Sunday, April 06, 2008

Charlton Heston, RIP

I first became aware of Charlton Heston when I was probably about 10 or 12, and the CBS Friday late movie would frequently be something like Soylent Green, The Omega Man, or Planet of the Apes. I liked his science fiction work in the late 60s and early 70s, and became something of a fan.

During a brief flirtation with high school theatre, I even had the privilege of attending a workshop with his wizened acting teacher, held at Bloomsburg State College (now Bloomsburg University). My recollection is fairly fuzzy, but I do remember the impression that this credential was pretty impressive among the teachers accompanying our group.

It wasn't until somewhat later that I learned that he had played Moses in Cecil B. DeMille's remake of his silent classic, The Ten Commandments, and much later that I finally saw Ben Hur. What a great actor.

In the early Nineties, I had occasion to meet the elderly actor from Hollywood's late Golden Age, when he came to Washington to aid in the Right to Work cause at a press conference near the Supreme Court. I met him briefly, and was impressed by his accessibility and friendly touch. He was the first "celebrity" I had ever met, and I found that I liked him. I remember telling him that I enjoyed his work, and he seemed pleased to hear it.

A few years later --- and before he became President of the National Rifle Association --- he lent his name to an award given by the National Right to Work Foundation to one of my clients, Terry Orr, who I had the privilege to represent in his successful effort to vindicate his Right to Work when the NFL Players' Association was attempting to force him and a number of his teammates on the Washington Redskins to pay union dues.

Once again, I was impressed. Since I was Terry's attorney, I got to speak with him at a little more length. I thanked him for his efforts on behalf of the Right to Work movement, mentioning that I had just returned from Alaska, where I had another case. As I recall, we spent the rest of our time together commiserating about jet lag. I suspect he was more acquainted with it than I.

I confess: I had become a fan. I bought three of the books he subsequently authored (two about his career; one devoted to lessons he wished to impart to his young grandson), and learned much about him. A devoted family man, Heston was clearly a Renaissance Man in many, many ways. Yet he was also a product of America's Heartland, hailing from Michigan, and never lost touch with his roots. Perhaps that explains his popularity among the movie-going public, why so many --- during the Clinton Interregnum --- put bumper stickers on their cars declaring "Charlton Heston is MY President."

I saw more of his older movies, and was impressed by his range and depth as an actor. I particularly remember one passage about his brief role in True Lies, Arnold Schwarzenneger's spy picture: he had apparently been picked for the role as one of the few men who could credibly intimidate Ah-nold, playing his grizzled boss.

Yeah, that worked, and worked well.

In one of his last roles, Heston recreated the role that won Paul Scofield an Oscar: that of Sir Thomas More, in a cable remake of A Man for All Seasons. Yet another role which Heston, among few, could credibly play.

So when I read last week that he was in the last stages of Alzheimer's disease, I was deeply saddened that a great voice, a sharp mind, was in decline. And when I turned on the television this morning, and learned that he had passed away, I was deeply saddened.

Of course, the deepest sadness is for his beloved wife of more than sixty years, and his children and grandchildren. Hopefully they can take some solace in the fact that their mourning is shared by legions of fans of all ages, and among those whose life he touched in so many positive ways.


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