Charlton Heston died on Saturday 5th April, aged 84. Early in his career he appeared in a number of Hollywood ‘epics,’ playing Moses in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments, and appearing in Ben-Hur, with its famous chariot race, and El Cid. A standard Heston comment in interviews was: ‘I have played three presidents, three saints and two geniuses: if that doesn’t create an ego problem, nothing does.’
Heston was certainly a complex individual, as he was a supporter of Martin Luther King, the Screen Actors Guild, Ronald Reagan and the National Rifle Association during his lifetime.
In the late 1960s and 1970s he appeared in a number of science fiction films. Best known of these is probably The Planet of the Apes. He also starred in The Omega Man, based on Richard Matheson’s novel I Am Legend, which was recently filmed with Will Smith in the starring role. Heston also appeared in the original Airport disaster movie. He made a cameo appearance, in ape make-up, in Tim Burton’s remake of Planet of the Apes, looking strangely reminiscent of Edward G. Robinson – his Soylent Green co-star – in early make-up tests for the original version.
In a 1985 interview on British television, Jill Cochrane asked Heston if he feared the concept of a future as depicted in Planet of the Apes – because, obviously, it could happen! – to which he replied:
‘Ah… no, that of course was just a fantasy. A far more likley concept is in Soylent Green, which I also made. I think the population problem is the greatest problem the world faces. If we do not solve population, never mind any of the rest – never mind civil rights, never mind nuclear power, never mind the environment – it’s all finished. And of course that’s what Soylent Green was about. I’m very glad I made that and very glad it was a success … it made a statement: it’s very hard to make a statement on something you believe in, especially in a film which has to please or it doesn’t speak.’
Heston’s published journals show that he was very keen to make the movie after he had read Harry Harrison’s novel Make Room! Make Room!, though they don’t, unfortunately, give much insight into why the various changes to the story were made – though perhaps his comment about needing to entertain in order to be able to make a statement accounts for the introduction of the cannibalism element in the adaptation.