Charlton Heston

Charlton Heston books and biography

Charlton Heston

Charlton Heston on the 1963 Civil Rights March in Washington, D.C
Born 4 October 1923
St. Helen, Michigan

Charlton Heston (born John Charles Carter on October 4, 1923) is an Academy Award-winning American film actor noted for heroic roles and his long involvement in political issues.



Early career

Heston was born John Charles Carter in St. Helen, Michigan to Lila Charlton and Russell Whitford Carter. When he was ten, his parents divorced. Shortly thereafter, his mother married Chester Heston. The new family moved to well-off Wilmette, Illinois, a northern suburb of Chicago. Heston (his new surname) attended New Trier High School.

He enrolled in the school's drama program, where he performed with such outstanding results that he earned a drama scholarship to Northwestern University from the Winnetka Community Theatre in which he was also active. While still in high school, he played in the silent 16 mm amateur film adaptation of Peer Gynt made by David Bradley. Several years later the same team produced Julius Caesar, in which Heston played Mark Antony.

Charlton Heston as Marc Antony in Julius Caesar, 1950
Charlton Heston as Marc Antony in Julius Caesar, 1950
Production shot from Julius Caesar, 1950
Production shot from Julius Caesar, 1950

In 1944, Heston left college and enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps. He served for two years as a B-25 radio operator/gunner stationed in the Alaskan Aleutian Islands with the Eleventh Air Force, rising to the rank of Staff Sergeant.

While in the service, he married fellow Northwestern student Lydia Marie Clarke in 1944. After the war, the two lived in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood, where they worked as models. Seeking a way to make it in theater, they decided in 1947 to manage a playhouse in Asheville, North Carolina. In 1948, they went back to New York where Heston was offered a supporting role in the Broadway play Antony and Cleopatra, starring the legendary Katherine Cornell, for which he earned acclaim. He also had success in television, playing a number of roles in CBS's Studio One, one of the most popular anthology dramas of the 1950s.

Film career

In 1950, he earned recognition for his appearance in his first professional movie, Dark City. His breakthrough came in 1952 with his role of a circus manager in The Greatest Show on Earth. But the muscular, 6 ft 3 in, square jawed Heston became an icon by portraying Moses in The Ten Commandments, a part he was chosen for reportedly because director Cecil B. DeMille thought that he bore an uncanny resemblance to the statue of Moses by Michelangelo. He has played leading roles in a number of fictional and historical epics—such as Ben-Hur, El Cid, 55 Days at Peking and Khartoum—during his long career. He once quipped, "They seem to think I have a Medieval face!". He won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his 1959 performance in the title role of Ben-Hur, one of 11 earned by that film.

Heston also starred in a number of science fiction films and disaster films between 1968 and 1974, some of which, like Planet of the Apes, The Omega Man, Soylent Green, and Earthquake, were hugely successful at the time of their release and have since become cult classics.

Charlton Heston as Major Dundee
Charlton Heston as Major Dundee

Heston fought at times for his artistic choices. In 1958, he maneuvered Universal International into allowing Orson Welles to direct him in Touch of Evil, and in 1965 he fought the studio in support of Sam Peckinpah, when an attempt was made to interfere with his direction of Major Dundee, despite the fact that Peckinpah was so temperamental that at one point the normally even-keeled Heston found himself threatening the diminutive director with his cavalry sabre when he felt that Peckinpah was mistreating his cast. Heston was also president of the Screen Actors Guild from 1966 to 1971.

In 1971 he made his directorial debut with Antony and Cleopatra, an adaptation of the William Shakespeare play that he had performed during his earlier theater career.

