Sunday, April 6, 2008

Charlton Heston


I have mixed feelings about Heston, who was not the greatest actor of his generation, or may not have been even one of the greats. He created a film persona, as did so many of the stars of his time, and he continued to play a variation of that persona throughout his career. I confess that the only film of his which I thoroughly enjoyed was the Sci-Fi thriller Planet of the Apes, and I'm sure I enjoyed that film more for the performances of Kim Hunter, Roddy McDowell, and Maurice Evens than that of Heston.

In his later years, Heston became politically active on a number of issues, upon most of which I disagreed. He famously held up a rifle, as president of the National Rifle Association, claiming it would not be removed until his hand was cold and dead, or something to that effect. Remarks like that do nothing to aid rational discussion of the Gun Laws and Liberties, and are simply incendiary (he made them during a horrible period of gun violence in schools and other public places).

Heston, a former president of SAG, clashed with later, more liberal presidents such as Ed Asner, and he famously resigned from Actors Equity over the Miss Saigon controversy. Broadway producers wished to import their London star of the show, Jonathan Pryce, to play a role described as a "Eurasion," causing the American Asian acting community to voice objections. Heston misconstrued the whole affair and claimed that refusing to allow a white man to play an Asian was in fact racist. I disagreed with Heston on this point and others, but it can't be denied that he had a compassion for other people (here he is helping out at a food bank with his wife and grandson).

I met Heston once, backstage after a performance of The Hostage in which I appeared in Hollywood. His manservant, if that's what you call a valet or butler these days, was an aspiring actor and was appearing in the show as a Russian sailor (the gent was actually Czech, I think). Anyway, Heston generously attended one of our performances and dropped backstage to shake all our hands. This was many years before he became so politically active, and before he started to exhibit signs of Alzheimer's.

I could never get through any of his Biblical epics, and had trouble sitting through his later performance as Sir Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons, a production he bankrolled himself. I suppose I will always remember him in connection with that final scene of Planet of the Apes, which, back in the day, was a real stunner.

Rest in peace, Bright Eyes.