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Sunday, April 06, 2008

"... from my cold, dead hands!"

At the National Rifle Association's annual convention in 2000, the organization's President, Charlton Heston brought the crowd to its feet by holding up a replica of a Revolutionary War-era Musket and using the title of this post to paraphrase the old saying, "I’ll give you my gun when you take it from my cold, dead hands”.

It would appear that for anyone wanting to take Mr. Heston at his word, Saturday night would have been a fitting opportunity, since it was announced by his spokesman that he passed away at his home in Beverly Hills at the age of 84.

Now is not the time or place to discuss my stance on this contentious issue which is alternately known as 'Gun Control' or 'the right to keep and bear arms', depending where one stands.  Trust me, I have opinions on this one that will surprise most readers. 

No... today I simply want to say good-bye to a movie icon with whom I grew up.

Last June I posted a list of the 100 films I'd like to own on DVD... and looking back, I see now that the only Heston film represented on the list (correct me if I've missed any) was 'Ben Hur'.  I guess I'll need to go back and update the list to include several more of his classic roles that I seem to have overlooked.

To this day, whenever I sit in synagogue and listen to readings from the Torah relating to the Exodus from Egypt, the Moses I see in my mind's eye looks like a rugged young Charlton Heston.  Sure, I've learned enough since first seeing 'The Ten Commandments' to understand that Cecil B. De Mille took a few liberties with the Bible.  So what?!  Heston's steely portrayal of Moses remains as sacred to me as the memory of those food-stained Maxwell House Hagadahs my family used at our passover Seders throughout my childhood.  Some things may change with education and maturity, but those early experiences are always hiding there at the back of your mind... coloring our experiences for the rest of our lives.

Just to be clear, I'm not nearly old enough to have seen most of his films on the big screen.  I saw his early movies on TV, or when they were re-released in the theaters... but they were as epic and magical to me as a second-hand pony would be to any kid. Truly special gifts can't be diminished with age.

I'm sure some will question my taste when I admit that two of my favorite Charlton Heston movies were 'Planet of the Apes' and 'Beneath the Planet of the Apes', respectively.  I'm not saying that they were the pinnacle of his artistic career, mind you.  You just have to understand that those were among the first movies I got to see completely on my own in elementary school.  No parents.  No chaperon.  Just me, my allowance and my bicycle heading off with a friend to the Saturday matinee at the big local movie house with its formal stage and pre-show organ performances.

So yes, you could say that part of my sadness at hearing of Charlton Heston's passing is less about his range as an actor and more about the mourning process for my lost innocence and youth.  I feel truly privileged to have come of age when such giants sill roamed the silver screen, and movies were still mostly magic.

Posted by David Bogner on April 6, 2008 | Permalink

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[Sigh.] Well, if I have to hear about the passing of one of my cultural icons, much better to hear it from an excellent poet. Especially when nearly all of the right-wing of Hollywood has dropped off the twig. Let's see... whom does that leave? Ted Nugent? I don't think we can count Mel anymore, as he "lost it" a while back. Well, it's a new era, isn't it? Politics aside, I also remember those early "grown up" outings to the theater. Remember double features, with a cartoon in between? Ahhhh. Those were the days.

Posted by: rutimizrachi | Apr 6, 2008 1:39:17 PM

I hate to wake up to such news in my newsreader...
Btw., he was 84 (would have turned 85 this October).

Posted by: a. | Apr 6, 2008 1:51:45 PM

I was also inspired to write about him, the Ten Commandments was so much a part of my Pesach experience growing up, much to my father's chagrin. Growing up in Williamsburg, Brooklyn we always had a few chasidim joining us to see all or part of it. That was always interesting--hearing it explained in a chasidishe Yiddish...

Again, as my teenager says, "Good times, good times".

RIP.

Posted by: Baila | Apr 6, 2008 3:39:15 PM

Yes, Mr. Heston will always be a part of my memory too, especially this time of the year.

Your post made me realize that *my* children's childhood memories will have Val Kilmer's voice (from Prince of Egypt) instead of Heston's! At least, unlike their American-public-school-educated parents, my kids will have the Israeli Gan memories too!

May Mr. Heston rest in peace.

Posted by: Jonathan | Apr 6, 2008 3:50:20 PM

My favorite Charlton Heston line (from Soylent Green):


Lt. Hatcher: "What did the robbers take?"
Det. Thorn: "Nothing."
Lt. Hatcher: "What did you take?"
Det. Thorn: "Everything I could get my hands on."

Posted by: dfb1968 | Apr 6, 2008 4:15:07 PM

"so it is written, so it shall be done!"

movie icon indeed. and how fitting that he passed away erev pesach. it was not a proper pesach cleaning unless "the 10 commandments" was being broadcast while we kids were helping my mom scrub out the kitchen cabinets!

Posted by: nikki | Apr 6, 2008 4:47:03 PM

Stand back and see the salvation of the Lord. I still recall that part as “Moses” lifted his rod towards the Red Sea. A very inspiring moment.

Posted by: Rami | Apr 6, 2008 4:49:04 PM

I mulled over producing a major post about Chuck. There was so much that I could have said, but didn't. The man was something else.

Posted by: Jack | Apr 6, 2008 6:46:28 PM

For we Wrymouth, Chuck is remembered for the remarkable sci-fi run of "Apes," Soylent Green, and the Omega Man. and the "10 Commandments" yearly viewing rivalled the "Wizard of Oz" yearly viewing for popularity.

However for "10 Commandments" highlights, nothing beat for us the intriguingly miscast Edward G. Robinson declaiming, "where's your savior now, myeah?!"

Although I'm sure he didn't go "myeah" at the end. He and Charlton would also make Soylent Green the classic it is.

RIP Charlton. Here's hoping we'll see you anon.

Posted by: Wry Mouth | Apr 6, 2008 11:30:47 PM

I too will always associate Moses and Charlton Heston (though I'm guessing Moses might have actually looked a touch more Semitic).

BTW -- Planet of the Apes would have been nothing without the brilliant acting of Roddy McDowall (Dr Cornelius).

Posted by: Bob | Apr 7, 2008 6:53:13 AM

Ahh, yes - my childhood memories of watching "The Ten Commandments" on TV, unfortunately, primarily involve me scooping "God" and my mom telling my to shut up. To wit:

ME: (in a deep, spooky voice): Thou shalt not take my name in vain.
"GOD": Thou shalt not take my name in vain. (thunderclaps)
MOM: Shut up!
ME: Thou shalt not kill.
"GOD": Thou shalt not kill. (thunderclaps)
MOM: SHUT UP!!
ME: Honor thy father and mother.
"GOD": Honor thy father and mother. (thunderclaps)
MOM: Honor me and SHUT!!! UP!!!

Anyway, R.I.P., Mr. Heston. I wish I knew more of your movies.

Posted by: psachya | Apr 7, 2008 8:33:36 AM

One of my favorite Heston moments comes at the end of Waynes World 2, where he is brought as a real actor to deliver the misty eyed monologue of the gas station attendant. Priceless!

Posted by: Jordan Hirsch | Apr 8, 2008 12:30:13 AM

The ten commandments was a wonderful film. I remember seeing it in cinemascope when it first came out. It was during Pesach. And then I didnt sleep all night because I ate a forbidden chocolate in the film during pesach and thought the green thing for the killing of the first born was going to get me. How weird that Charlton Heston died just before Pesach as it brings back all the memories of the film and Pesach in one. How sad that the magnificent 'Prince of Egypt' had Alzeimers.

Posted by: bleema | Apr 14, 2008 2:41:04 AM

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