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Paul Hayden

Charlton Heston Made History

April 14, 2008

"Some people make headlines while others make history."
- Philip Elmer-DeWitt
American Writer and Editor

There are few of the old stars left in Hollywood, men who loved their country enough to show her the respect, service and loyalty she deserves. Charlton Heston was one of those stars.

Heston joined the military during World War II. After his discharge from the U.S. Army Air Corps, he went on to become one of the most famous actors of his generation.

Hollywood director Cecil B. DeMille is said to have been struck by the muscular, 6-foot-3-inch Heston's likeness to Michelangelo's famous statue of Moses. Heston's portrayal of the Old Testament prophet in DeMille's 1956 biblical epic, "The Ten Commandments," etched his image upon the American consciousness.

A few years later, Heston starred in "Ben-Hur," a movie that stood for a generation as the most honored film in Hollywood history, receiving eleven Academy Awards, including best picture and best actor (Heston).

Both these movies dealt with great themes that stirred moviegoers to consider the nobility of their spiritual legacy. These two films stand as a testament, not only to the contribution of a great actor in a golden age of filmmaking, but also to the willingness of Hollywood to inspire us and to reinforce our faith, rather than degrade us and make us ashamed of our Judeo-Christian heritage, as does so much of today's Hollywood fare.

Charlton Heston remains the enduring face of both these films, as well as many others, such as "The Agony and the Ecstasy," a 1965 telling of the story of Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling for Pope Julius II.

But Heston was much more than just a handsome face or even a great actor. He was an activist. Long before he became known for his passionate leadership of the National Rifle Association, and long before it was fashionable in Hollywood, he joined the cause of desegregation. When an Oklahoma movie theater refused to allow blacks to attend the premier his 1961 film, "El Cid," Heston joined the picket line outside the theater. Heston also accompanied the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., at the 1963 Washington, D.C., civil rights march.

Back in 1960, Heston had been a supporter of John F. Kennedy for president; but by 1980, he had switched his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican and became an ardent supporter of his old Hollywood friend, Ronald Reagan. A consistent foe of racial discrimination, Heston spoke out against affirmative action. He even resigned from the Actors Equity Association because of the union's refusal to allow a white actor to play a Eurasian role in the stage version of "Miss Saigon." Heston called the action "obscenely racist."

And in an era when most of Hollywood was refusing to criticize violence and obscenity in "the arts," Heston rebuked Time Warner at a stockholders meeting for releasing a violent rap album featuring the song "Cop Killer."

Heston's five-year tenure as president of the National Rifle Association, from 1998 to 2003, gave the organization visibility it had never had before. Perhaps the most memorable moment of his presidency came at the 2000 NRA convention. The group was strongly opposing the presidential candidacy of then Vice President Al Gore, who favored restrictive gun control. At the convention, Heston was presented with a hand-made Brooks flintlock rifle. To the delight of the crowd, Heston held the weapon over his head and declared, "From my cold, dead hands, Mr. Gore!"

In 2003, diagnosed with Alzheimer 's disease, Heston stepped down as NRA president. In a stunning example of the lack of class displayed by today's Hollywood nitwits, actor George Clooney joked about Heston's affliction, saying that Heston deserved whatever was said about him for his involvement with the NRA. Heston, always the gentleman, said he felt sorry for Clooney, since he had as much chance of developing Alzheimer's as anyone else.

Charlton Heston was a culture warrior. He was unapologetically pro-life, pro-family and pro-American. He once characterized political correctness as "tyranny with manners."

When this great man died last Saturday with his beloved wife of 64 years at his side, he was 84 years old.

Thank you, Charlton Heston, for making history, not just headlines. May you rest in peace.

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Copyright ©2008 Doug Patton

Doug Patton describes himself as a recovering political speechwriter who agrees with himself more often than not. His weekly columns are syndicated by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate. Readers are encouraged to email him at dpatton@cagle.comand/or to follow him on Twitter at @Doug_Patton.