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Heston wholly into Moses

The actor said in 1956 that walking in the prophet's footsteps left him nearly overwhelmed.

April 12, 2008|Steve Padilla | Times Staff Writer

So what did the man who played Moses have to say about the biblical Moses?

The answer came this week in The Daily Mirror, The Times' blog about the paper's coverage of the past. After Charlton Heston died April 5 at the age of 84, blogger Larry Harnisch unearthed an article from Oct. 28, 1956, headlined "Moses Film Role Awes Performer."

The occasion was the premiere of Cecil B. DeMille's "The Ten Commandments," in which Heston portrayed the prophet.

The paper's religion editor, Dan L. Thrapp, in the urgent style of the era, wrote of Heston: "He is a healthy, rangy, restless sort of individual, who likes his meat rare, his sports active and rugged and his music deep."

Thrapp also wrote: "Heston joined the First Congregational Church last spring and his son Frazer, who plays the infant Moses in the picture, was baptized there, but he considers his religion a personal thing and does not feel that he is particularly religious in the sense many understand the term."

Thrapp also quoted Heston at length. Here's Heston on Moses' qualities:

"To me Moses is all men grown to giant proportions.

"He was a man of immense ability, immense emotions, immense humanness and immense dedication. There is something of Moses in each of us -- the more there is, the better we are.

"It is interesting to note that once Moses climbs Mt. Sinai and talks to God, there is never contentment for him again. That is the way it is with us. Once we talk to God, once we get His commission to us for our lives, we cannot be again content.

"We are happier. We are busier. But we are not content, because then we have a mission -- a commission, rather."

Heston talked about filming the scenes depicting Moses talking to God on Mt. Sinai: "I stood on the ground where he stood, breathed the air he breathed, and was almost overwhelmed by the thought that here Moses became the only man in recorded history to meet God face to face."

The difficulty in portraying Moses, the actor told Thrapp, was that Moses, although an agent for the divine, was a man.

"He had God's thumbprint on his forehead, but because he was a man he must be comprehensible to other men.

"I always work on the theory that the audience will believe you best if you believe yourself. This meant that I had to come to understand Moses well enough to believe in my portrayal of him."

Heston said director DeMille gave him a list of books on Moses to prepare for the role. That "suggested bibliography" was just the beginning, Heston said.

"I dare say that more has been written about Moses than about any other man in history," he said. "Remember that he is revered by three faiths -- Christianity, Judaism and Mohammedanism -- and in each there are many volumes devoted to him and the laws he was chosen to present to his people."

Heston also said that he would never perform in another religious picture "because anything else would be anticlimactic."

Not quite. In 1959 he won an Academy Award for best actor for portraying another biblical Jewish character in "Ben-Hur."


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