The life of Charlton Heston, who died last Saturday at the age of 84, was marked by certain ironies.
He was an ardent civil rights activist, a Hollywood star who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. on Washington in 1963, but who became the embodiment of right-wing bluster as president of the National Rifle Association.
He was born and raised as an uber-WASP in the Midwest and gained his greatest fame portraying towering Jewish characters, Moses and Judah Ben Hur.
Even while reviled by most American Jews as an arch conservative, he was a close and loyal friend of many liberal Jews.
In a town famed for its licentiousness he was, by all accounts, a faithful husband to the same woman for 64 years.
It is interesting to speculate whether his portrayal of fearless, handsome Moses and Ben Hur had any impact in changing the stereotype of the Jew, still prevalent in America of the 1950s, as a money-grubbing, hook-nosed coward.
While perhaps a few moviegoers in the Bible Belt drew a connection between the heroic screen figure and the Jewish grocery store owner down the street, for most gentiles the historical gap was likely too much of a leap.
In the popular mind, the ancient Hebrews of the bible were one breed of men, contemporary Jews a completely different people. Moses escaped from Egypt, the grandfather of the New York lawyer arrived from Russia.
Indeed, it is fair to say that if Heston's birth name had been Horowitz, with the identical looks and talent, he would not have been cast to play Moses.
The self-conscious immigrant Jews who founded and ran the Hollywood studios had two unspoken rules:
Not to cast Jewish actors in Jewish roles, or, as Harry Cohn of Columbia Studios famously put it, "In my films, the Jews play Indians."
A second rule was to stick to biblical epics but avoid themes smacking of contemporary Jewish life. It wasn't until the creation of Israel that a Jewish (well, half-Jewish) Paul Newman, as Ari Ben-Canaan in "Exodus," could act a part, which the audience clearly identified as a contemporary Jew.
So farewell, Mosesâ¦errâ¦Charlton. You gave us many enjoyable hours on earth, and are ready, we are certain, for your second encounter with your Maker.
-- Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor
Herbert Acker died March 7 at 83. He is survived by his wife, Irma; sons, Brian (Michelle) and Robert (Ronda); and four grandchildren. Malinow and Silverman
Nancy Alspektor died March 2 at 86. She is survived by her sons Allan, Stan and Arthur; daughter, Roseann Alspektor-Shcalker; five grandchildren; and one great-grandchild. Sholom Chapels
Arthur Ames died March 2 at 88. He is survived by his wife, Ruth; sons, Jeff and Steven Morton and Steven (Karen); daughter, Janet; six grandchildren; and one great-grandchild. Mount Sinai
Lillian Aronson died March 1 at 100. She is survived by her daughter, Susan Fonstein. Hillside
Albert Abrams died March 1 at 82. He is survived by his daughters, Elise Abrams Nilsen and Wendy; son, Bruce; grandson, Rafael (Maya) Means; brother, Maury (Francine); niece; and nephews. Mount Sinai
Eva Auerbach died Feb. 28 at 84. She is survived by her daughters, Marilyn Miller and Theresa Appel. Sholom Chapels
Bessly Bagel died March 11 at 69. She is survived by her daughters, Paula Smith and Bonnie Price; and companion, Phil Benjamin. Mount Sinai
Ilene Baker died March 3 at 59. She is survived by her husband, Larry; daughter, Kimberly; and brother, Brent (Carrie) Baltin. Mount Sinai
Jack Baker died March 7 at 87. He is survived by his son, Nathaniel; and brother, Alan. Mount Sinai
Dr. Martin Baren died March 10 at 75. He is survived by his wife, Sondra; daughters, Ellie, and Amy (David) Koch; sons, Dan (Stephanie) and Steve (Liz); seven grandchildren; and brother Murray (Billie). Malinow and Silverman
Anita Bayer died March 3 at 86. She is survived by her friends. Hillside
Bernice Bayer died March 8 at 85. She is survived by her sons, Gary and Jordan. Malinow and Silverman
Helen Berger died March 2 at 82. She is survived by her daughters, Susan Pyne and Laura Intfen; son, Henry; and six grandchildren. Malinow and Silverman
Dr. Gottfried Bloch died March 11 at 93. He is survived by his wife, Dr. Rosalyn; daughter, Ilana; and niece, Julie Kohne Greenberg. Mount Sinai
Rebecca Bondar died March 2 at 88. She is survived by her niece, Virginia O'Neill. Sholom Chapels
Henriette Botton died March 9 at 101. She is survived by her nieces, Lina Carmely, Lea Henigson, Lina Cohen and Dr. Nico Moshe. Malinow and Silverman
Rosa Broides died March 11 at 94. She is survived by her daughter-in-law, Matilda Katz; and grandchildren, Don and Gil Broydes. Chevra Kadisha
Emily Jo Brown died March 9 at 71. She is survived by her husband, Sheldon; daughter, Jennifer (Joe) Edmonds; son, Warren; sister, Linda Kilgore; and brother, Sandy (Joanne) Schreiber. Malinow and Silverman
Esther Buntzman died Feb. 28 at 93. She is survived by her daughter, Deborah Lehrman; sons, Mark, Arol and Gabriel; nine grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren. Hillside
Shirely Louise Carlin died Feb. 28 at 78. She is survived by her son, Brian; and daughter Adrienne Roberts. Hillside
Lela Cohn died March 7 at 83. She is survived by her husband, Herbert; daughters, Susan, and Julie (Robert) Tornberg; son, Charles (Leslie); brother, Louis (Rita) Schlanger; five grandchildren; and one great-grandchild. Malinow and Silverman
Harriet Cole died Feb. 25 at 83. She is survived by her husband, Ben; daughters, Ellie (David) Wilensky and Linda (Clark Swienhart) Katsumoto; grandchildren, Kailie and Kori; one great-grandson; and sister, Betty (Ross) Williams.
Juda Davis died Feb 24 at 89. He is survived by his wife, Magda; son, Ernest (Stephanie); and grandchildren, Ethan and Steven. Chevra Kadisha
Milton Ebbins died March 4 at 96. He is survived by his wife, Lynne; and son, Gary. Malinow and Silverman
We welcome your feedback.
Your information will not be shared or sold without your consent. Get all the details.
Terms of Service
JewishJournal.com has rules for its commenting community.Get all the details.
JewishJournal.com reserves the right to use your comment in our weekly print publication.