Charlton Heston

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Charlton Heston (born John Charles Carter on October 4, 1923, although the year is usually given as 1924), is an American film actor noted for heroic roles, and his long involvement in political issues.


Youth and early acting career

Heston was born in Evanston, Illinois to Lilla Charlton and Russell Whitford Carter. Heston's paternal grandfather, John B. Carter, was born in England. The family settled in rural Saint Helen, Michigan, where Carter, an only child, spent much of his time reading and practicing acting.

Before he was 10 his parents divorced. Some years later, his mother married Chester Heston. The new family moved to well-off Wilmette, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, Illinois, where young Heston (his new name) attended high school. He enrolled in the school's drama program, where he performed with such outstanding results that he earned a scholarship to Northwestern University for drama in 1942. There he played in the 16mm amateur film adaptation of Peer Gynt made by a fellow student. Several years later the same team produced Julius Caesar, in which Heston played Marc Antony

In 1944, Heston left college and enlisted in the United States Army Air Force. He served for three years as a B-25 radio operater/gunner stationed in the Alaskan Aleutian Islands with the Eleventh Air Force, rising to the rank of Staff Sergeant.

When he returned from service in World War II he moved to New York City, where he met actress Lydia Marie Clarke, whom he married in 1944. The two lived in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood, where they worked as models. Seeking a way to make it in theater, they decided to manage a playhouse in Asheville, North Carolina. In 1947, they went back to New York where Heston was offered a role in the Broadway play Antony and Cleopatra, for which he earned acclaim. He also had success in television, playing a number of roles in CBS's Studio One, one of the most popular anthology dramas of the 1950s.

Film career

The artist's rendering of a bare-headed Charlton Heston as Moses was bulked up to modern physique standards when the DVD of The Ten Commandments was released
The artist's rendering of a bare-headed Charlton Heston as Moses was bulked up to modern physique standards when the DVD of The Ten Commandments was released

Heston felt the time had come to move to Hollywood and break into film. In 1950, he earned recognition for his appearance in his first professional movie, Dark City. His breakthrough came in 1952 with his role of a circus director in The Greatest Show on Earth. But he became a megastar by portraying Moses in The Ten Commandments. He has played leading roles in a number of fictional and historical epics—such as Ben-Hur, El Cid, 55 Days in Peking, and Khartoum—during his long career. He once quipped, "They seem to think I have a Medieval face!" He won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his 1959 performance in the title role of Ben-Hur, one of 11 earned by that film.

His portrayal of Buffalo Bill in Pony Express was influential with the Bills, a Congolese youth cult who idolized Western movies.

Heston also starred in various science fiction films and disaster movies, some of which, like Planet of the Apes, Soylent Green, Earthquake, and The Omega Man, have become classics. Heston continues acting, increasingly in TV movies.

Heston fought at times for his artistic choices. In 1958, he maneuvered Universal International into allowing Orson Welles to direct him in Touch of Evil, and in 1965 he fought the studio in support of Sam Peckinpah, when an attempt was made to interfere with his direction of Major Dundee. Heston was also president of the Screen Actors Guild from 1966 to 1971.

In 1971 he made his directorial debut with Antony and Cleopatra, an adaptation of the William Shakespeare play that he had performed during his earlier theater career.

Starting with 1973's The Three Musketeers, Heston began playing an increasing number of supporting roles and cameos. Despite this, his immense popularity has never died, and he has seen a steady stream of film and television roles ever since. Heston has an instantly recognizable voice, and is often heard as a narrator.

Off screen

Heston was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1998, and it went into remission the next year following a course of radiation treatment. His wife, Lydia, was successfully treated for breast cancer. In August 2002, Heston publicly announced that he was diagnosed as suffering from symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. In July 2003, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award, from President George W. Bush at the White House. In March 2005, various newspapers reported that family and friends of Heston were apparently shocked by the rapid progression of his illness, and that he is sometimes unable to get out of bed.

Political beliefs

In his earlier years, Heston was a Democrat, campaiging for Presidential candidates Adlai Stevenson in 1956 and John F. Kennedy in 1960. He was also a civil rights activist long before it became fashionable for other celebrities to do so, accompanying Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights march held in Washington, D.C. in 1963. In 1969 Heston was asked by some Democrats to run for the California State Senate, a move that would have likely had bipartisan support in the state. He declined because he wanted to continue acting.

In the 1980s, however, Heston began to support more conservative positions on such issues as affirmative action and gun rights. He has campaigned for Republican candidates and Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.

He is an honorary life member of the National Rifle Association (NRA), and was its president and spokesman from 1998 until his resignation in 2003. As NRA president he is best known, while raising an antique rifle over his head at the 2000 NRA convention, for saying that Al Gore would take away his Second Amendment rights "from my cold, dead hands". (In announcing his resignation in 2003, he would again raise a rifle over his head, this time repeating only the famous five words of his 2000 speech.)

Heston also serves on the National Advisory Board of Accuracy in Media (AIM), a conservative media watchdog group founded by the late Reed Irvine.


Charlton Heston is a popular actor in Greece where his name is written as "Charlton Easton" due to Heston having sexual connotations in the Greek language.


Heston has written several books, including autobiographies and religious books:


Dark City with Lizabeth Scott and Charlton Heston (1950)
Dark City with Lizabeth Scott and Charlton Heston (1950)

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