Famous Veteran: Charlton Heston
“You can take my rifle … when you pry it from my cold dead hands!”
Born John Charles Carter, Charlton Heston’s childhood was spent mostly in wooded areas where he could act in private. His home life was stable until he turned 10, at which point his parents divorced. His mother’s new husband found work in Michigan so the family moved, but they eventually made their way back to Illinois in time for Heston to attend New Trier High School in Chicago. His penchant for acting brought him to join the Winnetka Community Theatre, and eventually win a scholarship to Northwestern University.
By the time the United Stated entered World War II in 1941, Heston enlisted in the Army Air Force. He served primarily as a radio operator and aerial gunner on a B-25 Mitchell. He was stationed in the Alaskan Aleutian Islands as part of the Eleventh Air Force, and never saw combat. His eventual stardom in Hollywood led the military to ask him to narrate classified films designed to instruct servicemembers and employees of the Department of Energy about nuclear weapons. This work required Heston to hold the nation’s highest clearance level at the time, termed Q clearance.
As soon as Heston returned from the war, he and his wife, Lydia Clarke, moved to New York where they became models for artists. After a few years, Heston broke into Broadway with a supporting role in an adaptation of “Antony and Cleopatra.” He continued acting on stage and picked up a few roles in television, but his first break into cinema came in 1950 when he appeared in “Dark City.” His career in Hollywood was prodigious, and he appeared in movies like “Planet of the Apes,” “The Omega Man,” and “The Three Musketeers.” Over the course of his career, he earned an Oscar for Best Lead in “Ben-Hur,” two Golden Globes, and a number of other awards.
While Heston invested a large amount of time in acting, he spent a lot of energy in political activism. During the seventies, he vocally opposed the Vietnam War and was even approached by the Democratic Party to run as a U.S. senator. Despite his strong political feelings, he couldn’t walk away from acting. In the eighties, however, he joined the Republican Party and become a prominent gun rights activist. He eventually became the head of the NRA, and spoke out frequently about the right to bear arms.
Heston lived a long life and was passionate about acting and politics throughout his life. On April 5, 2008, he passed away due to complications with pneumonia.
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