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Charlton Heston: The Legendary Hero

"In 1953 Heston became an ICON of Hollywood for portraying the role of Moses (one of the twelve disciples of Jesus Christ) in The Ten Commandments. Charlton Heston was selected because of his physical features resembling the Statue of Moses sculpted by great Italian Sculptor Michelangelo."

V N Jatla : May 15, 2008

It is a bit late to write about the Hollywood Legendary Hero, Charlton Heston. But, as I feel, it is absolutely necessary to write an article about Charlton Heston, Who is going to remain as an Epic Hero in the hearts of people in the cosmos!!!

Charlton Heston was born on 4th October in the year 1923. He died on 5th April 2008. Lived for 84 years. His wife Lydia is still alive and aged about 64 years. There is a gap of 20 years between Heston and his wife.

Charlton Heston is known for having played heroic roles in more than hundred films in the span of 50 years! I will mention a few films in which he played heroic roles such as Moses in The Ten Commandments, Colonel George Taylor in PLANET OF THE APES and Judah Ben-Hur in BEN-HUR. He got best actor awards at Golden Globes and in other major film festivals for his role as Moses in The Ten Commandments. He won Oscar for best actor for playing as Judah in BEN-HUR. He was one of the few handful of actors in Hollywood who openly spoke against RACISM. And he was an active supporter of the CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT.

Charlton Heston started his early career as an actor with new Trier Drama Programme playing in the silent 16mm amateur film adaptation of Peer Gynt by feature filmmaker David Bradley. Several years later Charlton Heston teamed up with Bradley to produce the first sound film of William Shakespeare’s JULIUS CAESAR, in which Heston played the role of Mark Antony.

Charlton Heston started his professional career as an actor with a film titled DARK CITY in the year 1950. A breakthrough came to him when Cecil. B.Demille cast him as a circus manager in THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH. This film won OSCAR for the best motion picture of 1952.

In 1953 Heston became an ICON of Hollywood for portraying the role of Moses (one of the twelve disciples of Jesus Christ) in The Ten Commandments. Film Producer and Director Cecil. B. Demille chose Charlton Heston because there were quite similar resemblances between 6 feet 3 inch square-jawed Charlton Heston to the Statue of Moses sculpted by great Italian Sculptor Michelangelo.

Let’s have a look at the synopsis of Ten Commandments, to have a better understanding of the article.

The Queen of Rome takes bath in a Royal Swimming pond. A basket containing a small male baby floats into the water and reaches the Queen.

The Queen takes the baby from the basket and thinks that it is God’s gift, and adopts the child as her son, because she does not have her any own children. The child grows up and becomes Prince of Rome. He is Moses.

Later the Royal family comes to know that Moses belongs to a slave community. The Roman Emperor orders his servants to leave Moses in a desert instead of killing him. Moses walks in the desert for days together in scorching sun, without food and not a single drop of water to drink. At last Moses reaches a small village on the other side of the desert. Some Shepard girl saves Moses by giving water and food to him. After sometime Moses marries a shepherd girl of his own choice and settles there peacefully.

One day he goes to a mountain and sees the God. The God orders him to free the slaves in Rome. Moses goes to Rome and takes all slaves along with him to show a new place to settle with their families. On their way, Moses turns RED SEA into two parts and all the slaves follow Moses to reach a free land.

After reaching the free land, Moses asks the people to wait until he gets Ten Commandments from the God and goes off to maintain to get them. Finally, Moses comes back along with Ten Commandments given by God. This is the story of Ten Commandments in a nutshell.

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Here I would like to analyse the portrayal of character of Moses by Chalton Heston. We can classify the character into two types one is STRIGHT ROLE and another is CHARACTER. Straight role means the role that is played by the actor is similar to him in all dimensions like PHYSICAL, SOCIAL and PSYCHOLOGICAL Dimensions. So it becomes very easy to any actor to play straight roles where as a real genuine actor is required for the portrayal of a character. Now see the dimensions of Moses. His physical, Social, Psychological dimensions are quite alien to the dimensions of actor Charlton Heston in his real life. The greatness lies in Heston how beautifully portrayed the character of Moses in the Ten Commandments by following the three dimensions of Moses, even though which are quite foreign to him.

