“Another tentpole has fallen,” Walter Mirisch reminisced with me this morning as we recalled Charlton Heston. He produced three films with him, “The Hawaiians” (1970), “Midway” (1976) and “Gray Lady Down” (1975).
“We were very good friends,” he said sadly to me. “And we had terrible arguments about the Bill of Rights” (Second Amendment). I, too, had been a good friend of Chuck’s. And we, too argued similarly. “I found it hard to believe,” says Mirisch, “that someone (Heston) as cultural as he would argue this way.” Mirisch recalled once being in Washington with Heston. “He introduced me to President George Bush saying, ’He’s (Mirisch’s) a Democrat’.” “That’s all right,” the President said to Heston, “We have to have some of those fellows.” After Heston announced his illness, Mirisch would visit him regularly in his home, high in the Beverly Hills. “I used to go to see him — finally, he didn’t recognize me any more,”
(Read Mirisch’s book, “I Thought We Were Making Movies — Not History” from the University of Wisconsin Press)
On March 20, I recalled in the update of my 1958 Archive Column that Heston’s son Fraser told me of his father’s prolonged (six -year) illness,” He never complained once. It’s tough.” In that column I wrote about visiting Heston 50 years ago on the Rome location — the Circus Maximus — of “Ben-Hur” and the tough time director William Wyler was giving him. P.S. Heston won the Oscar for that portrayal. Among the other Heston films’ set I visited was “The Planet of the Apes” in 1967. I wore “Apes” makeup and costume for my column, Heston was almost bare for his role. We both had a good laugh about our respective roles. But, when Heston took on the role of columnist for the magazine “Guns and Ammo” and headed the NRA, the laughing stopped and our arguing began. But we continued our non-political friendship — attended the Hestons’ 50th wedding anniversary party and I chronicled their recent 64th. We learned of his death in a release from ”family spokesman” Bill Powers. I didn’t recognize the name as one of showbiz press agents with whom I’d become familiar in my half-century-plus reporting. The affable Powers told me he is with the Mercury Group. In addition to representing Charlton Heston it has also handled pr for the NRA for more than 20 years. The Mercury Group helped the 2000 election campaign for George W. Bush whose administration became pro-NRA. Had Charlton Heston survived — you could be sure the always-outspoken actor would be heard in the upcoming Supreme Court ruling on the Second Amendment and gun ownership. He never pulled back performing in any role — on stage or as a citizen. And we’d still disagree on the latter performance.