Chosen to play the role of Moses in the film “The Ten Commandments,” because director Cecil B. DeMille thought that the tall, muscular and square jawed Charlton Heston was the spitting image of the statue of Moses rendered by Michelangelo. After his performance in this film and Ben-Hur, this 6 foot 3 inch actor was identified with Biblical epics.
Born John Charles Carter on October 4, 1923 in Wilmette, Illinois, Charton Heston is the only child of Lilla Charlton and Russel Whitford Carter. When he was a toddler, Heston’s father moved the family to a rural, forested part of St. Helen in Michigan where his work took him and where the young Heston spent much of his youth in the backwoods hunting, fishing and acting out the characters he read in books.
By the time he was 10, his parents divorced and his mother married Chester Heston and moved back to Wilmette where young Heston attended New Trier High School. He enrolled in New Tier’s drama program and was active in the Winnetka Community Theater. After high school, he earned a drama scholarship to Northwestern University where he met and married Lydia Marie Clarke in 1944. In that same year, Charlton Heston joined the U.S. Army Air Force as a radio operator and aerial gunner aboard a B-25 stationed in the Aleutian Islands.
After the war, Charlton Heston and his wife moved to New York City hoping to make it in theater. In 1948, he landed a supporting role in a Broadway revival of Anthony and Cleopatra and was able to subsequently break into TV and made a name for himself in Hollywood. He used his screen name of Charlton Heston in his first film, Peer Gynt, which he adopted from his mother’s maiden surname of Charlton and his step-father’s surname of Heston.
Heston was an active supporter of the civil rights movement and was one of the few Hollywood actors who publicly opposed racism, the Vietnam War and abortion while vigorously fighting for Americans’ Second Amendment Rights to bear arms. He admitted later in his speeches that he helped the civil rights cause long before it became fashionable in Hollywood. Charlton Heston was initially a moderate Democrat, but later supported conservative Republican policies and was said to have voted for Richard Nixon in 1972 and campaigned for the Reagan and Bush presidencies.
Charlton Heston died on April 5, 2008 at the age of 84 at his home in Beverly Hills leaving behind a cinematic legacy that would be difficult to duplicate given today’s popular culture and political fashion. He was inducted into the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum’s Hall of Great Western Performers on 17 April 2010.