Charlton Heston, who died this evening in Beverly Hills, played everything from Moses to a circus owner who hires a clown who killed a man in The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) to making the single greatest trio of sci-fi horror films ever “ Planet of the Apes (1968), Soylent Green (1971), The Omega Man (1973) “ to the NFL Commissioner in Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday (1999). Still, this Heston fan’s favorite has to be Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil (1958), where he played the Mexican detective, Vargas.
I got to see him speak at UCLA once, where he recited Prospero’s speech from the end of The Tempest as a garbage truck picked up a clanging metal dumpster. I tell you as an eye-witness, the Great Man never batted an eye over it and actually managed to make you forget it. The other time I saw him speak was when he introduced a restored Ben-Hur (1959) at the American Cinematheque. He was bitching about how he had played Shakespeare, the great men of history, worked with the greatest directors in film history, and all he was going to be remembered for was “Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!” He got a standing ovation minutes long, which was then repeated when he basically set it up the same way again.
A political contradiction in today’s world, he was a Civil Rights advocate who marched with King, a SAG labor leader who joined tv commercial actors on the line in 90 degree heat a few years ago, a cranky Republican, and president of the NRA “ most notably seen in Michael Moore’s Bowling For Columbine (2002) shouting to an NRA rally, “from my cold dead hands!“