Thursday, April 10, 2008

Ben-Hur, Done Him

Little Dougie, monitoring my shemail, informs me that readers have actually written to me asking me why I hadn't posted any flogging about the long-overdue demise of Charleton Heston, or as I have always thought of him, Cheston. Apparently some of you long-time fans have picked up on a slight feeling of - well - less-than-adulation in my past remarks on Chuck's acting and political work, and seem to be expecting me to write some sort of gloating, Welcome-to-Hell, dancing-on-Cheston's-grave flogging. How tasteless that would be of me. How uncalled-for that would be of me. How much time that would take away from the now four-days-and-still-counting, drink my ass off, Get It Off My Cheston, celebration of the life and death, but mostly the death, of Cheston that I've been throwing in my lush solarium. Cheston is survived by his wife, his son, his daughter, and the thing that lived on top of his head, pretending to be his hair. It might have been more convincing as hair, but sadly, it learned acting from Chuck.

The thing that's really depressing about the passing of a legendary man like Cheston is that you have to spend at least a week hearing and reading people praising him. I was so extremely pleased that Richard Nixon had the good manners to die while I was in London, and therefore not subjected to his tributes and funeral coverage, that I sent him a thank you note, the first such note I had ever sent him. And I might add that, true to his lifelong policy of rudeness, he never bothered to reply or even acknowledge my note. Typical!

Conversely, I nearly died myself during the weeks following the deaths of Ronald Reagan and, worst of all, Bob Hope. The endless praise heaped on these two evil men made me quite literally sick. When the Los Angeles Times ran a headline following the overwhelmingly overdue death of Bob Hope, anointing him "The First Citizen of the Twentieth Century," I nearly dropped dead in my tracks. Thank God I was drunk. Saved by vodka once again.

(By the way, Bob was not The First Citizen of the 20th Century. First off, he wasn't born until May 29, 1903. I was born in 1897, so the day Bob was born, I had been a citizen of the 20th Century for 3 years and 148 days. Furthermore Bob, unlike me, was not born a citizen. He was a foreigner, born in England for Christ's sake, like Benny Hill, Prince Edward, and Jack the Ripper. He didn't become an American Citizen until years later. In fact, he was actually Sir Bob Hope, thanks to Helen Mirrin knighting him during her rush of euphoria following the death of Lady Di, so she certainly still considered him one of Them! And Them ain't Us! So back of the line, Limey! Some of us were born here. In fact, let me ask you this, Bob: It's The American Revolutionary War, Christmas at Valley Forge. Which army are you making creepy sex jokes to Angie Dickenson in front of, huh? Pick a side, Tory! Also, they always say "Bob Hope entertained 11 presidents." No he didn't. He performed for 11 presidents. He only entertained 4 of them.)

Cheston was born here, in Evanston, Illinois, in 4758 BC, near bulrushes, so we have only ourselves to blame. He was undoubtedly the whitest gentile ever to be best known for playing Famous Jews, namely Moses and Ben-Hur. (Although at the end, Ben converts. It's a REALLY long movie, and the last hour, after the chariot race is over, and there's nothing left but Christian Uplift and Leprosy, is a boring slog, so few have ever actually made it all the way to the end. I fast-forwarded. He converts. If they had only allowed theater audiences in 1958 to fast-forward through the last hour, that turgid slop might have won an Oscar, or even two. Well, one anyway. Let's not go nuts!) Cheston was the reverse of the usual Hollywood leading man. Hollywood is full of Jewish actors who have turned from Issur Danielovitch Demsky into Kirk Douglas. But you half expected Chuck to become Izzy Hestonberg, as his greatest achievement as an actor (Besides keeping a major career afloat for 40 years with only a minor talent.) was his practiced skill at acting like he'd been circumcised. You should have seen the walk he used during the first week of shooting on The Ten Commandments, before Cecil explained to him that he'd read in a book somewhere that the pain of circumcision usually wore off by adulthood.

Let's face it, Chuck was just Steve Reeves without Steve's charm, sex appeal, and Marvin Miller's voice. And you never saw Steve Reeves trying to arm every school kid in America, or constantly expressing his Deep True Love for a parade of America's most evil men.

Sometimes people - well, Rush Limbaugh - well people also - Let's say, People and Rush Limbaugh - ask me afterwards why I didn't like Cheston, onscreen nor off. You have to wonder about people who say he was a good actor. I always want to ask them things like, "Was your view of the screen obstructed? Did the speaker hanging in your car window short out when he entered? You do know he was the guy with the long white beard right? The bald sexy guy who can act is Yul. Was this perhaps the first movie you've ever seen in your entire life?"

Well first, it's not like he was always bad. He gave two perfectly wonderful acting performances, in The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers, playing The Most Evil Man in France. He was lousy playing all the most noble, heroic men of history and fiction. His real niche was villains. His natural unlikability, and the way he made your skin crawl, just went so much better in baddies.