Starting with 1973's The Three Musketeers, Heston began playing an increasing number of supporting roles and cameos. Despite this, his immense popularity has never died, and he has seen a steady stream of film and television roles ever since. He starred in the prime-time soap, The Colbys from 1985 to 1987, his only stint on series television. Heston has an instantly recognizable voice, and was often heard as a narrator. Heston had cameos in the films Tombstone and True Lies. With his son Fraser, he starred in and produced several made for cable movies, including remakes of "Treasure Island" and "A Man For All Seasons". Heston received great reviews for his 1992 series on the A&E cable network, "Charlton Heston Presents The Bible", which has achieved great success on video and DVD. In 1993, he appeared in a cameo role in Wayne's World 2, in a scene wherein main character Wayne Campbell (Mike Myers) requests that a small role be filled by a better actor than the performer currently filling it, and played a small part as a rancher in the Western Tombstone (1993). That same year, he hosted Saturday Night Live.

In 2001, Heston made a cameo appearance in Tim Burton's remake of Planet of the Apes. In the film, he plays an elderly, dying ape who introduces arms to his species by giving a pistol to his son (another ape), perhaps as a nod to his then-current role in the National Rifle Association.

Off screen

Heston was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1998, and it went into remission the next year following a course of radiation treatment. In August 2002, Heston publicly announced that he was diagnosed as suffering from symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.[1] In July 2003, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award, from President George W. Bush at the White House. In March 2005, various newspapers reported that family and friends of Heston were apparently shocked by the rapid progression of his illness, and that he is sometimes unable to get out of bed. In August 2005, a rumor circulated that Heston had been hospitalized with pneumonia at a Los Angeles hospital, but this was never confirmed by the family. In April 2006, various news sources reported that Heston's illness is at an advanced stage and his family are worried he may not survive the year.

Political beliefs

In his earlier years, Heston was a Democrat, campaigning for Presidential candidates Adlai Stevenson in 1956 and John F. Kennedy in 1960. A civil rights activist, he accompanied Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights march held in Washington, D.C. in 1963. In 1968, following the assassination of Senator Robert F. Kennedy, Heston appeared on The Joey Bishop Show and, along with fellow actors Gregory Peck, Kirk Douglas and James Stewart, called for gun controls to be introduced by Congress. In 1969 Heston was asked by some Democrats to run for the California State Senate, a move that would have likely had bipartisan support in the state.[citation needed] He declined because he wanted to continue acting.

He was also an opponent of McCarthyism and racial segregation, which he saw as only helping the cause of Communism worldwide. He was opposed to the Vietnam War and considered Richard Nixon a disaster for America.

In the 1980s, however, Heston began to support more conservative and libertarian positions on such issues as affirmative action and gun rights. He has campaigned for Republican candidates and Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.

Heston giving his well-known and much parodied speech, when responding to those in favor of gun control, he proclaimed they would have to pry it
Heston giving his well-known and much parodied speech, when responding to those in favor of gun control, he proclaimed they would have to pry it "from my cold, dead hands".

He is an honorary life member of the National Rifle Association (NRA), and was its president and spokesman from 1998 until his resignation in 2003. As NRA president he is perhaps best known, while raising an antique Sharps Rifle over his head at the 2000 NRA convention, for saying that presidential candidate Al Gore would take away his Second Amendment rights "from my cold, dead hands". (In announcing his resignation in 2003, he would again raise a rifle over his head, this time repeating only the famous five words of his 2000 speech.)

Heston has been harshly criticized by advocates of gun control. Michael Moore interviewed Heston in his home in the 2002 documentary film Bowling for Columbine asking questions of him regarding an NRA meeting being held in Denver, Colorado in April 1999, shortly after the Columbine high school massacre in nearby Littleton and the very publicized shooting and death of 6-year-old Kayla Rolland in her first grade classroom near Flint, Michigan, Moore's home town. Showing Heston walking away and ignoring Moore's pleas, this scene in the movie is famous for Michael Moore presenting it in a way that implies that Charlton Heston, and indeed, the NRA are racist. As noted in the documentary Michael Moore Hates America, Michael Moore in Bowling for Columbine constructed a speech that Heston never, in fact, gave at the Denver conference. He did so by first taking highlights of Heston's speech out of context, meaning that he laced brief highlights of the speech together in such a way that Heston was made to look callous. This effect was aided by his second technique of overlaying audio highlights of other speeches while showing video highlights of the audience at the Denver conference.

