Sunday, April 06, 2008
Heston and On and On and On
I've always had a place in my heart for Charlton Heston.
Back in 1994, I interviewed Heston for an arts and entertainment show I was producing in Miami. At the time, he hadn't yet assumed control of the NRA and was years away from making his painful declaration that his flintlock rifle could be pried "from my cold, dead hands." Although Heston had campaigned hard for Reagan and Bush Sr. and had taken up the somewhat silly cause of speaking out against Ice-T and Body Count's Cop Killer song, he was still best remembered for having stood alongside Dr. Martin Luther King and the Kennedys during the 60s and for publicly castigating McCarthyism. In other words, even at my young age, I understood that he was a fascinatingly well-rounded man -- as well as a Hollywood legend, obviously -- and someone I should feel honored to be given the opportunity to speak with.
Truth be told, I admit that going into the interview, I was nervous as hell to even be in the same room with such an imposing cultural figure.
The guy played both Moses and God at various points, after all.
But all his larger-than-life achievements aside -- the Oscar, the honors and the personal and professional triumphs and tragedies -- when you sat down with Charlton Heston and began to chat with him, he put you at ease and made you feel like you were the only person on Earth. He did this, apparently, whether you were a close friend, Edward R. Murrow or some 24 year old kid from South Florida whose name happened to come up in the interview rotation.
After spending an hour just talking to Charlton Heston about anything and everything -- from his career and his politics, to his personal life, to his thoughts on pop culture and his place in it (he and I threw our favorite lines from his movies back and forth to each other until we were both blue in the face from laughter), to his take on the romantic life of a legendary leading man (he offered some surprisingly simple yet sage advice to an impetuous boy like myself on the subject of making love work and last) -- I found myself starstruck not by his pomp and stateliness but by his warmth and charm.
At the end of our time together -- our lengthy, casual conversation -- he placed his hand on my shoulder and said something to me that, true or not, was exactly what I needed to hear and would wind up providing me with a genuinely memorable moment in my career: "Son, I've been doing this for a very long time, and that was honestly one of the best interviews I've ever had. Thank you." He then met my girlfriend at the time, who happened to work with me, and told her that she was a very lucky woman (which was completely false of course, but through no fault of his).
To this day, Heston's compliment stands among the nicest things anyone has ever said to me.
And that's why, when I learned late last night that Charlton Heston had died, I had to force myself not to cry a little.
They really don't make them like him anymore, and I can't help thinking how unfortunate that is.