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"Luck is not chance, it’s toil; fortune’s expensive smile is earned.”

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Remembering Charlton Heston

Charlton Heston has starred in some great films, movies that totally enthralled me as a kid and a young man -- A Touch of Evil, Soylent Green, Omega Man, Planet of the Apes ... heck, Chuck even makes Earthquake watchable. Sure a lot of them were schlock, but when I was a kid, I loved schlock. And it never hurts a movie to have Moses as the lead.

His birth name was John Charles Carter. For an athletically built guy who ran around in a loincloth a lot and had no problem doing science fiction movies, it's a shame he never played John Carter of Mars.

Heston's conservative political activism took the forefront of his later life , and that's how younger fans will remember him. But truth be told, he was a hard guy to categorize. This photo I'm using is from when Chuck appeared at the 1963 Civil Rights March. Chuck led a Hollywood contingent at the march and stood near Martin Luther King during his "I Have a Dream" speech.

Anyway, one of my friends shared his memories of the late actor ...


I shook Charlton Heston's hand when I was 17 in 1970 at the Mayfair Theater in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Sounds like the title of a Carol Burnett song, doesn’t it? You might remember her novelty tune from the 1950s, “I Made a Fool of Myself over John Foster Dulles.”

Anyway, back when I was young my cousin and I read in the Asbury Park Press that Charlton Heston was making an appearance at the local theater to promote “The Hawaiians,” a sequel to the popular “Hawaii.”

He was showing up at several theaters throughout the Jersey shore area as part of a publicity tour.

The theater was packed, but we managed to beat a big part of the crowd and hustle seats. I didn't know how Heston was going to walk in, but I told my cousin I was heading out to the lobby in case he was going to enter through the front doors, a chance I figured was a good one. I turned out to be right.

To my pleasant surprise, there were only a few people in the lobby. But outside, there were plenty of fans who couldn’t get in because of the limited seating. Early birds get the worm.

Moments later I heard some screaming and cheers from outside the theater. Sure enough, Chuck, the man who was given “The Ten Commandments” from God and won the heroic chariot race in “Ben-Hur,” was making his entrance at the front of the theater. Don’t know how, but he managed to get to the doors and opened them himself. Man, how times have changed! No minor achievement, even for Moses. There he was, Charlton Heston, all 6-foot-2, with a face, as even he admitted, chiseled from another century. He was wearing a black-knit shirt and sports jacket. Real Hollywood. Real cool. Sinatra cool. The Hollywood I want to remember. He was walking toward me.

I was the first person to greet him and I held out my hand, almost zombie like. I had just finished consuming a Popsicle and my fingers might have been sticky. But I didn’t care, and neither did he, apparently. He saw my outstretched hand and shook it. The grip was manly and genuine. To this day, I tell people my hair parted at the time. Then he didn't know what else to do. There were just a few of us in the lobby. The screaming could still be heard outside. I think I might have looked toward the doors to the theater, and he turned, walked to the doors and opened them, making his presence known before the mob. He strolled down the aisle, amidst the screams of girls and general applause. There was no horrific hysteria then. He had no trouble walking along the aisle and up to the stage in front of the screen.

I was still in the lobby and turned to two ladies, probably in their late twenties or early thirties (old to me at the time), and they were remarking how handsome he was, and I held up my hand and yelled to them, "I shook his hand!" One of the ladies said, "Can I touch it?" I let them.

Anyway, I ran back to my seat in the theater and told my cousin I shook Charlton Heston's hand.

At the same time, Chuck was talking on stage about the movie and how much everyone would enjoy it.

It was pretty good, but nothing like “Planet of the Apes” or “Soylent Green.” And then Chuck left for another theater in the area.

It was the summer of 1970. I was working at a hotel on the boardwalk in Asbury Park on the beach and looking at the bikini-clad girls every day. I was a sexist, but in a good kind of way.

“Woodstock” was playing in the theaters and the soundtrack was blaring through speakers all over the countryside. “Alice’s Restaurant” and “Easy Rider” were also in the theaters. The Beatles had just broken up. Man, what a time. The Mayfair Theater, once an old, beautiful opera house, is now a parking lot. No matter, I’ll always be shaking hands with Chuck Heston.
-- Jerry Shaw
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