Many of the festivities and activities of the convention in Denver were cancelled; an annual meeting was still held in compliance with NRA bylaws, as well as the applicable federal and New York state laws for a corporation such as the NRA. [2] Actor George Clooney was quoted as saying that Heston deserved Alzheimer's and all negative criticism for his involvement with the NRA [3]; Heston responded by saying that Clooney lacked "class," and said he felt sorry for Clooney, as Clooney had as much of a chance of developing Alzheimer's as anyone else. [4]

In 1996 Charlton Heston attended the Conservative Political Action Conference, an annual gathering of conservative movement organizations. There he agreed to pose for a group photo that included Gordon Lee Baumm, the founder of the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC) and former White Citizens Council organzer. Virginia's conservative Republican Senator George Allen as also appears in the photo which was published in the Summer 1996 issue of the CCC's newsletter, the Citizens Informer.

According to his autobiography In the Arena, Heston also recognised the right of freedom of speech exercised by others, a right accepted by nearly all Americans. In an address to students at Harvard Law School entitled Winning the Cultural War, Heston expressed his disdain for political correctness and its chilling effect on free speech, stating "If Americans believed in political correctness, we'd still be King George's boys - subjects bound to the British crown." [5]

Heston is also an opponent of abortion and gave the introduction to a pro-life documentary by Bernard Nathanson called "Eclipse of Reason" which focuses on late-term abortions. Heston also served on the Advisory Board of Accuracy in Media (AIM), a conservative media watchdog group founded by the late Reed Irvine.

Agamemnon Films

Charlton Heston is the chairman and co-founder of Agamemnon Films.


  • In Greece, his name is written as "Charlton Easton" because "Heston" has scatological connotations in Greek (χέσ'τον = "shit him").
  • He was unable to use his birth name, John Carter, as an actor because it bore too close a resemblance to the name of the hero in Edgar Rice Burroughs' first novel A Princess of Mars, which was in development at the time although the production fell through.
  • Heston's portrayal of Buffalo Bill in Pony Express, a western from early in his career, inspired the Bills, a Congolese youth cult who idolized Western movies.
  • He was reported to have been considered to play a Jedi Master in the Star Wars prequel films.
  • Heston's most frequently played roles on stage include the title role in Macbeth, Sir Thomas More in A Man For All Seasons, and Marc Antony in both Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra. He also cited Mister Ed as one of his favorite roles, and tried unsuccessfully to revive the show in the early '90s.
  • He accepted the lead role in Ben-Hur after Burt Lancaster, another similarly tall, muscular, square jawed, blonde, blue eyed actor, turned it down. Lancaster, a self-described atheist, wanted nothing to do with the film because he considered it a "piece of religious crap". Many years later, Lancaster charged that if Heston became typecast in heroic roles it was his own fault, because "he accepted the limitation". However, Lancaster later took on the role of Moses in a TV version of Moses' life, after Heston had played the part in the 1956 film version.
  • Heston's height as a young man was 6'3", although in later years he was somewhat shorter at 6'1".
  • Of all his films, Heston frequently cited Will Penny as his personal favorite.
  • He was a close friend of Patrick O'Brian, and O'Brian imagined Jack Aubrey, the protagonist of his Aubrey-Maturin series, being played by Heston. [6]
  • Spotswoode's voice in the film "Team America: World Police" is a mock of Heston.
  • The Switchfoot song, Might Have Ben Hur is dedicated to Charlton Heston.


