uncredited cameo as an ape in Tim Burton's 2001 remake of "Planet of the Apes."

Shirley Jones, who co-starred with Heston in one of his last leading roles in the 1999 drama "Gideon," said his talent as an actor sometimes is forgotten because of the epic characters he played.

"To me, he was the consummate leading man. He was tall, he was handsome, he was sensitive, he was gruff when he had to be. He was a great cowboy, he was perfect for those historical roles," Jones said. "He could do everything, and there aren't many actors around today who could."

In 2002, near the end of his five years as president of the NRA, Heston disclosed he had symptoms consistent with Alzheimer's disease.


Heston and his wife had a daughter, Holly Ann, and a son, Fraser Clarke, who played the infant Moses in "The Ten Commandments."

In the 1990s, Heston's son directed his father in several TV and big-screen films, including "Treasure Island" and "Alaska."

The Hestons celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in 1994 at a party with Hollywood and political friends. They had been married 64 years when he died.

Heston can be found here at IMDb.

He was far from my favourite actor*, but I have to admit he was great. That I recall, I've seen him in Planet of the Apes, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, The Omega Man, Earthquake, Midway and Gray Lady Down; the first and third of those are my favourites from that list. (No, I haven't seen either Ben-Hur** or The Ten Commandments.)

* Just for the record, my favourite living actors (in order of birth) are James Garner, Clint Eastwood, Sean Connery, Tommy Lee Jones and Brendan Fraser; my favourite dead actors (in the same order) are Groucho Marx, John Wayne and Dean Martin.

** Though I did read the book when I was a kid.

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