Big Screen and Operatic

Being a child of the later baby-boom, of course I remember seeing Charlton Heston on the big screen – the very big screen at the drive in, when Mom and Dad packed JP and Pippy and I into the back of the trusty jade-green Plymouth station wagon for an evening at the double-feature. We were all in our pajamas for this sort of excursion, with our pillows and blankets in the back; lamentably, we usually fell asleep before seeing very much of the first feature, let alone the second.

But I do have a hazy memory of him as El Cid, in desert exile, seen through the windshield of the Plymouth, between Mom and Dad’s heads, as Ben Hur – especially the bone-crunching chariot race – a very much better one of him as Moses in The Ten Commandments – this one at one Pasadena’s gloriously ornate picture palaces, and of him as the devious and worldly Cardinal Richelieu in Richard Lesters’ Three Musketeers and Four Musketeers. Mom always said it was because of his background in classical theater, that he could swish about in historical costume so convincingly.

So, he was about the biggest star that any of us had ever heard of, when he came to Zaragoza, Spain sometime in the late 1980s, and the Public Affairs office informed us that we had a chance for an interview. We were all of a twitter; Zaragoza was kind of a backwater – I used to compare it to Bakersfield – and whereas it had a lovely old downtown, a cathedral (two cathedrals), a Roman bridge and a Moorish castle, practically everywhere else in Spain had better, more beautiful, more historic and better preserved. Our radio and television broadcasters there had practically no chance of doing celebrity interviews; I saw more interesting and famous people come through Sondrestrom, Greenland than I ever did in Zaragoza.

What was he doing in Zaragoza, of all places? Filming the commentary for this program series, on location in the old Alcazar; of which he said jokingly during our interview that it was practically the only castle in Spain that he hadn’t been to before. We were the only news outlet to get a TV interview with him on that trip; he was terribly busy with the location shoots, and it wasn’t the sort of enterprise that needed additional publicity anyway. We all liked to think that it was because of his service connection that we even got in the door. He couldn’t have been more gracious or considerate to our two nervous young airmen who shot the interview.

No, I did not do the interview; I came up with the questions for our staffer to ask, since the ones suggested by the Public Affairs officer were embarrassingly amateurish. We all watched the raw video of the interview afterwards and marveled – because he was a pro. We could use practically every second of the footage we taped, he was that good. Most people we did interviews with were nervous, fidgety and stiff. They radiated discomfort; it came off them in little wavy lines that you could almost see, like those used in cartoons to signify a stink. We usually had to spend a lot of time putting them at ease, and a lot of video time and editing to just get something useable that didn’t make them and us look like idiots.

But Charlton Heston sat still, graciously playing to the camera – (Of course! He was an actor!) – he didn’t fidget nervously. His responses were thoughtful, smooth, as composed and literate as a small essay or sonnet. No awkward umms and pauses, no false starts; he was at ease, completely comfortable and polished to a high gloss in a way that most of us- even those who had interviewed various currently popular celebs before – had never seen. He wasn’t just a star; besides being a military veteran, he was a total pro in a way that you rarely see these days.

(Note – I am a bit off Amazon.com, and protesting their recent decision to pressure POD publishers into using their print service by sending all my links for books and DVDs to Barnes and Noble. Take that, Jeff Bezos!)

3 thoughts on “Big Screen and Operatic

  1. We were just wondering what he’d been up to lately.

    We watched Soylent Green last week when we rented it off of NetFlix. What was amazing was how well it held up after over 30 years.

    I remember seeing The Ten Commandments with my folks at the neighborhood movie house sometime in the late 60s. It actually had an intermission. Normally that house was almost empty except on Saturday Afternoon Matine`s, but it seemed that the whole neighborhood came out to watch it.

  2. I used to compare it to Bakersfield

    So, you’re saying it’s a bit upmarket?
    (else you might have chosen Taft, or Avenal)

  3. No – just hot, dry, dusty and out of the way, in the middle of agricultural country in a riverine valley… and to which no one had any reason to visit unless they had relatives there.

    Although there were upmarket areas, they weren’t anything to write home about. As I said, everything that Zarazoga had to boast of could be bettered somplace else.

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