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Charlton Heston

Charlton Heston was an American actor born in Evanston, Illinois. His family moved to Wilmette, Illinois and even at the age of five he wanted to act. He majored in drama in every school he attended, including New Trier High School and Northwestern University, and also worked on daytime radio in Chicago. He married Lydia Clarke, a classmate, in 1944, and served three years in the 11th Air Force during World War II, mostly as a radio operator on B-25's with the rank of Staff Sergeant. Afterwards, he and his wife moved to New York, trying to find work in theatre whilst supporting themselves by modelling. In 1948, he made his Broadway début in Anthony and Cleopatra, and appeared in early television dramas. Producer Hal Wallis saw Heston in a 16mm version of Julius Caesar, and gave him his first film role in Dark City (1950). After that, he played in close to forty films, the most important of them being The Greatest Show On Earth (1952), The Naked Jungle and The Secret Of The Incas (both 1954), Touch Of Evil (1958), El Cid (1961), The Agony And The Ecstasy (1965), and his role as the Biblical character Moses in the Cecil B. DeMille epic The Ten Commandments (1956). 6'3" Heston was a non-smoker, a tee-teetotaller and an exercise enthusiast who believed "an actor's primary tool is his body!". He achieved fame at the 1959 Academy Awards where he won the Best Actor award for his titular role in the William Wyler film, Ben Hur, and was president of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) from 1966-1971. Heston also made headway in the science fiction genre, typically playing protagonist characters in a post-Apocalyptic setting. In 1971, he played the role of Commander Robert Neville in the movie The Omega Man, and in 1973 he played Robert Thorn in the dystopic Richard Fleischer film, Soylent Green. Heston's most famous science fiction role however, goes back to 1968 where he played the astronaut, George Taylor, in the Arthur P. Jacobs production, Planet of the Apes. [1]

Already some way into development, Arthur P. Jacobs figured his Planet of the Apes movie proposal would benefit from the involvement of a high-profile star. At a meeting with Charlton Heston on 5 June 1965, Jacobs pitched the movie, showed him the extensive preliminary sketches he had commissioned, and gave him a copy of Rod Serling's final script draft to read. Heston signed on immediately and stayed committed to the project for the two more years it would take before filming finally began. He also suggested respected director Franklin J. Schaffner to helm the movie. "The project was first submitted to me years before production was actually undertaken. At that time, Warner Bros had the project and invested a great deal of money in it, although all that existed were the rights to the Pierre Boulle novel. Arthur had a sketch presentation which he made to me, and I was immediately intrigued by it. I had, I think in common with most people, been always fascinated by science fiction. But, for an actor, it has two serious drawbacks: in the first place, until fairly recently, the genre was not undertaken seriously by film-makers. I think it would be fair to say that 'Planet of the Apes' was among the early, serious science fiction films. Secondly, there are usually no roles. The parts in a science fiction film tend to fall into three categories: monsters, in which you are merely a vehicle for the makeup; the pointers, who usually appear in pictures like 'Destination Moon' and '2001', in which you're seeing these amazing sights, and you say, "Hey, look at that!," and point; and the fugitives, who are in the more horrifying films, in which you're running away from the creature from the black lagoon or something, and you say, "Look out, here it comes again!" Those really don't offer much creative satisfaction for the actor, but 'Planet of the Apes' offered an acting role, Taylor, the astronaut who is physically fleeing earth because of his contempt for man as a generally unsatisfactory animal. He finds himself thrust into the ironic situation of being the only reasoning human being in the anthropoid society, where he is forced to defend the homo sapiens whom he despises. This is a very interesting acting situation. I was of course fascinated by it, and recognized its clear commercial potential. In any event, I told Arthur what I seldom tell anyone with a project that isn't firmly financed, that I would be interested in doing it. I think Richard Zanuck deserves a great deal of credit for the fact that Fox undertook the picture, because he examined the project and the considerable costs involved. At this time, Franklin Schaffner was involved, and Zanuck had a lot of confidence in him, rightly so, as did I, as not only a director of enormous creative ability, but a good captain. You need a good captain in any picture, but you really need one in directing a film like this." "Franklin Schaffner and I have worked together many times, not only in film but on stage and television, and we have a very good rapport."[1] Heston took part in a screen-test with Edward G. Robinson in 1966 in order to convince the Fox studio that the movie could be taken seriously.

