Last words, “Get your hands off me you damned, dirty death!”
Just saw the news that Charlton Heston died on Saturday, and when I read it on the cover of today’s Washington Post I immediately said, “Oh no!” Charlton Heston’s passing marks a moment for me, for I now have to cope with the the loss of one of my landmark film heroes, particularly in his role as Taylor in The Planet of the Apes (1968) —which is definitely in the formative top 10— and the even greater Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970). Heston, as an actor, was special for me because he did Shatner long before Shatner, and without any of the self-loathing and smarmy irony. His earnestness and almost transcendent projection of integrity made his performances that much more entertaining, all I have to do is think of classics like Touch of Evil (1958) (his controversial playing of the Mexican Vargas), The Omega Man (1971), and Soylent Green (1973) to name a few of my own favorites.
Now some of you hippies might be thinking, “What? Charlton Heston?!” And while it may seem “uncool” to eulogize Heston given his later conservative political activism during the 1980s, I don’t really care. And I could bring up the trump card of him being one of the few outspoken Hollywood supporters of the Civil Rights movement, but that would be playing into such criticism.
The fact is that Heston reminds me of one of my favorite early novelists, Jon Dos Passos, a figure whose earlt artistry effected me in ways far greater than his shifting, uninspired, and didactic later political viewpoints. More than that, given the sad state of all things considered “liberal” these days, I find this term almost as excruciating as conservative, especially after Michael Moore took the easy route and decided to end his anti-gun documentary Bowling for Columbine (2002) on the crucifixion of an ailing Heston, and the same goes for Clooney’s righteous criticisms. Neither Moore not Clooney played Taylor in The Planet of the Apes, and that’s how and why I will remember Charlton Heston so, in his immortal words, “Damn you all to hell!”