That was as Cardinal Richelieu, a role he cadged from Vincent Price, who played it opposite Gene Kelly, in MGM's truly weird film version. We are given June Alyson and Lana Turner as French courtiers, and Angela Lansbury is presented, with a straight face, as the Queen of France. But that's all right, because the King of France, her sexually jealous hubby, is Frank Morgan. France has apparently been relocated to somewhere in Iowa or Indiana, ruled over by Jessica Fletcher and The Wizard of Oz! Actually, they've put the Normandy Coast into California, as there's a long sword fight shot in Carmel, and when they arrive on "The French Coast" and we see "England" across the channel, they're actually on the shore of the Palos Verdes Peninsula less than three miles from where Little Dougie grew up, and Santa Catalina Island across the channel plays England, far more convincingly than anything Cheston ever played. At least Cheston's version actually seems to be taking place in Europe.

Richelieu was one of two roles that both Cheston, and the divine Vincent Price (In every way Cheston's superior) essayed. They were the original Robert Nevilles in the first two film versions of I Am Legend. Vincent shot it as The Last Man on Earth in the 60s. It was set in Los Angeles but shot in Rome. Rome's performance as Los Angeles makes Cheston look like Brando. Cheston shot it as The Omega Man. It was during his Planet of the Apes - Soylent Green period, when filmmakers realized that only in dystopian science-fiction could you ever believe in someone who acted the way he did. Now I eagerly await seeing Will Smith's Cardinal Richelieu.

The Ten Commandments, Cheston killed Vincent Price, almost drying up a promising source of cast-off roles. Most of Cheston's roles, Moses, Benny-Hur, etc., were ones Burt Lancaster had passed on, Burt always having had more taste and talent than Chuck. Burt did go on to play Moses eventually. If only Chuck had played more Price-intended roles. Imagine how scary Cheston's The REALLY Abominable Doctor Phibes, or The Ravin' would be.

Little Dougie saw Cheston act live onstage, as John Proctor in Arthur Miller's depressing little skit The Crucible, a role Little Dougie had played also, back in high school. Dougie truly feels that his own, 16 year old John Proctor was better than Cheston's, and I tend to believe him, but Dougie stoutly maintains that Cheston's performance was up to the highest level of any high school in America, except, you know, that high school in Fame. Those kids were good! Not like Cheston. Dougie said it was interesting to see him perform in person; his body acquired three physical dimensions, his chin possibly acquiring four, while his acting remained trapped in the two-dimensional universe. To get the full effect of his pan-dimensional work, you had to wear special glasses.

Well here's a headline: Cheston and I made a movie together, a bit over 50 years ago. This will come as a shock to readers of my award-adjacent autobiography, My Lush Life, as there is no mention of this movie or experience in my book, nor does this film appear in my filmography at the end of the book. There's a good reason for that. I forgot to mention it. Things slip my mind sometimes. Sue me. Remember the Seventies? Well I don't. For all I know, I may have starred in a 12-episode series of Nancy Drew, The Golden Years TV movies, between 1974 and 1979 (I found scripts for three of them upstairs in my bat-infested attic.), and it was so bad that people are just too polite to ever mention it to me. [She didn't. - Editor.] Could be. I don't remember.

And I'm not the only one, I might add. Like my Nancy Drew series, my Cheston flick is so forgettable that few people even recall seeing it, which is wise of them. I did my damnedest to wipe all memory of the movie or the experience of shooting it from my mind, and I succeeded quite well, until Cheston's demise stirred it all up again. Anyway, in 1954 I made a movie for Paramount, for delightful, impish producer George Pal, co-starring with Chuck, then on the way up, so he was then known as Upchuck, in a lush, Technicolor jungle adventure titled The Nude Bush.

I, of course, sported the title role. In this poster, you can see Chuck's fingers beginning to explore the wild bush, heading upstream to my fertile delta, while his right hand proudly displays the small weapon he is brandishing from his crotch. By the way, that's the very same gun that was pried from his cold dead hand last Sunday. (When Cheston first became head of the NRA, some comedian, Dennis Miller? Jon Stewart? Tina Fey? Chevy Chase? I forget who, said, "Charlton Heston has become the head of the National Rifle Association. I had no idea Charleton Heston had a small penis." The acting style, the gun nuttiness, it all screams "Overcompensation.")

In our back lot epic, based on the classic short story Loonychuck vs His Aunts, Cheston owns a Soylent Plantation deep in the dense, uncharted jungles of Anaheim. Since he's far into the jungle, and wants to be even deeper into the bush, he sends for me, as I posess the deepest bush in Anaheim. I sail up the Tustin River, as Cheston's email-order Fancy Woman. (The original script used quite a different word to describe my character's profession, but Chuck suggested "Cleaning it up" and calling her a "Fancy Woman." As it was, every time I was called "Loonychuck's Fancy Woman," Chuck blushed.) We have the usual, everyday jungle-living problems: monkey housebreaking, native torturing, drug smuggling, a small-dicked virgin man intimidated by a woman who has had sex with normal-sized men, rogue crocodiles, etc., until the climax, when the Soylent Plantation is laid siege to by an army of Soldier's Aunts. These pesky old Soldier's Aunts want their Soylent Green FRESH! But the laugh is on the Soldier's Aunts. Soylent Green is made from the natives. Soylent Red is made from the better people. If those Soldier's Aunts had known whom they were eating, they'd have keeled over, and been Soylent Red themselves inside of a week.