Taylor 3

Charlton Heston as George Taylor

Charlton Heston felt he could identify with Taylor: "As much as any character I have ever played, Taylor reflects my own views about mankind. I have infinite faith and admiration for the extraordinary individual man - the Gandhi, the Christ, the Caesar, the Michelangelo, the Shakespeare - but very limited expectations for man as a species. And that, of course, was Taylor's view. And the irony of a man so misanthropic that he almost welcomes the chance to escape entirely from the world finding himself then cast in a situation where he is spokesman for his whole species and forced to defend their qualities and abilities - it was a very appealing thing to act."[2] The role also attracted him because of the psychology underlying the basic science fiction character, but the making of the movie proved to be very physically challenging: "I suppose Taylor comes as close to being an existentialist character as perhaps any I've played. I've played really angry and cynical men, but never a man whose cynicism and distaste for mankind was sufficient to make him literally leave the earth." "His desperate attempts to communicate when he is temporarily speechless is a marvellous acting problem. I found it a fascinating part to work on; I may say one of the most physically painful parts I've done, as I spent almost every scene either being hit with sticks and stones, or pulled around with a leash about my neck, or squirted with fire hoses or falling down cliffs." "'Apes' was a very tough picture to make, the locations, the climate, and working conditions were difficult. Almost all pictures are tough. It's hard work - very hard work. What you're trying to do, to compromise between the dream of the perfect picture you have in your mind, and the inevitable failure to achieve the dream - it's hard." "What Schaffner and I were trying to say with it is that man is a seriously flawed animal; he must learn to deal with his flaws, that it's not something you can eliminate. I suppose the outstanding example of the same comment is Swift's 'Gulliver's Travels', which curiously works in the same way. It can be published as a boy's book of adventure, just as 'Planet of the Apes' can be enjoyed as a fantastic adventure film."[1]

In 1969, the studio heads at Twentieth Century-Fox wanted Heston to return as the starring role in Beneath the Planet of the Apes. Heston didn't want to commit to a sequel, but agreed to make a brief appearance so long as his character was killed off early in the film. After several script drafts, it was decided that the Taylor character would function as a framing sequence for the second film. He appeared briefly in the beginning of the movie, where he falls into the Mutant trap, and returns towards the end of the film for the movie's climax. Heston agreed to no more than eight days shooting for Beneath the Planet of the Apes, and donated his guild-minimum fee of $50,000 to his son Fraser’s school.[3] The original storyline for Taylor was later adapted for the character of John Brent. [4] "I felt a certain obligation to Richard Zanuck about the film. The first one had such an enormous success, both critically and commercially, and of course I was grateful for the part and the material rewards it brought me and so forth. They spoke to me, as soon as the overwhelming success of the film became evident, about a sequel, and I said, "You know, there is no sequel. There’s only the one story. You can have another picture about further adventures among the monkeys, and it can be an exciting film, but creatively there is no film." Now that comment is in no way intended, as I said to Zanuck, as a criticism of them for making it. A picture that grosses $22 million, and has the potential to be spun off into one or more sequels, obviously you have a responsibility to your stockholders, and indeed all the other movie makers on your lot who will be making films with the profits from that to make others. I think it's fruitless to compare and say which of the... successive films is the better. It's clear that, in terms of the story, the first one is all there is. Nevertheless, I felt a responsibility to Zanuck, and I said I'd be happy to do it as a friendly contribution."[1]

It was Heston's idea for his character to destroy the Earth at the end of Beneath the Planet of the Apes. Originally, Taylor, Brent and Nova were to survive and build a new society of human and ape coexistence. After a re-write, Taylor's character was intended to defiantly detonate a Doomsday weapon, but the script was slightly altered so that Taylor instead set the bomb off accidentally. Heston believed that by destroying the entire planet, it would stave off future sequels. However, the Planet of the Apes franchise spawned three more films following Beneath the Planet of the Apes. [5] He considered the finished movie merely 'acceptable' when he saw it: "April 20, 1970 - I ran APES II tonight, with many misgivings. It was a little better, actually, than I'd thought it could be. Aside from many careless errors in structure and detail, the main problem is that the leading character [Jimmy Franciscus... a good actor] really has nothing to play, as I predicted would be the case when I refused the role. I'm barely acceptable in a cameo reprise of the Taylor role from the first film."[6]


Charlton Heston as Zaius with director Tim Burton.

