“If you need a ceiling painted, a chariot race run, a city besieged, or the Red Sea parted, you think of me.” Charlton Heston
Veteran actor Charlton Heston is famous for many signature roles, including that of Judah Ben-Hur in the 1959 blockbuster hit Ben-Hur, directed by William Wyler. Thanks to his impressive performance, he took home an Academy Award for Best Actor. Previously, Heston also mesmerized his audiences as Moses in The Ten Commandments (1956), in which his starring role brought in a Golden Globe nomination.
Embarking on his acting career on stage, Heston, who was known for his portrayal of Marc Antony in “Antony and Cleopatra” (1947) and Sir Thomas More in “A Man for All Seasons,” was handed the World Theatre Award in 1950. After advancing to the screen, the actor later collected such awards as a Golden Apple Award, a Fotogramas de Plata Award, a Golden Globe Henrietta Award, a Golden Globe Cecil B. DeMille Award, a Western Heritage Bronze Wrangler (for his starring role in Will Penny, 1968) and an Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films Special Award. Heston also took on double tasks as an actor and director in the self-written Julius Caesar (1972), Mother Lode (1982) and the revival of his play, A Man for All Seasons (1988).
Outside of his acting career, Heston has authored several autobiographies and religious books, such as “The Actor’s Life,” “In the Arena: An Autobiography,” “Beijing Diary,” “To Be a Man: Letters to My Grandson, “Charlton Heston Presents the Bible” and “Charlton Heston’s Hollywood: 50 Years in American Film with Jean-Pierre Isbouts.” In addition, he also served on the National Council for the Arts, as well as the Advisory Board of Accuracy in the Media (AIM). The co-chairman of President Ronald Reagan’s Task Force for the Arts and Humanities was handed the 1977 AMPAS’ Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, the 1997 Kennedy Center Honors and the 2003 Presidential Medal of Freedom.
“You can take my rifle ... when you pry it from my cold dead hands.” Charlton Heston
Heston, who was the president of the Screen Actors Guild (1966-1971) and the co-chairman of Britain’s American Air Museum, is a keen supporter of anti-gun control. He was the first Vice-President of the National Rifle Association of America (1997) and was four times elected President of the NRA. In 2003, the actor announced his retirement from NRA’s presidency due to health reasons.
In 1998, Heston was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Four years later, he announced he was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Getting weaker, in March 2005, the actor was reported to be unable to get out of bed. Heston is married to Lydia Heston and is the father of two.
The Staff Sergeant
Childhood and Family:
Charlton Heston was born John Charlton Carter, on October 4, 1924, in Evanston, Illinois. He is the only son of Russell Whitford Carter (mill operator) and Lilla Charlton, who divorced when John was almost 10 years old.
After his mother married Chester Heston (timber-mill owner), John and his new family moved from Saint Helen, Michigan, to Winnetka, Illinois. Enjoying reading and acting at an early age, John enrolled in the drama program of his high school (New Trier High School). He then earned an acting scholarship to Northwestern University.
In WWII, John left college to serve in the army and earned the rank of Staff Sergeant. After returning from the war, he moved to New York and worked as a model before setting up the playhouse, Thomas Wolfe Memorial Theatre, in Asheville, North Carolina. In 1947, John landed on Broadway and adopted his mother’s maiden name and his stepfather’s surname.
On March 17, 1944, Charlton Heston married actress/photographer Lydia Marie Clarke (Lydia Heston), who was formerly also a Northwestern student. Lydia, who co-founded the playhouse with her husband, gave birth to Fraser Clarke Heston (filmmaker) on February 12, 1955. The couple also has an adopted daughter named Holly Ann Heston, and two grandsons, John (Jack) Alexander Clarke Heston and Ridley Charlton Rochell.
The Ten Commandments
At Northwestern University, Charlton Heston took part in David Bradley’s 16mm student film adaptation of Peer Gynt (1941), playing the title role. Several years later, he performed on several radio stations before joining the Army.
After returning to the United States, Heston directed the revival of F. Hugh Herbert’s stage comedy “Kiss and Tell” (1947) at his self-established Thomas Wolfe Memorial Theatre. The same year, he accepted the offer to play a supporting role in the Broadway production of “Antony and Cleopatra” (1947), starring Katharine Cornell. Heston, who played Sir Thomas More in the touring of “A Man for All Seasons,” also acted in Mt. Gretna, Pennsylvania, before reappearing on the Broadway stage with a role in Joseph Hayes’ “Leaf and Bough” (1949).
The recipient of the 1950 Theatre World award made his entrance to the screen in several episodes of the dramatic anthology series “Studio One” (1949-1952) and David Bradley’s low budget movie Julius Caesar (1950, as Antony). In the early 1950s, the actor was also frequently seen in such anthology programs as “Lux Video Theatre” (1951) and “Curtain Call” (1952).
