The strong-jawed actor of Biblical proportions, called "an axiom of the cinema" be a French critic, Charlton Heston (1923-2008) was born John Charles Carter on this day in Evanston, Illinois. As a child, he attended a one-room schoolhouse in rural Michigan where he loved hunting and discovered acting.
"More than most kids, I suppose, I played games--imaginary, pretend games--living in a made-up world," he said. A drama scholarship to Northwestern University led him to Hollywood success.
"Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom, as Mr. Washington said," quoted the eloquent Mr. Heston who has parted the Red Sea as Moses, rode a chariot in Ben Hur, and played by his own account, "several kings, three American presidents, a French cardinal, and two geniuses, including Michelangelo."
"An epic is the easiest kind of picture to make badly," said the man who in his illustrious career created passionate and charismatic characters--heroes and men of courage--for us to believe in.
Appearing in some 100 films, he earned the Best Actor Oscar for Ben Hur (1959) by driving his own chariot for what he said was "about 80 percent of the race... Nearly pulled my arms right out of their sockets.”
An avid supporter of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Heston was part of the historic 1963 march on Washington and said one of his proudest moments was the day he was in the gallery when the Senate passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
"If Americans believed in political correctness, we'd still be King George's boys-subjects bound to the British crown," he said.
With commanding presence, Heston was also a leader off-screen. He served six terms as president of the Screen Actor's Guild and recruited over a million new members as the head of the National Rifle Association.
In 2002, Heston revealed his symptoms consistent with Alzheimer's disease and said, "I must reconcile courage and surrender in equal measure."
Believe it and you can do it.