ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Remembering Heston the maverick

CHARLTON Heston, who died Saturday, was a political individualist in a town that values conformity far more than it likes to admit.

This week, Hollywood activists across the political spectrum recalled the Academy Award-winning actor as an independent and unfailing political free spirit who followed his conscience wherever it lead him -- from the civil rights movement to the National Rifle Assn.

Kirk Douglas, for example, recalled the sensation Heston and fellow actors Marlon Brando,Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte caused when they participated in the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s March on Washington in 1963. (In those days, few major Hollywood stars were willing to be photographed supporting integration because they feared losing large segments of their audience.)

"Chuck Heston was a wonderful guy," Douglas, who also participated in the civil rights movement in the 1960s, said in an interview this week. "We differed on many things. He was in favor of guns, and I'm in favor of gun regulation. But he was always a gentleman. You could count on him when you needed him."

Heston was a Democrat during the Kennedy years and he also opposed the Vietnam War, but his personal politics began to move in a conservative direction when his friend Ronald Reagan won the presidency. And that, says screenwriter and novelist David Freeman, put him ahead of his time.

"He believed the world had changed, and he had changed too," Freeman said. "Going from left to right as you get older is hardly new. On the other hand, he was a thoughtful man."

He thought the right was better for America, even if his colleagues in the entertainment industry didn't agree. He found a way to remain friends with his Democratic cohorts.

"He was one of those American Americans when it wasn't considered cool in Hollywood," said Roger L. Simon, the mystery novelist and Academy Award-nominated screenwriter who runs the conservative website Pajamas Media. "There's no question he was a really decent man."

Clint Eastwood recalled filling in for Heston at the Academy Awards in the 1970s when Heston had a flat tire on the freeway and missed his first appearance at the ceremony.

The star of "The Ten Commandments" was scheduled to do an Oscar presentation as Moses. Eastwood said he tried his best to fill Heston's shoes as the man who led his people to the promised land. He got laughs, but probably not for the right reasons, Eastwood joked this week.

Eastwood, who is also considered one of Hollywood's independent conservatives, said he and Heston never talked about politics. It was just understood that they agreed on some things and not on others.

"He supported different causes from different points of view," Eastwood said. "A lot of people in Hollywood believed he would run for office. But he chose not to."

Confounding the conventional political wisdom was always Heston's style.

tina.daunt@latimes.com

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