Sunday, April 6, 2008

Bigger Than Life

There was a time when Hollywood stars really were, literally and figuratively, bigger than life.
Charleton Heston was of that time.
Of course he is best known for his starring roles in epics such as Ben Hur and The Ten Commandments. But few realize that his career actually began on the stage, on Broadway. In 1947, Heston got his first big break, landing the role of Caesar’s lieutenant in a Broadway production of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra staged by Guthrie McClintick and starring Katharine Cornell.
Still, Heston's physical stature, deep, penetrating eyes, chiseled features and sheer manliness made it inevitable that Hollywood would beckon. And those of us who saw Cecil B. DeMille's The Greatest Show On Earth in 1952 knew that Heston's portrayal of a hard-driving circus boss had "star" written all over it. From that point on it was pretty much one Big Role after another. The man and the times merged as Hollywood embraced wide-screen epic drama as an answer to the power of the small screen which had come to inhabit everyone's living room.
For me, The Greatest Show On Earth started a lifelong love affair with the circus.
In the 1950s and early 60s Heston championed liberal causes and even marched with Dr. King and stood on the platform with the late civil rights leader at the historic 1963 March On Washington which culminated in the landmark "I Have A Dream" speech.
But like many of us Heston saw the Democrat Party moving further and further to the left and he eventually embraced conservative causes and the candidacy of his good friend and colleague Ronald Reagan.
Charleton Heston was a man of his times - a fully engaged artist, active citizen, leader and patriot who was never afraid to be who he was, to change his mind and to speak out and fight for what he believed in. On the Today Show this morning George Clooney and Brad Pitt were cited as modern day Charleton Hestons. But the truth is that Clooney, Pitt and Affleck together are hardly fit to polish Heston's tombstone.

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