Heston was always a man of his words

Times Staff Writer

CHARLTON HESTON, who died Saturday at age 84, was an avid newspaper reader, eager to share his opinions. In addition to writing dozens of letters to the paper over four decades, the “Ben-Hur” star often would telephone Los Angeles Times editors with his comments.

While his political views were typically conservative, they were not always dogmatic. Equally distinctive was the way the Oscar winner sometimes read the paper: He would have an assistant spread sections around his pool, and Heston would peruse different stories between laps. By the time he’d completed his workout, he also had finished the day’s news.

Here are excerpts from some of Heston’s letters to the paper:

Spike Lee’s threat

IN a fit of pique at the Cannes Film Festival, Spike Lee said I should be shot “with a .44 Bulldog” (the handgun used by the serial killer Son of Sam). In response, I feel some irony. In ‘63, when I was marching for the freedom of black Americans, I was threatened by white men. In ‘99, active now for the freedom of all Americans, I’m threatened by a black man.


June 1999


Elia Kazan’s Oscar

SO the Oscars came off smoothly, with good work rewarded. Early anxieties about the [honorary Oscar presented to director Elia] Kazan . . . went unrealized. There was some scuffling by street protesters but inside the hall the presentation was vigorously applauded; only a few sat silent. It seems that the fierce and relentless attack on Kazan, lasting many weeks, was in fact the last hurrah of the Hollywood left. (Mind you, the Hollywood liberal is still with us, but that’s a different breed of cat entirely, alive and well, content to be the arbiter of taste, political correctness and the search for the next Great Restaurant.)

March 1999


Well, whatever

THE cultural and social fabric of the country is fraying around the edges as we split up into separate little Gypsy camps, each with a different agenda, heading in different directions. A while ago, I was at one of those silly “A-list” parties and fell into conversation on all this with a stunningly beautiful, famous star (not a bad actress, either) who said, “Well, look what it says on the dollar bill: ‘e pluribus unum.’ From one, many.” “Actually, you’ve got the Latin backward,” I replied. “It translates, ‘From many, one.’ As in one nation . . . indivisible?” “No kidding?” she said, amazed. “Well . . . whatever.” And there you have it. We live, increasingly, in a “well, whatever” nation. God help us all.

February 1999


Lincoln no Clinton

I am offended by the preposterous characterization of Abraham Lincoln as a sex-crazed clone of Bill Clinton. Lincoln is generally judged to be one of our finest presidents (who also freed the slaves). To imply that he in any way resembled our current president is an outrageous and shameful insult.

October 1998


The bomb was best

I’VE read most of your reviews on the books reexamining the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that ended World War II. Each condemns the action without reservation as an insanely murderous choice. Several respected intellectuals are quoted, some no doubt qualified on the subject. It’s too bad none of them was there. . . . The bomb ended the war, and its nuclear successors won the Cold War without firing a shot, on either side. I call that a worthwhile achievement.

August 1998


Titanic tanking?

FOR the past 20 years, the most serious and apparently insoluble problem facing Hollywood is the runaway inflation of the cost of making and marketing movies. . . . The prime culprit this year is “Titanic,” replacing “Waterworld” and eclipsing “Heaven’s Gate” in several unwelcome categories: over schedule by several weeks and over budget by many millions, with many weeks of added post-production yet to come. Plus interest. Still, all may yet be well.

April 1997


Justice for Ice-T

Iwas bemused to read in Calendar that Dick Wolf, producer of the superb “Law & Order,” has hired the rap “artist” formerly known as Ice-T to star as the criminal hero of a series in which the baffled police employ bad guys to catch bad guys. Wolf is one of the best producers in television; if anyone can bring this concept off, he can. Ice-T deserves the right to make a living. I wish them both well, not least because I helped get Ice-T fired four years ago by Time Warner, the largest entertainment conglomerate in the world. He was then under contract to Warners, which had just released a disc called “Cop Killer,” obscenely celebrating the murder of policemen. August 1996



In defense of Kato

THE hapless Kato Kaelin has my sympathy. Still, if O.J. Simpson demeaned him during his tenure as housesitter, dog watcher and sometime companion, it was no worse, as your article points out, than the treatment routinely accorded the people who serve those affluent public faces who lack the character and decency to understand how to treat those who work for them. I’ve observed their disgusting antics throughout my career. They no longer amaze but only appall me. Your article, though, fails to separate clearly the Katos, gofers, dogsbodies and buddies from the men and women who function professionally as personal assistants.

April 1995 --

Riot as revolution?

YOUR examination of the rioters . . . whether they were random looters or principled protesters, the wild children of welfare or the impassioned architects of revolution . . . was reasoned and relatively unbiased. Your finding seemed clear, though: If these looters were in fact honest rebels, we should understand, maybe even applaud. I think you’ve stumbled badly in implying that revolution is automatically OK. In the iron eye of history, revolution has a lousy track record. It boasts one triumph, our American Revolution, the only rebellion in history to pass power peaceably to the next generation.

August 1992


AIDS and a game show

CALENDAR’S lead story on the new TV show “Studs” caught my eye. Culturally and creatively, the project seems beyond comment. It occurs to me, though, that in a time when Magic Johnson’s sad situation and the way he’s dealt with it has focused attention on the risk for heterosexual AIDS, “Studs” could make a significant contribution to this growing health problem. Since the show is predicated on two young men taking three young women to bed and then discussing it, surely the producers should provide all participants with a free AIDS test as part of the casting process.

November 1991 --

‘Miss Saigon’

ACTORS may be the oldest minority group in the world. Thousands of years ago, when blacks still roved innocent in the African rain forests and Jews reigned remote in their desert redoubts, actors were wandering around Europe juggling apples, telling stories and doing the three walnut shells and a pea scam. We slept in stables before Christ was born, often with local company that got us run out of town by dogs the next morning. . . . I can’t believe that the first union I joined, to which I’m proud to belong, could endorse so blatantly racist a position as Actors’ Equity has done in denying Jonathan Pryce the right to play the role he created in “Miss Saigon.” As actor and director, I’ve always assumed the idea was to get the best actor for the part, no matter what color he or she was.

August 1990


Noriega must go

AN open letter to Jesse Jackson: The world has changed since we both walked behind Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. a quarter-century ago. Still, we share that shining memory and, I suppose, a common allegiance to our country and its people. Beyond that, we differ on many issues. Sadly, I have to say I find your column on Panama not only mean-spirited but riddled with error. Let me point out the most egregious. Do you really think that “democracy is not created at the point of a bayonet”? What did Washington’s brave, beleaguered army carry on their bayonets in 1776, then? What did the GIs splashing ashore in Normandy and across France into Germany bring, if not democracy? What brought democracy to Japan, if not bayonets? . . . You deplore bayonets in Panama? Perhaps you preferred Noriega?

January 1990