Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Summer Under the Stars: Charlton Heston

Movie Dearest continues our daily previews of Turner Classic Movies' month long "Summer Under the Stars" celebration:

Now Playing Star Profile for Charlton Heston - Stardates: Born October 4, 1924, Evanston, Illinois; died 2008. Star Sign: Libra. Star Qualities: Imposing physique, commanding voice and chiseled profile, all perfect for epic heroes. Star Definition: "So intelligent, so knowledgeable, so professional, so exciting -- exploring the full content of a scene and context of the intent." -- Janet Leigh. Galaxy of Characters: Judah Ben-Hur in Ben-Hur, Major Amos Charles Dundee in Major Dundee, General Charles "Chinese" Gordon in Khartoum, Detective Robert Thorn in Soylent Green.

As recounted by author Gore Vidal in the documentary The Celluloid Closet, director William Wyler brought him on to the production of Ben-Hur to work on the troubled script, specifically the relationship of Judah Ben-Hur (Heston) and Messala (Stephen Boyd). To make the animosity between the two characters more believable, Vidal added some homoerotic subtext to their back-story, that when the pair was younger they were lovers, but Ben-Hur ultimately rejected Messala. Wyler okayed the idea and had Vidal discuss it with Boyd, but nothing was said about it to Heston, whom Wyler felt would reject the whole idea. The resulting scenes in the film are heavy with sexual tension, due largely to Boyd's performance.

When this whole story came out years later, Heston himself denied it, even saying that Vidal had very little to do with the script of Ben-Hur ... even though he had wrote in his autobiography that Vidal had authored much of the final shooting script.

Ben-Hur airs tomorrow on TCM at 4:00 PM EST.

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