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Home > India > Movies > Columns

Goodbye, Mr Heston

Raja Sen | April 07, 2008 14:43 IST

Charlton Heston

It really happened with a statue.

The beefy 6'3" Charlton Heston had already worked with Cecil B DeMille before in the significantly excessive The Greatest Show On Earth, but his career wasn't poised to take-off just yet, especially since Billy Wilder eventually cast William Holden in an Oscar-winning role in Stalag 17, despite Chuck Heston being his original choice.

So the statue, then, clinched the deal. Michelangelo's famed statue of Moses was an inspiration to epic filmmaker DeMille, and he was stunned at what he felt was an uncanny resemblance between the bearded Moses and the 29-year-old actor. The result was Heston's being cast in The Ten Commandments.

More literally applicable in Heston's case than most, the rest was history.

Best known for his work in epic historicalsĀ -- he won an Oscar for playing Ben-Hur and played Mark Antony several timesĀ -- this was a career more eclectic than it seemed at first glance.

Ranging from El Cid to Planet Of The Apes, my favourite Heston memory remains Orson Welles' magnificent noir film Touch Of Evil, where he played Mexican cop Ramon Miguel VargasĀ -- a far cry from another favourite Heston film, The Agony And The Ecstasy, where he played Michelangelo snowed under the challenge of painting the Sistine Chapel.

Heston, thanks to his imperial bearing and deep voice, was pigeonholed often into being the larger-than-life star looming over the film, but he often played against type and mocked his own self-image, the on-stage Sherlock Holmes (to whom Jeremy Brett himself played Dr Watson) showing up in a brief cameo in Mike Myers-starrer Wayne's World, when Wayne talks about bad acting and how a small role needed a finer actor. Indeed, said Heston, stepping up and making an uproarious comedy far classier.

In keeping with his consistently self-contradictory character, he went from a 60s Democrat to an 80s Republican, going from advocation of Gun Control Laws to a much-publicised reign as President of the National Rifle Association, a man pro- censorship and against abortion.

On Saturday, April 5, Heston passed away. He was 84, and had publicly spoken about his having contracted Alzheimer's disease a few years ago.

'I have played three presidents, three saints, and two geniuses in my career,' he once joked. 'If that doesn't create an ego problem, nothing does.'

Well, Mr Heston, sir, sometimes a great ego is justified. Rest in peace.