Heston has written several books, including autobiographies and religious books:

  • The Actor's Life (ISBN 0-671-83016-3)
  • In the Arena: An Autobiography (ISBN 1-57297-267-X)
  • Beijing Diary (ISBN 0-671-68706-9)
  • To Be a Man: Letters to My Grandson (ISBN 0-7432-1311-4)
  • Charlton Heston Presents the Bible (ISBN 1-57719-270-2)
  • Charlton Heston's Hollywood: 50 Years in American Film with Jean-Pierre Isbouts (ISBN 1-57719-357-1)


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Dark City (1950) with Lizabeth Scott – Heston's first movie
Dark City (1950) with Lizabeth Scott – Heston's first movie
The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) - Heston's first Blockbuster
The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) - Heston's first Blockbuster
As Judah Ben-Hur with Stephen Boyd as Messala in Ben-Hur (1959)
As Judah Ben-Hur with Stephen Boyd as Messala in Ben-Hur (1959)
Main title caption from The Colbys
Main title caption from The Colbys
  • Bowling for Columbine (2002)
  • Papa Rua Alguem 5555 (2002)
  • The Order (2001)
  • Town & Country (2001)
  • Planet of the Apes (2001)
  • Any Given Sunday (1999)
  • Gideon (1999)
  • Armageddon (1998)
  • Hercules (1997) (special appearance)
  • Hamlet (1996)
  • Alaska (1996)
  • In the Mouth of Madness (1995)
  • True Lies (1994)
  • Tombstone (1993)
  • Wayne's World 2 (1993)
  • Symphony for the Spire (1992)
  • Crash Landing: The Rescue of Flight 232 (1991)
  • Solar Crisis (1990)
  • The Little Kidnappers (1990) (TV)
  • Call from Space (1989) (voice)
  • Treasure Island (1989)
  • A Man for All Seasons (1988)
  • Christmas Night with the Two Ronnies (1987) (TV)
  • Proud 1987) (TV)
  • The Colbys (1985) TV Series (1985-1987) (TV)
  • Nairobi Affair (1984) (TV)
  • Chiefs (1983) (mini) TV Series
  • Mother Lode (1982)
  • The Awakening (1980)
  • The Mountain Men (1980)
  • Gray Lady Down (1978)
  • Crossed Swords (1978)
  • Midway (1976)
  • Two Minute Warning (1976)
  • The Last Hard Men (1976)
  • The Four Musketeers (1974)
  • Earthquake (1974)
  • Airport 1975 (1974)
  • The Three Musketeers (1973)
  • Soylent Green (1973)
  • Antony and Cleopatra (1973)
  • Call of the Wild (1972)
  • Skyjacked (1972)
  • The London Bridge Special (1972)
  • The Omega Man (1971)
  • Julius Caesar (1970)
  • The Hawaiians (1970)
  • Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)
  • Number One (1969)
  • Will Penny (1968)
  • Planet of the Apes (1968)
  • Counterpoint (1968)
  • Maugli (1967)
  • Khartoum (1966)
  • The War Lord (1965)
  • The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965)
  • Major Dundee (1965)
  • The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965)
  • 55 Days at Peking (1963)
  • Diamond Head (1963)
  • The Pigeon That Took Rome (1962)
  • El Cid (1961)
  • Ben-Hur (1959)
  • The Wreck of the Mary Deare (1959)
  • The Buccaneer (1958)
  • The Big Country (1958)
  • Touch of Evil (1958)
  • Three Violent People (1957)
  • The Ten Commandments (1956)
  • Lucy Gallant (1955)
  • The Private War of Major Benson (1955)
  • The Far Horizons (1955)
  • The Secret of the Incas (1954)
  • The Naked Jungle (1954)
  • Bad for Each Other (1953)
  • Arrowhead (1953)
  • Pony Express (1953)
  • The President's Lady (1953)
  • Ruby Gentry (1952)
  • The Savage (1952)
  • The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
  • Dark City (1950)
  • Peer Gynt (1941)
Preceded by:
David Niven
for Separate Tables
Academy Award for Best Actor
for Ben-Hur
Succeeded by:
Burt Lancaster
for Elmer Gantry
Preceded by:
Sammy Davis, Jr., Helen Hayes, Alan King, and Jack Lemmon
44th Academy Awards
"Oscars" host
45th Academy Awards (with Carol Burnett, Michael Caine, and Rock Hudson)
Succeeded by:
John Huston, David Niven, Burt Reynolds, and Diana Ross
46th Academy Awards

This article might use material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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