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The Actor's Response

December 24, 1988

Writing to critics is a mug's game. As Mencken (I think), said, "Never argue with people who buy ink by the barrel." Nevertheless:

Terry Atkinson is obviously entitled to, indeed paid for, his opinion of our film "A Man for All Seasons." His conclusions still seem to me shallowly reasoned, the faded bouquets tossed notwithstanding. A play of the quality of Robert Bolt's extraordinary work (I don't know of one as well written in the generation since) is, of course, going to be redone.

As well as putting the Common Man back in (with his qualified approval), we filmed about 20% more of the text than Fred Zinneman used in his version. Atkinson describes the play as "one-sided" (presumably in Sir Thomas More's favor.) I suggest our inclusion of the marvelously reasoned and witty arguments for the king's position by Henry, Wolsey, Cromwell, Norfolk and the Common Man (in those bits where Atkinson didn't like him) address this concern better than Zinneman, who had almost no time for the specifics of the debate that altered England.

That leaves the performances, all of which were enhanced by having Bolt's full text to work with. Zinneman gave Wendy Hiller, Nigel Davenport and John Hurt hardly more than bit parts. For Atkinson to say Vanessa Redgrave reminds you of Zazu Pitts is insulting. Vanessa is arguably the greatest actress alive. Her instinct led her to the core of Lady Alice: She was an illiterate, strong-minded countrywoman who loved her husband beyond measure, facts of which you seem unaware. It seems clear Atkinson suborned his critical judgment, which is a paid responsibility, to his political beliefs, which in our country should not be used to punish those who differ with him.

Professional critics should judge performance, not politics. He rejects Vanessa on the left and me on the right, screaming "Zazu Pitts!", "Reagan!", a device so transparently biased it defies defense. What's next? I smell blacklist here.

CHARLTON HESTON

Beverly Hills

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