George Pal was a darling man, but he made movies about a world of his own. I mean really, just look at his idiotic Destination Moon. Men land on the moon, and return to earth, alive yet! And as if that isn't ridiculous and unbelievable enough, all they find on the moon are rocks. Not even one little alien monster! Not one! Let alone caves full of breathable, pressurized air, and monsters, and beautiful starlets in miniskirts and red pumps like on the real moon! (Science has proved it!) Were we really supposed to believe such nonsense?

But George was a sweetie. You had to love him, even when he forced you to play a love scene with Cheston. Here's a picture of Georgie, with his son, Dave Pal, back when he was a very little boy.

Of course these days, when people see this movie advertised on Netflix, they think "Heston, Nude Bush" and naturally assume it's a film about President Bush back in his playful college scamp years (1960-2007), and so avoid it like the plague, afraid they might see Dubya undraped. They won't, but what they will see is just as revolting.

On another matter altogether, friend and fellow flogger Kent Levine, who writes the divine and hilarious flog By Ken Levine, as you might guess from the title, has picked up a radio gig that some of you in the Los Angeles listening arena might enjoy hearing. He's hosting some sort of talk show called Dodger Talk, that airs on KABC Radio, 790 AM, after something called "A Baseball Game." I have no idea what the hell they gab about on the show. Dodger means two things to me:

1. The Artful Dodger, a charming pickpocket and orphaned waif in London around 160 years ago. Dead now I believe, or fictional. Is there a difference? Not much conversation fodder there. Or maybe it's like a fan chat room, and they discuss stuff like whether Jack Wild or Anthony Newley made the better Dodger. I know Kent likes musicals, and Oliver is a musical, but I liked the David Lean non-musical version better myself.

2. Draft Dodgers. You know, those charming, nonviolent young men who went to great lengths, even as far as Toronto, to avoid having to kill strangers in Vietnam. A juicy topic for discussion, but not too current, as the current crop of young men being employed by Cheston's buddy Dubya as Endless Roadside Bomb Fodder were all roped in with guile rather than by an autocratic draft. After all, once in a while, a rich Republican's son got drafted, while there's no danger of any of them being drafted into Bush-Cheney-Heston's "All-Volunteer" Stoploss pool. I don't see Kent getting a new discussion every night on this limited a topic.

As a last resort, I tried listening to it. Big mistake. Kent sounded charming as always, but unfortunately, during the three and a half minutes I endured of it before shooting a handgun at my radio (The gun was an end-of-the-film-shoot gift from Cheston.), the show was completely dominated by some doofus callers, and a sports-obsessed (Yes, one of those!) in-studio guest, who all went on and on and on and on about some children's game, actually discussing in depth some hard-working immigrant's efforts to smack a thrown rock or something with a big stick, and how often he did or did not hit it. Believe me, after three and a half minutes of that, it was me or the radio, but one of us was going to get shot. Sadly, it was the radio.

There was a lot of mention of the phrase "Dodger Blew". At first it seemed to me that discussing who the Artful Dodger blew was dangerously close to child erotica. But then I noticed that they all seemed to be discussing a sandlot fracas that had occurred that very day, and The Artful Dodger would be over 160 years old now, so whoever he's blowing, it's okay to talk about it, but why would you want to?

Anyway, here's a picture of Kent (Center) conducting his radio show. This may not be the broadcast I heard a tiny portion of, so I have no idea who his guest in the picture is. You'll notice that KABC hasn't even given him a real broadcast booth. Kent darling, you have no roof or side wall. Kent, you're too talented and experienced to be treated like this. Insist on an actual room. Drop my name if it will help. (Though only as a last resort.)

Anyway, when a "Baseball Game" is over, if you feel like listening to folks chew the fat about Dodger stuff, whatever that is, and are really in the mood to hear "Baseball" talked about in a witty, incomprehensibly-well-informed manner, and perhaps even dissect recent "Plays" (Theater Criticism! That I understand!), you should tune into Kent's Dodger Chat and enjoy. I'm sure if you call the station, they can tell you when these "Games" occur, so you can make an educated guess as to when Kent will be on.

And even if all they talk about is this "Baseball" ritual, at least you can be certain that Upchuck Cheston won't be a caller or a guest, although it's always possible that one of his disciples may run riot through the stadium with his arsenal. That would be the True Cheston Legacy.

Cheers darlings.


Bitter Animator said...

I didn't wish death on the man. Not actively. There was no real point.

I thought he was good in Wayne's World 2 though. Yeah, that's a pretty funny film. Few of his obituaries seemed to mention that one. Even though it has Walken in it. Odd.

Tallulah Morehead said...

No one wished death on him except his loved ones towards the end.

I missed WAYNE'S WORLD 2. It was just never the only movie in the world.

At least Heston went out on a high: his last movie appearance, in WAITING FOR COLUMBINE, was his most believable performance.