Fraser Heston is determined not to let the work of his father, Charlton Heston, be forgotten with time.
The movie star, who appeared in some 100 films in his 60-year acting career, passed away in 2008 at age 84. Today, Charlton is still celebrated for his role as Moses in Cecil B. DeMille epic biblical film, 1956’s “The Ten Commandments,” as well as astronaut George Taylor in the sci-fi hit 1968’s “Planet of the Apes.” Despite his Hollywood fame, Charlton viewed himself as a proud patriot and conservative who had no qualms being elected vice president of the NRA in 1997, the New York Times reported. His son insisted there are still misconceptions about that side of his father’s life that still exist today.
Heston, who is currently working on a documentary about the film icon’s life titled “Charlton Heston – The Man in the Arena,” spoke to Fox News about what it was like growing up with Charlton, how he really felt about “The Ten Commandments,” his controversial support for the NRA, as well as the secret behind his decadeslong marriage to photographer Lydia Clarke Heston.
Fox News: When did you realize that your father was different from other dads?
Fraser Heston: My dad was very much aware of — I wouldn’t say a celebrity — but a successful actor. That’s the way he looked at it. He was aware of the good fortune he had. I always knew we didn’t exactly have a normal upbringing. In “The Ten Commandments” I was baby Moses. When I was born, the first telegram that arrived was from Cecil B. DeMille saying “Congratulations, he’s got the part.” There are still a couple of “Ten Commandments” survivors out there, but I’m the youngest!
Fox News: We, of course, know of Charlton Heston the movie star. But what was Charlton Heston the dad like at home?
Heston: I often say we won the parents lottery. Both of my parents were wonderful. They came from the Greatest Generation stock in the Midwest. They were wonderfully loving, reasonable, understanding and tolerant parents. They were really excited about culture, art, travel, theater, movies photography and literature — all the things they proudly introduced to us as a family. When my dad passed away, he left behind a library of about 5,000 books. I have many of them in my study and I still haven’t read them all.
There was hardly a dinner that would go by without someone running off to the library to grab a dictionary, the Bible, or a Shakespeare book to solve an argument or prove a point. My mom was the adventurous one and my dad was the guy who wanted to stay in his wonderful home, play tennis with his friends, read a great book, listen to music or just go to the movies. That was an ideal weekend for him. My mother, on the other hand, wanted to go off into the world, climb pyramids, explore archeological ruins, explore jungles and climb glaciers. My mom was Indiana Jones.
Fox News: Your parents were married for 65 years. What was their secret?
Heston: My dad used to say, “The secret is that you have to be a great husband.” [laughs] But I think they were just dedicated to being wonderful spouses to each other. Did they have their arguments? Of course. My mother was once asked in an interview if she ever contemplated divorce. She said, “Divorce? Never. Murder? Often.” [laughs] I think they just worked at it. They knew it was important to the family. They loved their home, their family and just being married to each other. They really loved each other and I think that’s a great start. A marriage takes work. It’s not easy. But they were dedicated to each other.
Fox News: How did your father feel about playing Moses in “The Ten Commandments”?
Heston: He knew it was an iconic role not only for him but in Hollywood history. It was one of the most successful films of all time. He always knew how lucky he was to get that part. It was a huge moment in his career.
He knew how much that film meant to fans over the years and he never took that for granted. He was always grateful he had that chance to prove himself as an actor. And even after that movie, he continued to reinvent himself. … I think dad was actually a little jealous of Cary Grant. [laughs] [Dad] said, “He gets to play roles where he’s wearing beautiful clothes, standing in beautiful rooms, talking to beautiful women. And I’m out here stuck in the mud and blood with a sword.”
Fox News: What about “Planet of the Apes”?
Heston: He was very proud of that film. It was a groundbreaking film for its time and a groundbreaking role for dad. They just weren’t making a lot of science fiction films in Hollywood at that time, so it was a daring project. He helped to develop that project and the crew was very determined to have the best makeup artist, the most realistic prosthetics and the finest actors to bring this very unique story to life. That was terribly important to them. And it shows, even to this day. George Lucas was recently quoted as saying he might not have been able to make “Star Wars” if it weren’t for “Planet of the Apes.”
