A couple of readers asked me why I dismissed much of Heston's film career and focused instead on his politics. Simple: I think that Heston was at best a second-rate actor who had the good fortune and occasional good taste to work with superior talents like Welles and Peckinpah. But rubbing shoulders with film legends does not a legend make. Heston did his wooden best in his better movies. That's it. To insist that Heston was a master character actor is exceedingly charitable if not bizarrely revisionist. Yet it's doubtlessly more appealing than writing about our present savage state.
Heston's revolting politics has nothing to do with my assessment. I'm able to separate the artist from the reactionary. Evelyn Waugh and Ezra Pound come to mind, though Heston was nowhere in their creative neighborhood. Nor was he on the same acting level as Ronald Reagan and John Wayne, neither of whom would be confused for flower children (and when Reagan was a liberal, he was the red-baiting, Trumanist brand). Hell, Clint Eastwood is a much better character actor than Heston ever was, and unlike Heston, Eastwood has grown as an artist as he's aged. Do any of you Heston lovers think that Moses Ben-Hur could ever have produced a masterpiece like "Letters From Iwo Jima"? I'm sure ol' Chuck was a nice guy, warm, friendly, and filled with amusing showbiz stories. But an exceptional talent he was not.
And can we stop hearing about how Heston once marched with Martin Luther King? It's not as if Heston was attacked by dogs and beaten by racist mobs. I've debated a fair number of reactionaries who claimed to have marched with Dr. King before being sent rightward by black "extremists" and the like. Heston was no different on this front. Many of his liberal admirers criticized Heston's NRA activism, but that was only one part of the whole picture. Heston supported imperial violence, from El Salvador to Iraq, while shedding tears for fictional cops being shot in a speed metal song. Above all, Heston fought for "white pride," and honestly appeared to believe that "God fearing, law-abiding, Caucasian, middle-class Protestant [and] evangelical Christian" Americans were an oppressed group. This type of rhetoric isn't that far of a stroll from openly racist politics, as you hear the same points made by white supremacists. Maybe Heston personally didn't harbor racist feelings, but he sure as shit enabled those who do. Heston also served on the advisory board of Accuracy In Media, a far-right group that routinely called for journalists to be charged with treason, when not advocating suppression of political dissent. Yet Heston is viewed as a champion of free thought and inquiry. I'm sure that Heston's old comrade Martin Luther King would agree.