Heston’s status as an actor was heightened after he costarred as Brad Braden, alongside Betty Hutton, in Cecil B. DeMille’s family drama The Greatest Show on Earth (1952). The versatile performer was next cast as William F. ‘Buffalo Bill’ Cody in the western film Pony Express (1953), Christopher Leiningen in the drama thriller The Naked Jungle (1954) and the titular army officer in the comedy The Private War of Major Benson (1955). Amid his screen performances, Heston’s voice was also heard on radio, playing a role in the radio version of Double Indemnity (1952) and narrating the radio series “Kaleidoscope” (1953).
The two-time nominee of Emmy’s Best Actor re-teamed with DeMille in the acclaimed epic movie The Ten Commandments (1956), in which his fine starring turn as Moses brought in a Golden Globe nomination. The same year, Heston was also handed a Golden Apple award for Most Cooperative Actor. He followed the victory with his performance in the western Three Violent People (1957, as Capt. Colt Saunders) and the film-noir Touch of Evil (1958, acted opposite Janet Leigh and Orson Welles).
In 1959, Heston worked with director William Wyler to portray Judah Ben-Hur, the Jewish merchant-turned-slave, in the highly praised Ben-Hur (1959). Before long, he won an Oscar for Best Actor, as well as earned a Golden Globe and a Golden Laurel nomination. The brilliant performance also brought him a Fotogramas de Plata award for Best Foreign Performer. He next appeared in such films as El Cid (1961, had the title role), the war comedy The Pigeon That Took Rome (1962), 55 Days at Peking (1963, earned a Golden Laurel nomination for playing Major Matt Lewis), The War Lord (1965, as Chrysagon), Khartoum (1966) and the cartoon movie Maugli (1967, narrated).
Heston, who previously won Golden Globe’s Henrietta award and the Cecil B. DeMille award, was given a Western Heritage’s Bronze Wrangler for Theatrical Motion Picture for his inspiring portrayal of the titular cowpoke in the western drama Will Penny (1968). Following his acting in the sport drama Number One (1969) and The Hawaiians (1970), the actor made his first screenwriting and directing effort with Julius Caesar (1972, also starred as Marc Antony).
Next up for Heston, he played Cardinal Richelieu in The Three Musketeers (1973), reprised his role in the sequel The Four Musketeers (1974), narrated the short film The Fun of Your Life (1975), worked in the adaptation of Brian Garfield’s western novel The Last Hard Men (1976), appeared as Henry VIII in the family movie Crossed Swords (1977), acted with David Carradine in the thriller Gray Lady Down (1978) and starred as Matthew Corbeck in the horror thriller The Awakening (1980). Two years later, the actor had the leading role of Silas McGee/Ian McGee in the self-directed Mother Lode (1982), written by son Fraser Clarke.
The recipient of an Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films’ Special award (1975) returned to the small screen as Hugh Holmes in the cop miniseries “Chiefs” (1983) and the starring role in the TV drama Nairobi Affair (1984). He also took on the guest role of Jason Colby in the soap drama “Dynasty” (1985), a role he reprised in the spin-off series “The Colbys” (1985-1987). For his fine starring turn, the performer was nominated for two Soap Opera Digest awards.
Still on TV, Heston carried out various roles in the special program Christmas Night with the Two Ronnies (1987), helmed the revival of his previous play, A Man for All Seasons (1988, also reprised the role of Thomas More), had the supporting part of Louis Mancini in the thriller Original Sin (1989) and hosted The Hollywood Road to Oz (1990). He was also seen as Sherlock Holmes in The Crucifer of Blood (1991, TV) and served as the narrator in the cartoon film Noel (1992, TV) before accepting featured roles in Tombstone (1993), True Lies (1994) and The Avenging Angel (1995, TV).
In 1996, Heston was immediately nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Informational Special after narrating the TV documentary Andersonville Diaries (1996). The actor was also the narrator for the animated movie Hercules (1997) and the documentary series “Sworn to Secrecy: Secrets of War” (1998). It was then ensued by his acting performance as Professor Marcelo Rinaldi in the mini thriller series “Camino de Santiago” (1999) and his episodic appearance in “The Outer Limits” (2000).
Unfortunately, his supporting performance in the family movie Cats & Dogs (2001), as well as in Planet of the Apes (2001) and Town & Country (2001), resulted in a Razzie award for Worst Supporting Actor. Two years later, Heston voiced his signature character, Ben Hur, in the animated version of Ben Hur (2003, TV). He was also cast as Josef Mengele, the father, in the WWII-set drama My Father, Rua Alguem 5555 (2003), opposite Thomas Kretschmann.