Less than a month before President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev are scheduled to meet for summit talks in Geneva, longtime Reagan supporter Charlton Heston visited the heart of Reagan Country on Saturday and offered a poignant plea for international brotherhood.
In a 30-minute speech at the Sheraton-Newport before nearly 350 members and guests of the Orange County Council of the American Electronics Assn., it was a somewhat mellow and philosophical Heston who said: "Today we live in a world shortened to the size of a missile's range, choking each year, each month with more and more of our fellow creatures--over 5 billion now. . . . Yet we must find some sort of commonality there somewhere, somehow, or perish."
Although Heston's talk was billed as "High Tech Goes to the Movies," the 61-year-old actor sidestepped the evening's theme by declaring himself "a techno-peasant" who still uses a typewriter because he has yet to master the intricacies of a word processor.
Instead, by invoking the names and achievements of several of the great men of the past that he has portrayed on screen over the years, Heston emphasized human history over technology and retrospection over future-gazing.
"Great men," Heston said, "are an endangered species. . . . Great men are suspect today, perhaps because we don't happen to have any of them around. We have famous men, but that's not the same thing."
In a reference to the range of roles he's landed, Heston drew a laugh while reciting a partial list of those great figures from history. "There have been quite a few of them: prophets from the Old and New Testaments, a couple of Christian saints, generals of various nationalities and different centuries, several kings, three American presidents, two geniuses--including Michelangelo," at which point he looked up and joked, "If you guys want this ceiling repainted I'll do my best."
While much of his talk consisted of quotes from historical figures from Moses and Shakespeare to Thomas Jefferson and John F. Kennedy, he offered one thinly veiled attack of his own on the Soviet Union.
"In the sunny climate of victory at the end of World War II," he said, "I remember freedom seemed to be floating on a rising tide. We spoke of it spreading around the world, a world free from war (and) tyranny. We were wrong. It is tyranny, not liberty, that has prospered. In our time, throughout the world we've seen revolutions turn rotten, patriots turn to dictators. As country after country slips under, democracies seem like islands in a rising sea. Again and again, the world has seen the bloody face of the bear."
Segueing into his assessment of the impact America has had in shaping global politics, Heston added: "We may not have been able to make democracy spread, but we have made it prosper. This country is still what it has been from the beginning, an example to the world (that) men can live free."
Heston closed his talk with a quote from Thomas Wolfe that summarized America as "the wild, lawless place, the vital earth soaked with the blood of the countless murdered men and the blood of the unavenged and unremembered murdered men. But it is also the place of the child and laughter. . . ."
Almost immediately after concluding his speech, Heston left the hotel, walking out of the ballroom with a pronounced limp.
Following Heston's departure, Tim Elliott, executive director of the AEA's 200-member Orange County council, said Heston was invited as the keynote speaker for the $50-a-plate dinner-dance because "he typifies us. I think high tech is the last bastion of American innovativeness. We have lost the steel and automotive industries, and if we lose this we're in trouble. So we think of ourselves as super patriots, always on the cutting edge."
"(Heston) said he's excited to be associated with high technology, because that's what making 'Star Wars' and films like that possible. He doesn't do a lot of speeches, so he's selective about whom he speaks for. It was important to him and it's important for us to have him here."