Portrayal of character of Moses is very difficult because it is a BIBLICAL antiquity. One cannot imagine how much depth Heston has created in portraying the character of Moses. In the beginning of The Ten Commandments, Charlton Heston’s role is believed to be of a young prince of Rome. In the second phase, Heston behaved like a Shepherd. In the third phase after seeing the God his attitude is totally changed. His behaviour is totally different. He has worked out each and every minute detail. In the fourth phase when he goes to Rome as a messenger of God to free the slaves, his attitude and every movement he makes show a unique boldness. When he meets the king of Rome who worships semi-Gods and he is reluctant to accept the power of God. And at last he accepts the power of God.

Just see how many dimensions Heston has played successfully. In each phase of life of Moses the dimensions are changing. An actor of Heston’s caliber can only do justice to such kind of roles. There is a scene where Moses stands on a rock and prays to God to make the Red Sea split into two parts. When the Red Sea splits into two parts and a way is formed to Moses and the slaves to pass through. Moses walks through the parted sea along with freed slaves to another Island. The body language of Heston, his voice and believing the role of Moses is unforgettable and hats off to his acting! No one has seen Moses, but Heston makes us to believe that Moses might be looking like Heston only!! What more an actor needs!!

BEN-HUR is another film made in 1959 in which Charlton Heston has played the role of Judah Ben-Hur. William Wyler — the Director of Ben-Hur selected Heston after examining great actors of Hollywood like Marlon Brando, Burt Lancaster and Rock Hudson etc. Heston won OSCAR Award for best Actor. Not only that Ben-Hur won 11 Academy awards!! Ben-Hur is the film in which Heston is identified with Biblical epic more than any other actor. Heston went on to do leading roles in a number of fictional and historical epics like Elcid (1961) 55 Days At Peking (1963) as Michelangelo in The AGONY AND THE ECSTACY (1965) and KHARTOUM (1966).

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Charlton Heston is not only an actor by himself. His personality is multi dimensional!! In 1981 Heston joined with US president Regan, during a meeting for the presidential Task Force on the ARTS AND HUMANITIES in the White House cabinet room. Heston campaigned for two presidential candidates like Adlai Stevenson in 1956 and Joh.F.Kennedy in 1960. During the Civil Rights March in 1963 held in Washington D.C. Heston accompanied MARTIN LUTHER KING Jr. After the assassinations of Senator Robert F.Kennedy in the year 1968, great Hollywood actors like Heston, Gregory Peck, Kirk Douglas and James Stewart issued a statement calling for support of US president Johnson’s gun control act of 1968. Heston opposed the Vietnam War and voted for Richard Nixon in 1972.

In the year 1980 Heston opposed an alternative action, supported gun rights and changed his political affiliation from Democratic Party to Republican Party. Heston campaigned for Republicans and Republic presidents like Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.

The God fearing, law-abiding, middle class protestant or even worse evangelical Christian recognized the right of freedom of speech exercised by others. Charlton Heston received the US presidential MEDAL OF FREEDOM at the white house from present US president George .W. Bush.

Heston died on 5th April 2008 at his home in Beverly Hills, California at the age of 84 years. Heston’s family released a statement as follows “Charlton Heston was seen by the world as larger than life. He was known for his chiselled jaw, broad shoulders and resonating voice, and of course for the roles he played. No one could ask for a fuller life than his. No man could have given more to his family”.

U.S, President George W. Bush called “Man of character and integrity, with a big heart. He served his country during World War II, marched in the CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT”. Former U.S President Ronald Regan’s wife said “I will never forget Chuck as a hero on the big screen in the roles he played, but more importantly I considered him a hero in life for the many times that he stepped up to support Ronald Regan in whatever he was doing”

A Blue Salute to Charlton Heston!

(Author is a Cinematography Graduate from FTII (Pune) and a Hyderabad based Film Director featured in the Limca Book of Records)



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