No Forgiving Charlton Heston

My grandfather, a college football star, played for the NFL champion Providence Steam Roller back in 1928, so this weekend I was looking forward to seeing George Clooney's new 1920s football movie, Leatherheads. That's before I found out how Clooney, like many lefties in Hollywood and the news media, had treated the late Charlton Heston.

Clooney's offense took place a few years back. According to Life Site News, “For his conservative stands, however, Heston was attacked and reviled by his Hollywood colleagues. In 2003 actor and leftist political activist George Clooney joked about Heston's illness [Alzheimer's disease], and, after Heston criticized him for the remark, he retorted, 'I don't care. Charlton Heston is the head of the National Rifle Association. He deserves whatever anyone says about him.'”

Making fun of somebody with Alzheimer's disease and feeling no remorse is about as low as it gets, but it isn't all that surprising in this case.  To Clooney, Heston's embrace of conservative orthodoxy on the Second Amendment made him subhuman, not even deserving of the most basic courtesies.

A person like Clooney can only dream of rivaling Charlton Heston's life accomplishments.  Let's leave aside the leading roles in some of the greatest movies ever made, the acting laurels and the celebrity, and look at the man:

    Married to his college sweetheart, Lydia, for 64 years. Beloved father of two successful children, one a Hollywood director. Unabashed Christian and church attender. First among his peers; President of the Screen Actors Guild a record six terms. Served his country in World War II as a B-25 crewman.  Campaigner for civil rights; protested as early as 1961, long before it became popular, and marched on Washington alongside Dr. Martin Luther King. Protector of the unborn; provided the introduction for Dr. Bernard Nathanson's great pro-life film, Silent Scream.  Champion of public decency; shamed Time Warner into dropping rapper Ice-T's contract because of his song celebrating the murder of police officers. Defender of individual liberty; President of the National Rifle Association.

Ask Heston which of his accomplishments he treasured most, and he'd probably point to this tribute from his family:  “Charlton Heston was seen by the world as larger than life…. We knew him as an adoring husband, a kind and devoted father, and a gentle grandfather with an infectious sense of humor. He served these far greater roles with tremendous faith, courage and dignity.”

Sadly, many in the liberal news media wear ideological blinders that render them incapable of appreciating the entirety of Charlton Heston.  Some journalists can only see Heston waving a musket in the air at the 2000 NRA convention and growling, “Out of my cold, dead hands.” They regard Heston's pro-gun stance as beyond the pale, as if it were morally reprehensible to stand up for our Constitutional right to keep and bear arms.  (Click here for a study of media anti-gun bias.) Heston's death this past Saturday has allowed them to express hostility similar in kind, if not in tone or degree, to Clooney. 

    ABC's Barbara Walters:  “He is very controversial or was because of his support of NRA.” ABC's Dan Harris: “As President of the National Rifle Association, he became one of the most polarizing figures in American politics.” CBS's Russ Mitchell: “Once the quintessential big screen hero, in his later years he drew as much attention for his controversial politics.” AP's David Germain: a “fierce gun-rights advocate.” 

Not “principled” or “passionate,” but “fierce.” Charlton Heston was “polarizing” and “controversial” because he refused to toe the line of political correctness.

I met Heston once, in an elevator on the way to a gathering of Hollywood conservatives.  No, the meeting wasn't held in the elevator.  Instead of asking how he parted the Red Sea, I brought up a Second Amendment essay he'd recently written.  Engaging his mind, rather than his celebrity, delighted him.  He was affable, unpretentious and witty, and he clearly had the courage of his convictions. 

After forcing Time Warner to cut its ties with Ice-T over the Cop Killer album, Heston quipped, “Still, I'm proud of what I did, though now I'll surely never be offered another film by Warner, or get a good review from Time. On the other hand, I doubt I'll get a traffic ticket very soon.”  Now there's a man Kipling would be proud of. 

This weekend you won't catch me dead at that Clooney movie.  I think I'll head for the rifle range instead, then crank up the home theater and enjoy my brand new DVD of Ben Hur. 

Brian Fitzpatrick is Senior Editor of the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.