A Many Splendored Thing: The 2019 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival — Part 5

The Descendants.

As the calendar ticks ever closer to November, you know what that means: the passes for the 2020 TCM Film Festival will be going on sale soon – and it’s a perfect time for my next installment on this year’s film fest!

Today, I’m covering one of my (many) favorite experiences, a Club TCM panel discussion called “The Descendants.” As hinted by the title, this event featured the children of several stars from Hollywood’s Golden Age – Jennifer Grant, daughter of Cary Grant; Fraser Heston, son of Charlton Heston; and Dr. Hasna Muhammad, daughter of Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis. The trio was interviewed by actress Illeana Douglas who, as the granddaughter of Melvin Douglas, is herself a “Descendant.”

Grant, Muhammad and Heston each shared their pleasure of being the offspring of their famous parents, as well as more intimate details that gave the standing-room-only crowd a glimpse into their lives. Grant – whose mother is actress Dyan Cannon – stated that she still watches her father’s films, emphasizing the “lightness and love” that he brought to his performances.

“Beyond being my dad, he just makes me so happy,” she said.

Muhammad, a retired educator, writer and photographer, spoke of her pride in Davis and Dee.

Charlton Heston was active in the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

“It’s always an honor to represent my parents and remind folks of what they stood for and how they represented themselves in Hollywood,” she said. “Their work will live on, and it’s such a blessing that I can still see them move in this realm. It’s always heartwarming to see how they bring joy to so many people.”

Heston, a director, writer and producer who is currently working on a documentary about his father, shared that there was more to Charlton Heston than the larger-than-life roles he played.

“Everybody knows him for some iconic images,” Heston said, “but there was the man who marched with Martin Luther King, helped found the American Film Institution, went under fire with the USO to visit the troops in Vietnam, and wrote down soldiers’ numbers and called their parents.”

“Our parents worked [in the civil rights movement] together,” Muhammad told Heston. “There are photos of them together.”

Jennifer Grant and her famous parents.

The mood of the event was far from somber, however.

“My father was in World War II and he was a medic, and for some reason, he came home thinking he was a doctor,” Muhammad told the amused crowd. “He also thought he was a handyman. He always said that his claim to fame was being married to my mom.”

Grant offered up several tidbits about her father, including that he “wasn’t healthy at all.”

“He drank black coffee all day long – sometimes he wouldn’t eat breakfast,” she said. “He liked Benny Hill and Gene Wilder. When I was born, my dad retired, so he was a DAD.”

All three of the guests recalled what their lives were like because of the fame of their parents. Grant said that, for as long as she could remember, “there were so many photographers around, and lines formed around us.” Muhammad also stated that “there were always people around.”

“[My parents] would take [my siblings and me] with them,” Muhammad said. “In Italy once, my father was playing a Catholic priest and he kept on his wardrobe. We were quite the spectacle, because we kept calling him, ‘Daddy! Daddy!’”

Fraser, his father, and Cecil B. DeMille.

Muhammad also said that her parents told their children that “there was another sibling – the people – and they were always beholden to the people. And when people called them to do marches and do fundraisers, they would go. It was the people who were calling, and they always answered the call.”

As for Heston, he said that he “imagined that his father was a professional chariot driver. When we deplaned in Rome for Ben-Hur, I thought the people were there to see me!” (And maybe they were – Fraser portrayed the baby Moses in his father’s 1959 film The Ten Commandments!) Incidentally, Heston worked with his father as director on several projects, and he praised his father’s professionalism: “He showed up on time, he knew his lines, he was generous with the other actors.” Heston also pointed out his father’s love for the acting profession: “He always said he would do it for nothing if someone would feed his children.”

Grant, who is an actress and author, told the audience that neither of her parents were enthusiastic about her interest in the acting field. “I was offered an acting scholarship; my dad told me that if I took it, he wasn’t paying for Stanford, so I didn’t take it,” Grant said. “They were both very hard-working. They knew it could be a tough path.”

Jennifer Grant wore her father’s glasses from North by Northwest.

Illeana Douglas asked the three if they had any prized possessions that had belonged to their parents. Grant displayed the Cartier watch she was wearing, which had been her father’s. She was also wearing the glasses that Grant wore in the 1959 film North by Northwest. Muhammad said that she had her mother’s jewelry and a few shawls because “I like to wrap myself in them.” And Heston has the staff of Moses from The Ten Commandments, which was given to the senior Heston by the movie’s director, Cecil B. DeMille.

The three also discussed the personal – and equally famous – friends of their parents.

“Muhammad Ali and my father were born one day apart and they would call each other,” Grant said. “My father’s closest friend was Frank Sinatra. We once went to see Sinatra’s show at the Hollywood Bowl. He stopped singing right in the middle of a song and said, ‘Jennifer – I love you, Jennifer.’ I still remember the patent leather shoes I was wearing.”

Muhammad said that one of parents’ closest friends was actor Sidney Poitier.

“As you know, my mom and Sidney were in several films together,” she said. “Our families were intertwined. We would see them kissing and be like, ‘Uncle Sidney, you’re kissing my mom and Daddy you’re not doing anything! What’s wrong with this picture?’ I remember answering the phone and Ralph Abernathy or Dr. King being on the line. My sister remembers Paul Robeson. They were very much a part of our lives and we are richer for it.”

Heston recalled a number of his father’s friends, including Harry Belafonte and Ronald Reagan.

My daughter and me with Dr. Hasna Muhammad.

“I remember Dad saying there was only one actor he was jealous of – Cary Grant,” Heston said. “He said ‘Cary Grant gets to wear beautiful clothes and stand in beautiful rooms and say beautiful lines to beautiful women. I get to stand around in the mud. Just once, I’d like to act in a Cary Grant movie.’”

Of all of the events from the 2019 TCM Film Festival, I think that The Descendants stands out as the one that I am most gratified to have experienced. I smiled, I laughed – I even teared up a time or two. It was like finally getting the chance to go to a movie that you’ve been wanting to see, and it turning out to be everything you’d hoped for, and more.

Stay tuned for next month’s installment of A Many Splendored Thing: The 2019 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival!

~ by shadowsandsatin on October 30, 2019.

5 Responses to “A Many Splendored Thing: The 2019 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival — Part 5”

  1. I have tears in my eyes and a smile on my face. Thank you.


  2. Sounds like a fascinating discussion. And I liked that they had positive things to say about their parents.

  3. […] The baby Moses in Heston’s 1959 film The Ten Commmandments was played by the actor’s son, Fraser. (Incidentally, I had the pleasure of seeing Fraser at the 2019 TCM Film Festival.) […]

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