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April 12, 2008

Blood on those cold, dead hands


As president of the National Rifle Association, actor Charlton Heston was fond of stating that the only way gun-control advocates would take away his weapons would be "from my cold, dead hands."

Heston died a week ago, and even if he happened to be clutching a gun in his death grip, I have no desire to remove it.

It's the gang members, mentally disturbed loners, hotheaded drivers, campus crazies, druggies, alcoholics and suicidal losers who are packing heat that I'm worried about.

I'm all for hunters having the firearms they need, and I suppose it's not unreasonable for a person to have a gun to protect family, property and self.

That said, Heston died with a lot of innocent blood on those cold, dead hands.

He and his buddies at the NRA are to a great extent responsible for the staggering daily misery and heartbreak caused by the out-of-control gun culture in this country.

Their powerful lobbying against restrictions on such items as assault rifles and cop-killer bullets is a big reason why the United States leads the industrialized world each year in shooting victims.

I was thinking about all that when I heard that Heston, 84, had died after suffering for years with symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.

The thing is, the guy was a hell of an actor and a courageous civil rights advocate in the 1960s. But over the years, I've had a hard time re-watching any of his movies because I hated his far-right politics.

It was my loss. The guy was fantastic in "The Ten Commandments," "Ben-Hur" (for which he won his Oscar), "Midway" and "Planet of the Apes," just to mention a few of his starring roles.

It isn't easy these days to differentiate between an actor's job and the real person when there is so much political activism among celebrities _ not to mention that their every misstep seems to be captured by somebody with a camera or cell phone.

For instance, I tend to avoid Mel Gibson movies because of his history of drunken anti-Semitic remarks and homophobic statements.

That's unfortunate, because I really liked his "Lethal Weapon" movies. He's a charming, talented actor and director, but when "Maverick," "Ransom," "Braveheart," "What Women Want" or his other films come on cable, I watch something else.

I admit, it's not terribly logical. We should be able to separate the actor from the scripted character. Still, can you watch a "Seinfeld" rerun without thinking about "Kramer" actor Michael Richards' racist screed in 2006?

I can't.

Those old Leslie Nielsen "Naked Gun" movies were pretty funny, but I reach for the remote control when they come on now because I don't find anything funny about murderer O. J. Simpson playing the lovable, accident-prone Nordberg.

I wasn't a big fan of the Vietnam War, but I still didn't approve of Jane Fonda going to North Vietnam in 1972 to give aid and comfort to our enemies.

There are many people who refuse to watch any of her movies because of that. I'm not one of them, though. When I was 15, I saw her in "Cat Ballou" and fell in love. After "Barbarella" three years later, I was willing to forgive her almost anything.

Other folks aren't always so forgiving. There is a long history of personal conduct affecting box office.

During the silent film and early "talkies" era, Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle was making millions of dollars in Hollywood until he was unjustly accused of grotesquely murdering a woman.

After three trials, he was acquitted, but his films were banned and the censorship board barred him from making movies. He died a broken, alcoholic, miserable man at age 44.

Ingrid Bergman was a huge star in 1949 when she left her husband and daughter to run off with Italian director Roberto Rossellini and gave birth to Rossellini's son.

It caused an uproar in the United States. She was even denounced on the floor of the Senate where a vote declared her persona non grata.

It would take several years for the eventual three-time Oscar winner to get back into the good graces of Hollywood and the American public.

Of course, the most obscene example of outside activities preventing people from working in entertainment was the Communist scare blacklist of the 1950s.

Since Heston's death, there has been talk that for many years, he endured a different kind of blacklist. In liberal Hollywood, it was said, his conservative views cost him potential roles.

If so, that is a shame, because he was, after all, a wonderful actor. I strongly disagreed with his NRA stance, but this much I had to admire.

When it came to something Charlton Heston believed in, the man stuck to his guns.

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Sam Pollak is editor of The Daily Star. He can be reached at spollak@thedailystar.com or at 432-1000, ext. 208.