Charlton Heston was an American actor and activist born on 4 October 1923 in Wilmette, Illinois USA. He’s known for starring in blockbuster movies such as “The Ten Commandments” and “Ben-Hur”.
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John Charles Carter was the oldest child of Lilla Charlton and Russel Whitford Carter, of English and Scottish descent. It’s known his ancestors arrived in North America in early 1600s.
Despite being born in Illinois, John Charles actually grew up in Michigan, where his family moved to when he was a child due to his father’s work. In his new home in St. Helen, John grew up in an isolated, rural environment along with his two younger siblings Lilla and Alan, until their parents’ divorce in 1933.
Charlton Heston, was born on this day in 1923. R.I.P.
Shortly after their mother’s second marriage to Chester Heston, the kids moved back to their hometown in Illinois, and the kids adopted their stepfather’s surname.
Though it’s certain Heston’s first name was John Charles at the time of his birth, his name was changed sometime during his childhood, as records of 1930 show he was Charlton J. Carter at the age of six – “Charlton” was originally Heston’s grandmother Marian’s maiden name. After she divorced her first husband Charles Baines, she married again to William Henry Lawton and made her children–including Lilla- adopt the surname to distance them from their father.
Regarding his faith, Heston was born in an Episcopalian family and considered himself as one for the rest of his life. He often emphasized his enjoyment of the aspects of Christian’s faith.
Although there’s no information about Heston’s primary education, it known that he attended New Trier High School, as he recalled in his autobiography “The Actor’s Life” of 1976: ‘All kids play pretend games, but I did it more than most. Even when we moved to Chicago, I was more or less a loner. We lived in a North Shore suburb, where I was a skinny hick from the woods, and all the other kids seemed to be rich and know about girls.’
Not only did he become an avid tennis player during his high school years, he also developed an interest in acting after participating in a teen play. Ultimately, this interest led him to obtain a drama scholarship to attend Northwestern University.
In college Heston had his first acting experience in the amateur film “Peer Gynt” by David Bradley. He also found a side job as a model, which helped to provide for himself during his student years.
Charlton Heston enlisted in US Army Air Force in 1944, during World War II. He served in the Alaskan Aleutian Islands as an aerial gunner, piloting a Mitchell B-25. During his time with the Eleventh Air Force Squadron, Heston was promoted to Sergeant rank.
After the war ended, Heston moved to New York searching for job opportunities as actor. It didn’t take him long to be cast in “Antony and Cleopatra” on Broadway, which led him to gain real experience in the entertainment industry.
Heston spent some time living in New York, but in 1949 he moved to Los Angeles and landed a small role in the TV series “Suspense”, and then played various characters in “Studio One”. He was cast as Marc Antony in the 1950s movie “Julius Caesar”, followed by his first starring role in “Dark City”, directed by William Dieterle. Although those productions were relatively modest and he had not become famous yet, he left a good impression on the iconic director Cecil B. DeMille who had watched his performance, and offered him a role in “The Greatest Show on Earth” as a circus manager.
This was considerably fortunate for Heston’s career, who received good critiques regarding his acting, and the film ultimately won an Oscar for Best Picture in 1952.
Heston then appeared in “The President’s Lady” in 1953, which was not only his first important starring role but also became the first historical movie of his career. The next three years Heston acted in a variety of productions, including the TV series’ “Medallion Theatre” and “Danger”.
Heston then starred in various movies such as “Bad for Each Other”, “The Naked Jungle” and “Secret of the Incas”, a string of leading roles that led him to land one of the most important works of his career, and the character for which he would be remembered for years to come, as Moses in Cecil B. DeMille’s epic drama “The Ten Commandments”, premiered in 1956.
By this time and less than ten years into his career, Heston had become one of the most praised actors of his generation, and his rise in fame was unstoppable. His next roles were just as good, as he had the opportunity to work with several big names in the industry, such as director of the “Touch of Evil”, Orson Welles.