Following his climactic demise in Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Charlton Heston pursued other film roles. Later, he began to step away from leading roles and started doing voice work. Allegedly, the FBI asked him to be the voice of God in negotiations with David Koresh during the siege at Waco (reprising the role he voiced in The Ten Commandments). In his later years Heston made a number of interesting cameo's, such as playing Arnold Schwarzenegger's boss in True Lies. In 2001 however, Heston found himself returning to the Planet of the Apes. Donning ape make-up for the first time, Charlton had a cameo appearance as Zaius the ageing chimpanzee father to Tim Roth's Thade. The character "aped" one of Heston's closing lines from the original movie, this time condemning mankind with the words, "Damn them. Damn them all... to Hell!" In the years leading up to that film, Heston had taken part in the 30th anniversary celebrations of the original movie, recalling of Taylor: "I would say it's physically the most taxing role I have ever played. I was whipped. I was soaked with a fire hose. It really wasn't a pleasant day's work, I'll tell you that!"[7]

In August of 2002, Charlton Heston publicly revealed that he was diagnosed with symptoms relating to Alzheimer's disease. On Saturday April 5th, 2008, Heston passed away. He was 84. [8]


  • Charlton Heston's birth name is John Charles Carter. Ironically, John Carter is also the name of a popular science fiction adventure hero created by writer Edgar Rice Burroughs in 1912. Like Heston's Taylor, John Carter was a military man who was mysteriously transplanted to an alien world where he fought up against strange, aggressive natives in an effort to rescue a local beauty.[9]
  • Heston committed to Planet of the Apes within an hour of hearing the pitch, on 5 June 1965.
  • Planet of the Apes was Heston's first full-nude scene. [10]
  • Associate producer Mort Abrahams felt Charlton Heston's self-invented "God damn you all to hell", as opposed to the script's "My God" might result in the film being classified as unsuitable for children.
  • Co-star Kim Hunter (Zira) spent so long in ape make-up that Charlton Heston did not recognise her when, after several months of filming, he saw her out of make-up for the first time.
  • There were restrictions on using Heston's image in spin-off Apes products. In August 1974 the Mego Corporation launched their new line of five action figures from the original film - Cornelius, Zira, Dr. Zaius, the Soldier Ape, and the "Astronaut"; having been denied permission to use Charlton Heston's likeness, Mego chose to give the human no name. Similarly, Marvel Comics launched their Planet of the Apes Magazine the same month, featuring an adaptation of the first movie. Writer Doug Moench recalled: "Everything had to be sent to APJAC Productions and I know there were some issues with the art. It was always things like, 'The character can’t look like Charlton Heston.'"[11] Story inker Mike Esposito remembered: "We did a 'Planet Of The Apes' series in a black and white book. 20th Century Fox did not want us to use the face of Charlton Heston as the hero, so we had to alter it slightly. I don't know why this happened, but when we first started it I was up at Marvel. George Tuska did the pencils, I was going to ink it and put some great tones on it to give it that black and white look. Then they said, 'No you can't use Heston'. I guess it was a money thing because then Heston might have wanted to be paid, or maybe his agent wanted to be paid, or 20th Century Fox wanted to be paid, it was one of those things. So we had to alter his face, I don't remember exactly. I think we gave him a moustache, changed his hair colour, but it was very successful and we did quite a few issues."[12] Marvel editor Roy Thomas believed that Heston's reputation for "being very litigious" explained the reluctance of Fox to allow the use of his likeness.[13]
  • In a seventh season episode of The Simpsons entitled, "A Fish Called Selma", Troy McClure provides a pastiche of Heston's character, Taylor, for a fictitious musical number called Stop The Planet Of The Apes, I Want To Get Off! [14]

External Links[]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 'Cinefantastique Planet of the Apes Issue' (1972)
  2. Charlton Heston Talks About Science Fiction, by Don Shay - 'Fantastic Films' (February 1980)
  3. Planet of the Apes: 40 Year Evolution, by Lee Pfeiffer & Dave Worrall (June 2008)
  4. Behind the Planet of the Apes
  5. Ibid
  6. The Actor's Life: Journals 1956-1976 by Charlton Heston (1978)
  7. Entertainment Tonight Cover Story: Planet of the Apes (1998)
  8. Wikipedia
  9. Burroughs, Edgar Rice, "A Princess of Mars", All-Story Magazine, 1912
  10. Behind the Planet of the Apes
  11. Doug Moench interview, Comic Book Marketplace, May 1999
  12. More Newtons: Planet Of The Apes - 20th Century Danny Boy
  13. Introduction to Marvel Apes - 'Simian Scrolls' #9 (July 2004)
  14. A Fish Called Selma