Monday, April 7, 2008

One Less Star in Hollywood

Before Morgan Freeman became the Voice of God, that part was owned by Charlton Heston.

He was Michelangelo, Cardinal Richelieu, El Cid, Andrew Jackson, Judah Ben-Hur, Christopher Leiningen, George Taylor, Robert Neville, Robert Thorn and dozens more in a career stretching back more than half a century. He was an action hero and a real movie star. He was one of those actors, like Sean Connery, who just filled up the screen by standing there. I have a vague recollection of him arriving late to the Academy Awards and picking up the speech that had been started by some poor actor trying to fill in because of traffic problems in L.A., but once he was on stage, he was in command.

Back in the days when I chaired the rights committee for ASMP, we set up a fund for our lobbying and other legal work on behalf of photographers' copyright rights. One member who sent in a sizable contribution offered her husband's considerable connections in order to further our efforts. I got the call to follow up on the offer. Even though I knew just who Lydia Clarke Heston's husband was, the last thing I expected was for him to answer the telephone.

As I heard the voice, all I could think was "Moses just answered the phone" and "calm down, you can't sound like an idiot!" It was all I could do to explain who I was and why I was calling and ask to speak to Mrs. Heston. He was most gracious in explaining she was not in and when I should call back. I thanked him, hung up, and immediately called my mother to scream "you'll never guess who I just talked to!." When I finally reached Mrs. Heston and said I was surprised when Mr. Heston answered, she laughed and replied "he just can't stand to hear the phone ring."

I did not have the opportunity to take her up on an invitation to visit when I was in Los Angeles a few months later but after I graduated from law school and was practicing law here, ASMP asked me to represent their interests in Sacramento on sales tax matters and requested that I ask the Hestons for their assistance, "since I had developed that relationship." That's a finer point than I would put on it, but I pulled out the address book (remember those?) and reached Mrs. Heston directly. She recalled our earlier conversations but said I would really need to speak to her husband who made those kinds of decisions. She would have him call me.

When I checked my office phone later that day, I heard the message "Ms. Valada, this is Charlton Heston." My husband heard it and insisted that I keep the recording (it's somewhere in storage, I think.) I returned his call and we spoke for a while (I wish I had THAT on a recording because he quoted a passage from Shakespeare) but he made some remark about whether he could be much help in Sacramento, since the Democrats were pretty much in charge there. I thought, but did not say, "Mr. Heston, I'm old enough to remember when you were one." I mentioned that we would be attending the Alex Theatre screening of Ben-Hur in Glendale the next night and he told me to be sure to come up and introduce myself, which turned out to be the only time I ever actually got to meet the Hestons. They were an elegant and gracious old-Hollywood couple, he tall but slightly stooped because of a riding accident in Major Dundee, she petite and attentive to his needs. They were married for 64 years, no doubt close to a Hollywood record.

We did get to see him do a reading at the public library with Lynn Redgrave one evening. I don't remember exactly what he read, but one thing was from a centuries-old copy of the King James' Bible, a massive tome he presented with great flourish. As David Steinberg put it "God spoke, in the voice of a Northwestern graduate." No more.


Steven Gould said...

Very nice, Christine. I too found his shift in politics troubling but I still honor him for marching against segregation back in 1960 with a sign that quoted Jefferson.

Grey Horse Matters said...

There really are not many stars left of his caliber anymore. Very nice post.