I was away at the Renaissance Soldier School all weekend, and so didn't know of Charlton Heston's passing until I read it over the shoulder of a person on the airplane. It wasn't shocking or anything; the man has led a rich and full life and was in failing health, but still a bit of a blow. For as long as I've been alive there's been a Charlton Heston. I remember watching "The Ten Commandments" at Christmastime, "Ben Hur" at Easter time, and "Planet of the Apes" one Summer with my dad, all on TV. One year the Seattle Film Society ran "Ben Hur" on the big screen at the 4th Ave. theater, a fabulous Chinese-theme theater in Seattle, and I drove through the snow (lots of parking downtown!) to see it. Wow.
He was not afraid to speak his mind even if it made him appear reactionary, ultra-conservative, or politically incorrect to the sheeple of the entertainment industry and others. Late in his career, a cameo or walk-on performance in a film lent it instant class and weight. One of my husband's all-time favorite films is "The Omega Man", which he saw at just the right age to idolize the tough, resourceful male characters in the story. My personal favorite, which is sadly not available on DVD from Hallmark for reasons I cannot remotely guess, is their version of "Treasure Island", with Christian Bale as Jim, and Heston as Long John Silver. If you haven't seen it you're missing a treat. Music by The Chieftans, boats I'd give my right leg for, and THE best Silver ever. Sorry, Robert Newton, you're a hoot and a classic, but Heston gives us a darker, richer character and far more believable.
My favorite Heston story comes from the making of Ben Hur. Legendary stunt man Yakima Canute was helping Heston with the chariot race scene. For the wide shots and dangerous stunts, Hur was played by a Stunt man. However, there were tighter shots needed, and Heston was going to have to drive a four-abreast team to a chariot with no brakes, careering around an arena with a bunch of other hot horse teams. Needless to say, he was a bit nervous and expressed his concerns to the Stunt Coordinator. According to Heston, Canute just said, "Don't worry, Chuck. You're going to win."