Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Go down, 'Moses'

I never will forget the first time I saw "Planet of the Apes."

I was a kid -- something like 12 or 13 -- and still remember the chill that went up my spine when Charlton Heston’s character discovers what planet he’s really stumbled onto at the end of the film. I thought about that moment Sunday morning when Charles Osgood told me on CBS "Sunday Morning" that Heston had slipped the surly bonds of earth.

Chuck Heston wasn’t really that great an actor. He tended to be a bit wooden and, in those ’70s disaster flicks, almost became a caricature of himself. His best role, certainly, was in the quiet western "Will Penny." Osgood said the other day that Heston himself named this film as his best role.

But he was an icon certainly, playing all those larger than life biblical characters in a slew of films. My favorite was his wild portrayal of John the Baptist in "The Greatest Story Ever Told."

("Repent! The kingdom of Heaven is at hand!")

A few months ago, I watched one of his mid-70s camp classics, "Two-Minute Warning," and must say I was entertained. That was one thing about Heston’s movies. You might not get an Oscar winner, but you were rarely bored.

He was a political activist, too, stumping for Civil Rights long before that became fashionable in Hollywood, and standing up for his beliefs on politics and gun control later in life. Whether you agreed with him or not, you had to admire him for never backing down from what he thought was right.

My friend Dean said over the weekend that Heston, other than maybe somebody like Clint Eastwood, is the last major star from Hollywood’s classic era left, and even Eastwood didn’t start making his name in motion pictures until the ’70s.

Godspeed to you, Chuck. I’m glad you’re no longer suffering from that terrible disease. Nobody deserves such pain.

Thanks for the memories.

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