Actor. A Hollywood legend, he became a superstar playing larger-than-life characters, from Moses to Michaelangelo, in big screen epics of the 1950s and 1960s. He won an Academy Award for his powerful performance in the title role of "Ben-Hur" (1959). Born John Charles Carter in Evanston, Illinois, he caught the acting bug as a teen and took on the pseudonym Charlton Heston (borrowed from his mother's maiden name and his stepfather's surname) as a drama major at Northwestern University. While there he starred in a student film, "Peer Gynt" (1942), shot on 16mm. After serving in the US Army Air Force during World War II, he did summer stock in Asheville, North Carolina before moving to New York City, where he appeared in stage and television productions. In 1950 producer Hal B. Wallis put Heston under contract and gave him top billing for his professional film debut, "Dark City". At first he was cast in earthy tough-guy parts, notably as circus manager Brad Braden in Cecil B. DeMille's "The Greatest Show on Earth" (1952), but was soon tackling historical figures in such features as "The President's Lady" (as Andrew Jackson, 1953) and "Pony Express" (Buffalo Bill Cody, 1953). Heston's portrayal of Moses in DeMille's "The Ten Commandments" (1956) brought him stardom and forever typed him as the classic hero. Tall (6'3") and massively rugged, with a sonorous baritone voice and well-chiseled features, he was ideal for the widescreen costume epics Hollywood was making to compete with television at that time. All he had to do to command a scene was step into it, and as he demonstrated in "Ben-Hur" - even during the celebrated chariot race - his was a presence that could not be dwarfed by the most lavish spectacle. He occasionally yearned to broaden his range ("Why does Cary Grant get all those pictures set entirely in penthouses?" he once mused), and Orson Welles' thriller "Touch of Evil" (1958), in which he played an unlikely Mexican narc, would not have been made without his enthusiasm for the project. But Heston seemed mostly content to mine his vein of success through the mid-1970s, when he switched more to character roles. In the best of his later starring films, "Planet of the Apes" (1968), "The Omega Man" (1971), and "Soylent Green" (1973), he effectively brought his iconic baggage to stories of apocalyptic future societies. His over 100 credits include the features "Ruby Gentry" (1952), "The Big Country" (1958), "El Cid" (1961), "55 Days at Peking" (1963), "The Greatest Story Ever Told" (1965), "Major Dundee" (1965), "The Agony and the Ecstacy" (1965), "Khartoum" (1966), "Will Penny" (1968), "The Three Musketeers" (1974), "Earthquake" (1974), "The Four Musketeers" (1975), "Midway" (1976), "The Last Great Treasure" (also directed, 1982), "Wayne's World 2" (1993), "Tombstone" (1993), "Alaska" (1996), and "Town & Country" (2001), the TV movies "A Man for All Seasons" and "Treasure Island", and the series "The Colbys" (1985 to 1987). He also wrote several books, including his autobiography "Into the Arena" (1995). Among the honors he received over the years were the Motion Picture Academy's Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award (1977), the Kennedy Center Award (1997), and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2003). A liberal Democrat in his younger days, the always outspoken Heston campaigned for Kennedy in 1960 and accompanied Martin Luther King, Jr. on the 1963 March on Washington. He served as president of the Screen Actors Guild from 1966 to 1971. Later he grew increasingly conservative in his political and social views, culminating in his stint (1998 to 2003) as president of the National Rifle Association; his immense popularity with its membership made him a lightning rod for controversy and threatened to overshadow his acting achievements. He resigned from the NRA soon after announcing he had "symptoms consistent with" Alzheimer's disease, and spent his last years away from the public eye. He died at his home in Beverly Hills, California. Heston was married to his college sweetheart, Lydia Clarke Heston, for 64 years. Their son Fraser Heston is a film director.
Bio by: Bobb Edwards
Lydia Marie Clarke Heston