TCM Summer Under the Stars: Day Thirty — Charlton Heston

Forever Ben.

When many people think of Charlton Heston’s film career, they think of his biblical epics, like Ben Hur or The Ten Commandments or El Cid.

But Heston produced a body of work that encompassed a wide range of roles in a variety of films, from noir to westerns, and from science fiction to adventure. He could do it all.


Heston was born John Charles Carter on October 4, 1923, in Evanston, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. His father, Russell, a sawmill operator, moved his family to St. Helen, Michigan, when young John was an infant, but his parents divorced when he was 10. His mother remarried and John took the last name of his new stepfather – Heston. (He later adopted the first name Charlton, which was the maiden name of his maternal grandmother.) The family moved to nearby Wilmette, where Heston attended New Trier High School and participated in what he later called the school’s “extraordinarily well-developed” drama program. Upon his graduation, he received a drama scholarship to Northwestern University, which he attended for two years.

Young Charlton.

Heston married fellow Northwestern student Lydia Clarke in 1944, and left college that same year to join the U.S. Army Air Forces. During World War II, he served as a radio operator and aerial gunner, reaching the rank of staff sergeant. He moved to New York with his wife when the war was over, working for a while as an artists’ model and then moving to North Carolina to manage a playhouse in Asheville. The Hestons later returned to New York, and Heston was promptly offered a role in a Broadway revival of Antony and Cleopatra. He was also seen on a number of television programs, including productions of Julius Caesar, in which he played Mark Antony, and Wuthering Heights. His performance in the latter telefilm was spotted by Hollywood producer Hal Wallis, who signed Heston to a contact. He debuted on the big screen later that year, in Dark City, a film noir with Lizabeth Scott, Jack Webb, and Mike Mazurki.


  • Heston’s classmates at Northwestern included Cloris Leachman, Paul Lynde, Charlotte Rae, and Patricia Neal.

    Heston and his wife of 64 years.

  • 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.)
  • Heston and his wife, Lydia, were married for 64 years, until the actor’s death in 2008.
  • Heston won the Academy Award for Best Actor for Ben Hur (1959). Nearly 20 years later, in 1978, he was given the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the Oscar ceremony.
  • Carrying on the tradition from his early career, Heston actor played Mark Antony in three films: Julius Caesar in 1950 and 1970, and Antony and Cleopatra in 1972.


See it.

I was hoping that one of my favorite Charlton Heston movies would air on his day – Ruby Gentry or The Big Country or The Ten Commandments – but no such luck. So I’m going with Touch of Evil, even though it’s not one of my favorite noirs. Heston’s good in it, though, so there’s that. In it, he plays a Mexican (yes) drug enforcement official investigating a car bombing murder. You may not always know what’s going on as the film’s labyrinthine plot unfurls, but you won’t be bored. Trust me.

And join me here tomorrow for the last day (where did the time go?) of Summer Under the Stars!

~ by shadowsandsatin on August 29, 2020.

4 Responses to “TCM Summer Under the Stars: Day Thirty — Charlton Heston”

  1. Welles film is audacious and perfectly slotted in primetime for the actor’s salute.

    None of my real faves seemed to make the cut today either. I’m not in a Ben-Hur mood, and I’m never in a 55 Days in Peking mood. I wish they had scheduled Dark City. There’s a lot to enjoy in his Hollywood debut. On twitter, I list “my programming day.”

  2. […] Day 30: Charlton Heston […]

  3. Noir fans may want to check out Heston’s other noir effort (was there a third? I don’t think so), Dark City (1950). It’s one of his first roles, and it’s easy to see why he became a star.

    Dark City starts out with a terrific first 1/3, but slowly weakens as it goes. Still, it’s one of those intriguing noirs, like Timetable, Roadblock, Shield for Murder, and Sleep, My Love, that has its own distinct pleasures while never really threatening greatness.

    Just occurred to me that each of those titles would be interesting exercises for screenwriters: How would you change and improve each to make it a truly top-notch film? And with each around 70 years old, any one of them could serve as a template for its own, rewritten, contemporary script.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: