FOR CHARLTON HESTON
By Fraser C. Heston
'My father asked that we read this poem at his memorial.'
“CROSSING THE BAR”
ALFRED, LORD TENNYSON
Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,
But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.
Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;
For tho' from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crossed the bar.
In Act 3, Scene 2 of Shakespeare’s Julius Cesar,
Mark Antony stands before the assembled throng,
and cajoles them into hearing his now famous eulogy
for his great and departed friend. I hope the Bard and my father will forgive me for mangling his words
to my own purpose, when I beg you all,
friends, family and countrymen to lend me your ears,
for I come to praise Mark Antony, not to bury him.
Thank you all so much for coming. The outpouring of
kind thoughts and gracious prayers has been all but overwhelming these last few days,
our hearts are full to bursting.
If the measure of a man can be taken not only by the
scale of his achievements, but more significantly by
the quality of his friends, then let my father be judged
by the presence of those here today in the sight of God.
You enriched his life beyond measure, and I know that
he would want me to thank you for your undying
friendship, love and devotion, on this day, of all days.
Charlton Heston was born, in 1923, in a small town
north of Chicago, which he called No Man’s Land,
Illinois, in the heart of this great land. 84 years, one Depression, one World War, half a dozen regional
conflicts, about 80 films, dozens of plays, countless TV programs, hundreds of speeches, a handful of acronyms (AFI to NRA to SAG) a passel of presidential campaigns, six million tennis sets, five books, two kids, three grandchildren and one marriage later, he departed this world after a six-year struggle with a fatal illness,
on a quiet spring evening, in the arms of his family,
in his home on a ridge in Los Angeles.
All-in-all, that’s a pretty good run, for a shy kid
who grew up in the backwoods of Michigan.
His life as an artist, soldier, actor, writer, director, sportsman, statesman, advocate and patriot on the
world’s stage are well documented. It’s not my purpose
to expand upon the enduring legacy of a career which bestrode America from Hollywood to Washington,
from Cecil B. DeMille and William Wyler to
Dr. Martin Luther King and President Ronald Reagan.
Rather I would speak of him as a man. For it was not
as one of his iconic, Old Testament characters that those
of us who knew him will remember him, but rather as
a loving, New Testament, father, a grandfather,
a husband, a colleague, and a friend,
with a ready smile and an infectious sense of humor.
Indeed his capacity for love was almost boundless.
He loved his wife from the moment he first met the
flashing-eyed, raven-haired beauty, Lydia Clarke in a Northwestern University classroom and demonstrated it
by pulled her hair (as one does) until the moment he
slipped quietly from this world, in her arms, more than
sixty four years later. He loved his talented, gorgeous daughter Holly and his son, as a man loves life itself,
until he left us, still holding tight onto our hands.
He loved and was devoted to his grandchildren,
Ridley, Charlie and Jack, who enriched his life beyond
my capacity to describe. His friendships with men like
Walter Seltzer, Joe Canutt, Leo Ziffren, Joe Field and
Jolly West made him the man he was,
and shaped all our lives.
He also had an abiding love and respect for the written word, which comes before the spoken, though it was by
the latter that he made his living. His house is literally stuffed to bursting with books, Shakespeare folios,
Biblical concordances, first edition Hemingways
and signed Ray Bradburys,
and piles of newspapers and periodicals.
Hardly an evening would pass without someone running
off from the dinner table to fetch one of these tomes to
prove some totally obscure but vitally crucial point.
Hardly a day went by when my sister or I did not receive
a letter (often pounded out on a manual typewriter)
or a clipping or a cartoon, and that was before email.
Hardly a week went by without a major newspaper or journal receiving the brunt of his intellect and wit ~ sometimes scathing but always cordial, graciously edited
by Carol Lanning, his colleague, friend and confidant,
for more years than I would care to count.
He was an avid sportsman, and managed to teach me
to ride, shoot straight and speak the truth. Like any
good backwoodsman, he was resourceful, and found a
way out of most any fix, using whatever lay to hand.
A resourcefulness demonstrated one day off the
Great Barrier reef, when he and I became stranded on
a desert island at low tide. Lacking anything with which
to fashion some sort of distress signal, he semaphored a passing tourist boat, with, to my eternal embarrassment, lashed to an oar, his only garment:
a pair of bright, red, clam-digger pants.
“Arma Virumque Cano” begins Virgil’s Aeneid:
“Of Arms and the Man I Sing.”
Much has been made of my father’s passionate defense
of the Constitution, and indeed his proficiency with all
sorts of arms, which is as may be, but I am here to
tell you, the bow was not one of them.
You may recall the day when he gave me my first bow
and arrow, and we set up a target behind the house on
the ridge. Facing the house … Dad carefully explained
the Zen of Archery, how to nock the arrow, draw the
bow-string back to your cheek, the bow imbued with
the strength of archer’s arm, the arrow quivering with intent, and allowing for windage and
a prodigious amount of elevation, he let fly…
Needless to say, the arrow arced high in the sky,
launching far, far above the target, to disappear in the general direction of our back patio, as we ran
breathlessly up to survey the carnage to find the arrow lodged smack in the middle of our dining room
window, still quivering slightly...
Nope, the bow was not his weapon.
The tennis racket was more his style, and that sport was
his greatest pleasure in life after acting and his family.
His enthusiasm infected us all; Martin Shafer and I had
the pleasure of growing up with tennis greats like
Sam Match and Don Budge for our mentors, and some
guys from Down-Under with cool nick names like
Rocket, Emmo and Muscles for role models.
Dad kept an open court every weekend for over forty
years and eventually he developed a respectable game, including a service motion that Roy Emerson descried as
“that looks like a bloody trunk falling downstairs, Blue!” However, the pinnacle of Chuck’s tennis career
came when, thanks to some of those Aussies, and a
Kiwi named John Macdonald, he was finally admitted
as a full member of a quaint little club in South London known as The All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club which most of us know as Wimbledon,
and he was at last able to wear, with pride,
the ugliest club tie in Christendom.
He loved his country as a true patriot, and despite
serving in World War II, in a desolate, icy, brutal,
and forgotten corner of the Pacific known as
the Aleutian Islands, which ought to give you a
“Get-Out-of-Public-Service-Free” card for life,
he gave to his country his full measure of devotion.
For, he believed in the notion that
tyranny triumphs when good men do nothing.
His credo was simple:
“Do your Best. Keep Your Promises.”
He was a man of his word. If he said he would do a
thing, he would do it. Sometimes, he would add two
more lines, purloined from his lifelong friend,
Texan patriot Jack Valenti:
“Attend all Wars, and Never Shoot Quail on the Ground”.
While he expected the same standards from those he
had dealings with, and was therefore, in the course of human nature, often disappointed, he was also slow to judge and quick to forgive. Being human himself, he
had many faults, though I cannot think of any just now.
As a leader he led from the front, saying simply
“follow me, lads” and not looking back to see if any had.
As a follower of men whose ideals he respected
he fulfilled their requests with steadfast
and unquestioning loyalty, like the knights of old,
and carried them out with a willing disregard of self.
For he had another prized virtue: Courage.
To Chuck, courage was not just the ability to act with
grace under pressure, but to perform ordinary acts in extraordinary circumstances. For example, when Dad
was told he had an incurable disease called Alzheimer’s,
his first and only thought was for the well-being of
his wife and his family, and not once,
not once in six years of valiant struggle, did he say
“Oh, God, why me?”
He could meet, as Kipling put it, with triumph and
disaster and treat those two impostors just the same.
He was, in short, a Man.
He was also my colleague of some thirty odd years.
As an actor, he was a director’s dream, a willing
collaborator, eager to compromise and a consummate professional; ask anyone here and he’ll tell you the same.
I’ll never forget the shining times we spent together on locations, some rugged, wild and harsh, some as
luxurious as the adjoining flats we shared for two films
in London, where we lived in Edwardian splendor like Holmes and Watson, sharing toasted cheese
and peanut-butter sandwiches
while preparing for the next day’s shoot.
But to everything, 'There is a season',
as Ecclesiastes tells us,
'A time to be born, and a time to die'.
This was his time.
Chuck has left this world for a 'far, far better place',
where I like to think he’s playing tennis
right now with his old chums Jolly West and Joe Field.
I imagine they looked up a few days ago
to see him arrive, in track suit and tennis shoes,
a couple of rackets under his arm and one measly can of tennis balls, which are hard to come by in heaven.
They raise a frosty glass, and say,
“Hey Chuck, it’s good to see you. What took you?”
He’d smile, and say,
“Well, I had some promises to keep,”
and begin to limber up his serve.
He was my father, and my friend
and he was the finest man I have ever known.
He was the finest man I will ever know.
May God bless you Dad,
and hold you in the hollow of His hand,
forever and ever.
You did your best.
You kept your promises.
~Delivered by Fraser C. Heston~
At St. Mathews Parish, Pacific Palisades, CA
April 12, 2008
Above Eulogy is Placed on
A film, television & digital production company,
established in 1981
by Fraser Heston and Charlton Heston.