Sunday, April 06, 2008

Moses/Ben-Hur/Will Penny Rides His Chariot/Aircraft Carrier/Horse Into the Sunset

I awoke this morning to the news that another Hollywood icon is gone. Charlton Heston was one of those actors who comes along once every few generations, and I seriously doubt we'll see another like him (or Gregory Peck or Spencer Tracy or Humphrey Bogart or Cary Grant, and on and on and on) for a long time to come.

I was privileged during my life to have the opportunity to see Heston twice in person. The first time was in early 1994, when he was stumping through Virginia with George Allen during the latter's run for governor; A. found out that there would be an event not far from her college in Roanoke, Virginia, and so we decided at the last minute to attend. If I remember correctly, it was being held in a small VFW-type hall, and the room was packed with some supporters of Allen and several other candidates for the state legislature -- but mostly Heston fans. I snapped a few pictures of him while he was speaking, and then turned when he was done and tried to beat him out of the building so that I could get a few more pictures. His group was in quite a hurry, however, and when I turned to start snapping he was standing right in front of me -- and I froze, he got in his car, and I missed the opportunity. Truthfully, I expected no less; the man towered over me in more ways than one, and it was easy to freeze up.

The second and last time I saw him was in Mobile, Alabama, in 2002, when he appeared at an event for several candidates for state and federal office (including my former boss, who was making his first -- and successful -- run for Congress). By that point, Heston had already announced that he was suffering from Alzheimer's-type symptoms, and so folks knew he wouldn't be in the best of health. When he arrived at the hotel, though, I was stunned; gone was the man who had towered over me just eight years earlier, and in his place was a man worn down by age and the early stages of the disease who walked with a stoop and a very noticeable shuffle. I got in line to have my picture made with him, and we exchanged a few brief words ("Mr. Heston, it's an honor to meet you."; "It's good to meet you."). At the end of the photo session, I watched as he walked to the ballroom where he delivered very, very brief remarks before leaving to head to another stop in Alabama. The photo was lost; the set of negatives containing my photo and the photos of several others were misplaced, and while I was disappointed at the time I later saw the photos of friends taken with him, and his poor health was so evident that I was glad that I didn't have my photo -- preferring instead to remember him as the vigorous man of nearly a decade earlier.

As far as his involvement with the NRA, I really don't have much of an opinion; I have my own feeling about guns and gun restrictions, and I leave it at that -- no plans to get involved either for or against the NRA. However, I will say that I was outraged when watching the excerpt from "Bowling for Columbine" when Michael Moore ambushed Heston at his home and confronted him about gun issues, the NRA, and the students who had been killed. It was very obvious how ill Heston had become, and despite his being gracious to even let Moore into his home the filmmaker went after him. Heston ended up walking off and leaving Moore behind, still running his mouth and leaving photos of the children propped up along the house. I don't have much of a liking for Moore anyway, but acting the way he did and treating an ill Heston with such utter disrespect killed any hope I had of watching anything else he does.

But it's not Heston the gun rights advocate that I want to remember; it's Heston the actor that I choose to memorialize here. I certainly haven't seen every Heston film, but I've enjoyed every one that I have seen. My credenza at work holds among other things a great signed photograph of him, and I'm proud that the home library contains a copy of his autobiography, In the Arena, graciously signed by him and his wife Lydia.

Don't get me wrong; there are some great actors at work today whose films I really enjoy. However, in many ways I'm disappointed that my children won't have the opportunity to grow up watching the films of people who are right labeled as icons.

So thank you, Charlton Heston, for your life, your work, and your advocacy for so many. I think I sense a mini-film festival coming on here at home; hope A. is ready for that...


rdl said...

Great post. i woke up to the same news. Ben-Hur and the Ten Commandments - Amazing movies i remember as a kid. Too bad about the NRA tho.

Kansas Bob said...

Don't forget the Planet of the Apes.. who can forget the first words that he spoke to an ape:

Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!

For me he will always be Moses. He also did a great reading of the bible on CD a while back - he had a such great speaking voice.

Robert said...

A true icon indeed have to agree with kbob I will always remember him in planet of the apes. Some gossip mag called george clooney *the last movie star* a few weeka ago lol i love the list of acting legends you posted it will be very sad when paul newman leaves us as well