Fox News: Your father world with many beautiful screen sirens like Marlene Dietrich and Sophia Loren. Which star surprised him the most and why?
Heston: Whenever he was asked that he would always say he didn’t want to single out any co-worker, male or female. Otherwise, he would make one friend and half a dozen enemies. He had great respect for fellow actors. But he never tolerated lateness from an actor or actress. He took his work very seriously.
He believed it was important to come to set not just knowing your lines, but with a performance in mind. He always thought to work in movies was such a privilege and these actors are getting so much money for, it, so it always baffled him if he felt someone was irresponsible about it. He just couldn’t bear it. To make a movie, be alongside such amazing talent and earn more money than you know what to do with it was a great privilege, so it was ridiculous to be late.
He worked with Vanessa Redgrave, someone who greatly disagreed with him politically. And even though they didn’t agree on the same things politically, they along great on set because they were dedicated to the craft. Sure, they discussed and argued, but they approached acting with professionalism.
Fox News: It’s no secret your father was a proud supporter of the NRA. In your opinion, are there any misconceptions about your father’s support that still exist today?
Heston: He wasn’t a gun nut. He did not have a basement full of machine guns as he’s been depicted on the Internet. He was simply an American patriot. He served his country in World War II and he wanted to do more to protect this nation. He marched to Washington with Martin Luther King. He was a great supporter of civil rights. He went to Vietnam two or three times on the front lines just to greet the guys who were in the foxholes. When he came home, he called every single soldier he met. He phoned every one of those families.
Every once in a while, I still meet those who spoke to dad. They always say how much it meant to them for dad to reach out when not everyone was supporting our troops during that time. He never wanted those who fought for our country to be forgotten. As far as the NRA goes, he felt he was taking a stand for the Constitution, not just for the Second Amendment. He felt we needed to defend our Constitution and our rights.
I believe that was his real motivation, to protect our country. It had nothing to do with being a gun nut. He was socially very liberal. He was very tolerant. He believed in the Constitution and wanted to protect it. He believed that all men and women are created equal. He believed our country needed to live, grow and breathe as a free society. He believed that America was the hope of the world and wanted to preserve that. It all comes down to freedom.
Fox News: Did your father ever talk to you about his conversations with Dr. Martin Luther King?
Heston: He always told us how important civil rights is in our country. He never let us forget that. Again, it goes back to his belief in the Constitution. … He always felt we had work today and clearly, the world still has work to do.
Fox News: How important was it for your father to use his celebrity as a platform to share his beliefs?
Heston: That’s exactly how he viewed his celebrity. He knew he had a platform. He had a microphone. He supported what he felt was best for our country. He did support Democrats by the way, from time to time. As a celebrity, he knew he had an advantage and he was a good communicator. He also had an audience, one that would show up if he had something to say. … He saw himself as a leader in his fictionalized roles, as well as his real life. That’s no coincidence that he was good at both.
Fox News: Are there any fun facts about your dad that would surprise fans today?
Heston: He didn’t like email. [laughs] He would call and ask, “Do I have email on my computer?” I would tell him, “No, Dad, we haven’t signed you up for it, but it’s easy to do. I can do it in five minutes.” He said, “No, no, that’s fine. I just wanted to make sure we didn’t have it.” He was a humorous guy. He loved telling funny stories and practical jokes. … He would actually do his own little comic strips and he’d mailed them to us. So every few days, we would get an envelope full of funny stuff from him. I always thought that was charming and wonderful.
Fox News: What do you hope readers will get from your father’s legacy today?
Heston: I hope they will be enthusiastic about going back and looking at some of his other work, not just “The Ten Commandments” or “Planet of the Apes.” He was an artist and he felt this urgency to express himself, not just on set or a stage, but in his everyday life. I hope they would look at his work in civil rights. He became involved with it very early on and had conversations with Dr. Martin Luther King. He was a very complex, interesting individual.
He went to Oklahoma where there was a lot of civil unrest and policemen were using dogs and fire hoses. He stood up for civil rights because he believed in it. In regards to his political work, you can choose to agree or disagree with it. He always believed you can have a political viewpoint and still admire the human being. But first and foremost, he was a wonderful father. I hope to be the kind of man that he was someday to my son Jack, who is also in the film business. I hope he can look back on our relationship and view it in the same way I view my father’s.