Heston proved to be a remarkably open guest, eager to share stories of his Midwestern roots as well as his participation in the Civil Rights Movement at a time when such public involvement was significant and not without costs.
Andrew Patner has a moving and thoughtful take on Evanston native Charlton Heston. I don’t know enough of his work to comment thoughtfully on it, but I recommend Richard Dreyfuss’s essay on Heston as a contrast to Neil Steinberg’s piece and Michael Miner’s reaction. In particular, I thought this was significant:
“Is so and so a great actor? A good actor? A bad actor? Speaking as an expert it’s a stupid question. The actor either gets you to where you have to go, or not.”
Steinberg and Miner argue that Heston simply didn’t have that much talent. That may or may not be true; I don’t know that much about his movies or movies in general to argue otherwise. But broadly speaking, talent doesn’t always matter in art, and that’s not necessarily bad. The gift of speaking to certain things at certain times in history is not simply a matter of virtuosity, training, or skill; sometimes it’s merely a confluence of events with aesthetics. Heston had a voice, look, and charisma that directors and producers found useful for certain roles, and how much that had to do with any particular effort or decisions Heston made, or whether it was just one of those things, I have no idea. Quality is different than popularity, and it may be that the legend of Heston is something people should look back and be confused about, but as an aesthetic question his legacy is more complicated than his talent or lack thereof.
Just personally, I can think of a lot of people of average or even marginal talent, at least in comparison to their peers, who have spoken to me through their work: X-Files-era David Duchovny; the 2006 Cardinals’ middle infield; Kid Rock, for at least “Bawitdaba,” which is actually incredibly moving, and I will brook no dissent; the Monkees, not ironically; The Headphone Masterpiece; Grandaddy’s Jason Lytle, at least as compared to say Thom Yorke; Fred Durst and Johnny Rzeznik’s cover of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here,” which is still my pick for best recording of the century so far.
As with movies, I don’t know enough about the moral order of the universe to say whether or not the hand of God is responsible for Heston’s career, as Dreyfuss argues. For all I know God is more of a Brando fan. But some kind of providence is involved.