When asked, at this '63 roundtable, why he joined this struggle for equal rights for blacks, Heston said: "Two years ago, I picketed some restaurants in Oklahoma, but with that one exception -- up until very recently -- like most Americans I expressed my support of civil rights largely by talking about it at cocktail parties, I'm afraid. But again, like many Americans this summer, I could no longer pay only lip service to a cause that was so urgently right, and in a time that is so urgently now."
Back then, many entertainers refused to stick their necks out.
Contemporary actors like Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis (The Campaign) take no risk by mocking the Koch brothers, whose offense is making contributions to Republican candidates. But '63 was a time when the infamous communist witch hunt, known as the Hollywood Blacklist, was just loosening its career-ending grip. In many states, it remained illegal for blacks and whites to marry. It was before the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Just two months earlier, black civil rights activist Medgar Evers was murdered in Mississippi. Eight years earlier, in 1955, Emmett Till, a black boy from Chicago visiting relatives, was murdered in Mississippi, supposedly for making a pass at a white woman. One year earlier, three Mississippi civil rights workers turned up dead in a horrific episode memorialized in the movie Mississippi Burning. And "Bloody Sunday" took place two years later, in 1965, when authorities brutally attacked civil rights marchers as they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Photographs and televised images of bloodied and severely injured men and women horrified the world.
A World War II Army staff sergeant, Heston served as a radio operator and aerial gunner. When he died in 2008, Time magazine movie critic Roger Corliss wrote: "In the era of the movie epic, (Heston) was the iconic hero, adding to these films millions in revenue, plenty of muscle and 10 IQ points. ...Heston was the alpha and omega of movie manhood -- our civilized ancestor, our elevated destiny. ...El Cid is up there with Lawrence of Arabia...passionate, eloquent, with a visual and emotional grandeur. ...From start to finish, Heston was a grand, ornery anachronism, the sinewy symbol of a time when Hollywood took itself seriously, when heroes came from history books, not comic books."
The world, Mr. Pet Detective, could use a few more "heartless mother----ers" like Heston.