There’s no question that the late Charlton Heston knew how to make an impression, whether it was on screen in such classic films as The Ten Commandments, Planet of the Apes and Ben-Hur, or through his well known conservative politics. But according to his son, Fraser Heston, reality went far beyond both.
“A lot of people say, ‘Oh, he must’ve been a very stern father, kind of an Old Testament figure,’ but he wasn’t,” says Fraser in an exclusive interview with Closer Weekly. “He was a fun-loving guy who enjoyed jokes and cartoons and liked to play tennis. One point I’ve often made is that there are two poles in his life that people remember him for. One is holding up the staff of Moses in The Ten Commandments saying, ‘Let my people go!’ The other is him holding up a rifle for the NRA saying, ‘You’ll have to take this from my cold dead hands.’ Those are the two iconic goalposts in his life.”
Yet there was, he emphasizes, 50 or 60 years between both of those moments that defined him far more than either of them ever could. “He led the arts contingent of the Civil Rights March on Washington for Dr. Martin Luther King,” he says. “He was president of his union and was a union activist for nine or 10 years. He was instrumental in funding the American Film Institute through the National Council of the Arts when his friend, Ronald Reagan, wanted to make some cuts. So he did a lot of things that kind of went against type that he’s not as well-known for, including being a Shakespearean actor on the stage, which he saw as a great love in his life. So there’s a lot to the guy between Ten Commandments and the NRA.
“Not the least of which,” he adds warmly, “is the fact that he was a dad and a husband. A loving father, a great grandfather, a wonderful husband to my mother, Lydia. They were married for 65 years, which is pretty extraordinary by Hollywood standards. I think his life was enriched by those roles so much more than whatever fame and compensation that he received from his work as an actor.”
Though one cannot underestimate the impact on his career that starring in Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 production of The Ten Commandments — just released on Blu-ray Digibook by Paramount Home Entertainment — had. It was almost pretty impactful on Fraser as well. In it, he made his big screen debut as the Baby Moses, whose life is saved when he’s put in a basket and hidden on the banks of the Niles River so that he can survive. Things almost didn’t work out that way for Fraser.
He laughs, “When I was born, DeMille sent my mom a telegram, ‘Congratulations, he’s got the part.’ But I almost ended my career early there, because the basket I was in started to sink. My dad had to run in and rescue me. The mandated social worker who was there took me away from him and said, ‘I’m the only one that can hold the baby.’ Here I am, squalling and sopping wet, and he turned to her and — he told me the story later — he said with a voice he used for talking to Pharaoh, ‘Give me that baby!’ It’s not surprising at all that she actually did.”
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