In 1959 Heston won his first Academy Award for Best Actor for his starring role in the highly acclaimed “Ben-Hur” by William Wyler. This role also reaffirmed his place as Hollywood’s favorite actor for historical roles.
Although “Ben-Hur” was retrospectively Heston’s career peak, he subsequently appeared in a variety of movies, which include “El Cid” in 1961, “55 Days at Peking” in 1963, “The Agony and the Ecstasy” and “The Greatest Story Ever Told” in 1965.
Despite his success playing historical characters, westerns remained Charlton Heston’s favorite movie genre, and fortunately for him he had the opportunity to act in movies of that type such as “Will Penny”.
“Planet of the Apes” was Heston’s first incursion into Sci-Fi, followed by a minor appearance in its sequel. He also appeared in “The Omega Man” and “Soylent Green”, and by the end of his career, his acting repertoire included almost one hundred movies.
Even before participating in political issues, Heston was regarded as an important figure for Americans: ‘(he) is the epitome of the star who stands for moral certainties and patriotic beliefs that characterized Hollywood in its heyday’.
In 1955 Heston started being open about his political views, and publicly supported Democrat candidates. In 1964 he participated in the Civil Rights Act movement and from 1966 to 1971 he was president of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), even endorsing gun control policies.
However, Heston’s political views took a conservative change and he officially became a Republican Party supporter in 1972. Following an interview in 1987 by Reason, he declared what caused this decision: ‘I think the Democratic Party has moved sharply to the left in the last 20 years. If you read the inaugural address Jack Kennedy gave, you’ll realize he could not possibly have given it on the platform the Democrats concocted at the last convention in San Francisco.’
From then on, Heston’s constantly expressed his conservative views to the public, and openly showed his support for Ronald Reagan. He also opposed the Vietnam War, pro-abortion laws and changed his mind about gun control, becoming National Rifle Association’s president in 1998.
He fervently opposed to Bill Clinton: ‘America doesn’t trust you with our 21-year-old daughters, and we sure, Lord, don’t trust you with our guns’.
During his time studying at Northwestern University, Heston met fellow student Lydia Marie Clarke, who he married in 1944. The couple had a son together named Frank, and subsequently adopted a girl named Holly.
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When the great Hollywood legend, Charlton Heston launched his autobiography, In the Arena, I was privileged to be his emcee on his Australian tour. Being up close-and-personal with this great actor was a treat, particularly since I had fond memories of watching his movies with my father when I was a little girl. And when Mr. Heston congratulated me on my presentation, it was the icing on the cake, and a special moment in my speaking career. Though photos were strictly banned, I was allowed this one shot taken by Mr. Heston’s professional photographer. 😊
Health and Death
Although in his youth Heston enjoyed good physical condition, he faced various problems with his health during the last decade of his life. In 1996 Heston had hip replacement surgery, and in 1998 he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, which he survived after a long treatment.
In 2002 Heston publicly announced that he was presenting symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. In his passionate statement, he expressed a deep honesty to his audience and friends about his condition: ‘If you see a little less spring to my step, if your name fails to leap to my lips, you’ll know why. And if I tell you a funny story for the second time, please laugh anyway’.
Charlton Heston died on 5 April 2008 at the age of 85, after suffering from pneumonia.
As a result of his long career as a Hollywood actor, Charlton Heston had an estimated net worth of $40 million.
Regarded as a handsome man, Charlton Heston had a chiseled jaw, blond hair and an enigmatic voice. His weight was unknown; his height was 6ft 3ins (1.90m).
His wife Lydia was also an actress; she died in 2018.
Heston acted alongside his brother Alan in “Peer Gynt”.
Charlton Heston’s childhood nickname was “Chuck”, and even in his adulthood he was called that by his friends. However, his wife always called him Charlie.
He played Marc Antony’s character two times in his career.
He marched alongside Martin Luther King in 1963.
His childhood hobbies were fishing and hunting.