Set in stone by DeMille

Current 10 Commandments situation can trace history to helmer's pic

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court once again took up the question of the 10 Commandments.

Few remember that the flap over the 10 Commandments can trace its history back to, well, “The 10 Commandments,” Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 Paramount epic.

The 6-foot-tall Texas monolith that is a centerpiece of the case, along with more than 100 other granite Decalogues still standing around the country, owes its existence to a promotional campaign for the pic.

The tablet saga began when Minnesota Judge E.J. Ruegemer, already crusading to distribute copies of the commandments to schools and courts, heard DeMille was prepping a remake of his 1923 silent hit “The 10 Commandments” and called the helmer for support.

DeMille struck an alliance with Ruegemer and the 900,000-member Fraternal Order of Eagles to install granite Decalogue carvings around the country.

As the PR campaign hit full stride, pic’s topliners Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner were sent out to unveilings.

The effort didn’t end with the film’s theatrical run. In 1961 the Eagles installed the Texas slab, complete with a carved image of the film’s prop tablets.

Long forgotten, the movie-monument connection re-emerged as the monuments came under fire from lawsuits.

Conservative lawyer Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law & Justice has argued the tablets are not a government endorsement of religion because they also serve secular and economic purposes, including promoting DeMille’s movie.

Meanwhile, “The 10 Commandments” is still making money for Paramount. Pic was released on DVD in 1999 and repackaged in a special collector’s edition last year.

Par’s homevideo department says the film’s performed well and sold without major dips or spikes.

And whatever happens to Texas’ 10 Commandments, we haven’t heard the last of “The 10 Commandments.” Par and producer Mark Gordon are working on a remake.

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