Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
From My Cold, Dead Hands

From My Cold, Dead Hands: Charlton Heston and American Politics

Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 416
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    From My Cold, Dead Hands
    Book Description:

    Charlton Heston is perhaps most famous for his portrayal of Moses in Cecil B. DeMille's epic The Ten Commandments and for his Academy Award--winning performance in the 1959 classic Ben-Hur. Throughout his long career, Heston used his cinematic status as a powerful moral force to effect social and political change. Author Emilie Raymond examines Heston's role as a crusader for individual rights and his evolution into a major American political figure with a pivotal role in the conservative movement. Heston's political activities were as varied as they were time consuming. He worked with the Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Reagan, and first Bush administrations. He marched in support of black civil rights, served as the president of the Screen Actors Guild, and helped shape policy for the National Endowment for the Arts before taking on his most high-profile position -- president of the National Rifle Association. Over the course of his career, Heston became disillusioned with the Democrats; he formally registered with the Republican Party in the 1980s, arguing that the decision was in keeping with his longtime advocacy of individual rights. From My Cold, Dead Hands is far more than a biography -- it is a chronicle of the resurgence of American conservative thought and, in particular, the birth of neoconservatism. Heston's brand of neoconservatism differed from that of the exclusively intellectual wing, and he came to represent a previously ignored segment of neoconservatives operating on the basis of more common, emotionally oriented concerns. The neocons brought new life to the GOP, and Raymond convincingly argues that Heston revitalized conservatism in general: his image of morality, individualism, and masculinity lent the conservative movement credibility with a larger public. He effectively campaigned for conservative candidates and causes, using his popularity and image to fuel and legitimize his political activities. Heston's high degree of political engagement not only paved the way for many of today's Hollywood activists but also helped popularize many of the beliefs of the neoconservative movement. A balanced look at Heston and his offscreen work, From My Cold, Dead Hands explains how this charismatic man of conviction propelled his personal beliefs into the political mainstream of America.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-7149-4
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. 1-8)

    Charlton Heston, Hollywood’s most prominent conservative, did not register as a Republican until 1987. In fact, during the 1950s and 1960s, the actor also known as Moses used his celebrity status to promote causes and programs generally associated with the Democrats. For instance, he marched for civil rights in Oklahoma and Washington, DC, and participated in President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society efforts, particularly those programs related to the arts. Despite his association with these endeavors, Heston harbored sufficiently strong conservative inclinations to indicate that his relationship with liberalism was tenuous. Indeed, by the early 1970s, Heston grew disillusioned with the...

    (pp. 9-46)

    Charlton Heston was born on October 4, 1923, to Russ and Lilla Carter. His first home was a small, white-framed structure on Michigan’s Russel Lake. This, according to the actor, was “a fine place to be a boy in.”¹ His simple surroundings did not lack comfort, for his family home enjoyed running water, central heating, and electricity. One of eleven pupils, three of whom were his cousins, he was educated in a one-room schoolhouse in the nearby town of St. Helen. Frequently on his own, the young Heston spent much of his time hiking the Michigan woods, hunting and fishing...

    (pp. 47-88)

    In the early years of his film career, Heston believed that actors and politics should not mix, seemingly unconvinced that celebrities could make any legitimate contribution to the political debate. After he was cast as Moses, however, he changed his mind and felt that it was his duty as a citizen to “stand up and be counted” on public issues. In 1955, he began to make small forays into politics and by 1961 could be considered a genuine activist and leader. Over the course of the 1960s, he became involved in a number of activities, participating in the emerging civil...

    (pp. 89-124)

    Heston’s first movie contract placed him on the path to international stardom; it also brought him into the fold of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), an organization that consumed more of Heston’s time and energy than any of his many other public endeavors. The Guild was an unavoidable organization—industry regulations required all working actors to join the “union shop”—but Heston deepened his relationship with the union in 1960 when he filled a vacancy on the board. Heston quickly moved up the Guild’s ranks, ascending to the presidency of the organization in 1965 and remaining there for six consecutive...

    (pp. 125-161)

    Charlton Heston’s acting career continued to flourish during the late 1960s and the early 1970s. Between 1965 and 1972, Heston starred in fifteen feature films, directed one of his own, narrated documentaries on Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Martin Luther King Jr., and returned to the stage for several theatrical productions. But the actor craved public service as well. During that same period, he presided over the Screen Actors Guild and steadily increased his presence in Washington, DC. President Johnson had noted the contributions of celebrity activists to his 1964 landslide victory and increasingly utilized well-known stars to promote his Great...

    (pp. 162-202)

    Charlton Heston had taken on so many public service commitments during the late 1960s and early 1970s that he could not help but comment: “I’m not an actor anymore, for God’s sake … I’m an activist.”¹ Heston’s core beliefs did not vary during this period, but America’s political and cultural landscape did undergo tumultuous transformations. Cultural and political radicals contributed to major changes in two institutions that had once seemed profoundly stable and constant—the Democratic Party and the American middle class. As the Democrats adopted a series of liberal reforms and the middle class absorbed countercultural sensibilities, Heston, Irving...

  10. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
    (pp. 203-242)

    Charlton Heston developed a new public persona between 1972 and 1992. Not only did he emerge as one of Hollywood’s most prominent modern action heroes, but he also became a leading spokesperson for conservatism. Heston’s basic political beliefs did not change. He continued to champion individualism, responsibility, and anticommunism. However, the methods that he used to express and advance his ideas changed markedly. The actor became more ideological and partisan, finally dropping his Independent status to formally register as a Republican in 1987. Heston had always prided himself on being a moderate. Throughout the course of the 1970s and 1980s,...

    (pp. 243-282)

    On a late summer morning in 1987, a small contingent of wealthy guests and Hollywood celebrities gathered at Orange County’s Coto de Caza desert resort and eagerly anticipated their host’s arrival. At precisely 11:45 A.M., a helicopter landed, and the boot-and-jean-clad star emerged to greet those participating in his Charlton Heston Invitational Celebrity Shoot. Designed to woo large donors to the NRA-ILA—the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) of the National Rifle Association (NRA)—the shoot-out permitted a number of wealthy corporate leaders to mingle with such television stars as Jameson Parker ofSimon & Simon, John James ofDynasty, and...

    (pp. 283-314)

    In 1991, the Berlin Wall fell, symbolizing the end of the Cold War. Anticommunism had been the principle concern of the neoconservatives for half a century; now that the Soviet Union had been defeated, however, the neocons had no intention of fading from the public scene. In fact, they became increasingly prominent as they focused more specifically on American culture. Irving Kristol made his intentions clear in 1993. “So far from having ended, my cold war has increased in intensity, as sector after sector of American life has been ruthlessly corrupted by the liberal ethos,” he warned. “Now that the...

    (pp. 315-319)

    Heston retired from public life in April 2003 after serving out his fifth term as president of the National Rifle Association (NRA). The actor would likely have preferred to stay in the arena. Unfortunately, failing health forced him to step aside. In August 2002, he had announced that he had been diagnosed with early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. He had never missed work as a result of illness, but, in a taped speech revealing his diagnosis to the public, he admitted: “I am neither giving up nor giving in, but it’s a fight I must someday call a draw.”¹ Despite...

  15. NOTES
    (pp. 320-357)
    (pp. 358-365)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 366-376)