There are so many important things to write about, today and every day. But I don’t want to let this time pass without sharing my personal memories of a magnificent man — my friend Charlton Heston.
First of all, can you think of one other Hollywood actor, no matter how famous or talented, who could have so perfectly personified the Moses of the Bible? Short of divinity himself, what role could be so impossible?
A Jew, raised as the son of the Egyptian pharaoh in privilege and power, Moses was banished at 40 to virtual servitude as a shepherd son-in-law to a desert priest, then at 80 called by God himself to go back to Egypt, to confront the all powerful pharaoh and demand the freedom of two and a half million fellow Jews — on which the economy and well-being of Egypt depended.
And at that point, the octogenarian Moses’ great adventure was just beginning! For 40 years, he led this migrant nation on a winding caravan through the Sinai wilderness, at times experiencing the might and grandeur of God — even exhibiting supernatural power by staff and proclamation — and at other times being bitterly reminded he was but a man.
Remember those literally incredible scenes when Moses spread his hands and the Red Sea parted before our eyes? And at his command, the sea walls collapsed and drowned the rapidly advancing Egyptian army? And when this humble but brave man spent 40 days on the top of Mount Horeb in the company of the Almighty, receiving the Ten Commandments written by the “finger of God” on two tablets of stone?
Only one actor, one bigger-than-life man, could ever have been believable in that role. The man was Charlton Heston.
There was something in his carriage, his manner, his voice, that set him apart, even in his many other roles, and in his daily life. I played tennis with him one afternoon at Michael Landon’s house, and though his feet and ankles were giving him trouble, he seemed to command the court and dominate the game.
Over the years, we showed up at some of the same events, some entertainment related, and others civic and patriotic in nature. We came to recognize each other as kindred spirits — happily married to wonderful women, devoted to our kids and families, enjoying our profession but conservative politically and deeply concerned about where our society seemed to be heading.
He marched in Selma with Martin Luther King, and I wrote and recorded a number of civil rights songs, including “I Had a Dream.” He became the spokesman for the National Rifle Association, but really, for the 2nd Amendment and the Constitution itself — for America, as our founding fathers conceived it.
I took up the pro-life cause, writing songs, producing videos, and appearing on TV to appeal to women to consider humane alternatives, other than sacrificing the life of the innocent unborn, for their unexpected and unwanted pregnancies.
We both supported our buddy Ronald Reagan’s candidacies for governor and president, our kids went to the same lovely school in the Bel Air hills, and his Lydia became a professional photographer while my Shirley became an author and recording artist with me. We knew we were Christian brothers, and open and unashamed to profess our faith. One Easter morning, our two families shared a sunrise service, egg hunt, and whale sightings at the Mauna Kea in Hawaii.
I especially cherish an evening in Grand Rapids some years ago. I flew in for a concert appearance, and when I checked into the hotel, I was handed a note inviting me to have an early dinner with President Ronald Reagan, who had come in to support the re-election campaign of a Republican congressman (Guy Vanderjagt, as I remember).
As the Secret Service guys led me into the Presidential suite, I expected to see a small group of local politicians. Instead, the dining table was set for three: My two friends, Ronald Reagan and Charlton Heston, and me.
We had a wonderful intimate dinner, laughing and sharing “old times.” I tried more than once to bring up current political topics, but the two old movie buddies wanted to take a break and just relive the experiences they’d shared in Hollywood. I could do that too, so we just relaxed and enjoyed each other. What an honor to have been included in that select company!
Chuck (as his friends called him) and I met once in Israel, on the actual Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem. I was producing a music video “Israel, O Blessed Israel,” and he and his son Fraser were finishing production on his magnificent video anthology “Charlton Heston Reads the Bible.” It was a warm encounter, and we again felt ourselves kinsmen, ever trying to promote the good.
There were other times, but the last one was in the hallowed American Legion Hall in Hollywood, when he came down (with some difficulty) to participate in a PBS special I was producing for “American Glory,” a sung and spoken tribute to America and our military heroes. He sat before the camera and read a favorite poem, in his deeply moving way.
His famous impassioned declaration at an NRA convention, his right arm raising his rifle skyward, proclaiming defiantly that the gun would be taken only “from my cold, dead hands!” will ring through our history like Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death!” He was born for dramatic declaration like few others.
Just today, I read again, in Deuteronomy 34:”There has never been another prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.” And there’s never been a man who could have portrayed Moses like Charlton Heston.
It thrills me to conjecture that the two have now met, face to face, at long last. Whether this inevitable encounter has already occurred or is yet to be, wouldn’t it be a magnificent thing to witness!
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