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Reading by Heston Opposed

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Aficionados of films and the arts might pay almost any price to attend a recital by the man who played Moses in the movies. But one organization says no one should go to see actor Charlton Heston perform--at least at the Skirball Cultural Center.

Women Against Gun Violence, a group dedicated to stringent gun control, has fired off a letter to the center, a leading Jewish institution in Los Angeles, protesting its invitation to the 75-year-old actor to do readings for some of Skirball’s biggest donors on Thursday.

Ann Reiss Lane, a former Los Angeles police commissioner who heads the group, said it is particularly inappropriate for a Jewish center to invite Heston, president of the National Rifle Assn., in view of the August attack at a Jewish community center in the San Fernando Valley. Several people were wounded, and a 39-year-old postal worker was shot to death later, allegedly by the same man.

“We support everyone’s 1st Amendment right to speak and your institution’s right to have a speaker of your choice,” Lane wrote to the center. “However, we wonder whether you fully appreciated how identified Mr. Heston is with a group that advocates absolutely no regulations whatsoever on private gun ownership, including assault weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.”

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Heston said Monday that the letter was “entirely irrational.”

“I’m doing a series of readings: Shakespeare, Byron, Shelley, Frost. It has nothing to do with what she is talking about. Will I appear? Of course.”

Skirball officials defended their invitation and said a full house of several hundred patrons is expected.

Rabbi Uri Herscher, Skirball’s president and chief executive, said it would be a mistake not to have Heston there. Part of the center’s mission since it opened in 1996, he said, has been to provide a forum for differing views on public and religious issues. Controversial people have appeared there, he said.

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“Uri Herscher doesn’t have to agree with Heston,” the rabbi said. “My disagreement [on Heston’s views on guns] does not preclude his taking the stage as an actor. This is not a political event. This is a cultural event.”

Herscher said the invitation stemmed from conversations he had with Heston during memorial services for two mutual friends.

Howard I. Friedman, a Los Angeles attorney and chairman of Skirball’s board of trustees, said there is strong support among Skirball’s donors for Heston’s appearance, noting the actor’s past support for civil rights and his opposition to the blacklisting of actors, producers and writers during the anti-Communist groundswell of the 1950s.


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