On April 11th I attended the USPS/TCM Charlton Heston Stamp Dedication Ceremony. I thought it was going to be a small ceremony but much to my surprise it was an epic event! Held during the 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival this ceremony was free and open to the public. It took place at the TCL Chinese Theatre (Grauman's Chinese) and the house was packed with festival goers, Heston fans and avid stamp collectors.
TCM's Ben Mankiewicz was the emcee and he delivered the opening speech. In his speech he discussed Heston's career as well as the directors that he worked with. Mankiewicz also shared some personal memories of seeing Heston's films when he was younger. He joked that he learned two things from watching Heston in the film Earthquake (1974): "nobody was manlier than Charlton Heston and nobody should live in Los Angeles because we're all going to die." He also pointed out that Heston's line "Get your stinkin' paws off me you damn dirty apes" is #66 on AFI's list of the greatest movie quotes.
After Mankiewicz's speech there was a military presentation with flags as well as a performance of the national anthem.
Following that was a screening of a fantastic video tribute to Heston's career. The tribute was breath taking and it even gave me goosebumps. I keep asking TCM via social media to post it online so I can share it. It's so well done. The tribute was a wonderful combination of powerful images as well as excellent narration. The video followed the span of Heston's career and explored his growth as an actor, his influence on the business, his work with directors like Cecil B. DeMille, William Wyler and Orson Welles, his big films like The Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur. The tribute also explored his offscreen life with his family, his civil rights efforts and his Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.
There were lots of great lines from the video tribute but this one is my favorite:
Throughout his life, Charlton Heston embodied a multitude of mavericks and heroes; great leaders of boundless strength, largely from a distant past or future. When asked about his penchant for playing figures of other eras he simply replied, 'I don't seem to have a 20th century face.
After the tribute, actress Gabrielle Carteris delivered a speech on behalf of SAG-AFTRA's President Ken Howard who couldn't make it to the ceremony because he was unwell. Carteris is best known for her role in the hit TV show Beverly Hills, 90210. She's also the Executive Vice President of SAG-AFTRA. There was a big SAG-AFTRA presence at the ceremony. Charlton Heston was president of SAG (which has recently merged with AFTRA) from 1965 until 1971. Carteris' read Howard's speech which included some of his memories of Heston's time at the SAG. Heston felt strongly that his position at SAG was both an honor and a job and something to take very seriously.
Up next was actor and SAG-AFTRA Founding Executive VP Ned Vaughn. (FYI, he was on one episode of Mad Men!). Vaughn's speech was very eloquent and thoughtful but it also had a bit of a political agenda. Vaughn noted that Heston was the third SAG president to honored with a USPS stamp. He praises Heston who joined the SAG at the height of his career and with an already very busy schedule. I wasn't aware of Heston's civil rights activism so I was pleased to learn that in 1961 Heston traveled to the South to picket against whites only restaurants. He wore a sign that read "all men are created equal."
In 1963, Heston attended the March on Washington with fellow actors Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte and Marlon Brando. Vaughn quotes him as saying, "I could no longer pay only lip service to a cause that was so urgently right in a time that is so urgently now."
Vaughn repeated the phrase "he fought for what he valued" numerous times in his speech. He also said, “it didn’t matter whether it was hard, incovenient or unpopular. Charlton Heston always followed his true moral star, his passionate belief that all men are created equal, that our liberty is precious and our God given rights are worth defending.” Vaughn brought up Heston's Republican politics, his endorsement of Ronald Reagan and his association with the NRA.
This stamp has been controversial because Charlton Heston's very public association with NRA, which has come under a lot of scrutiny. While I don't agree with Heston's politics, I do admire him for standing up for his values. I thought it was very interesting that Heston's NRA association was brought up several times throughout the ceremony. Sometimes it's difficult to separate an actor or actress's career from their politics. It's something I try to do but it's not always easy.
Following Ned Vaughn was Jean Picker-Firstenberg, AFI President Emerita. She is also the former Chair of USPS Citizen's Stamp Advisory Committee which decides who should be honored with stamps. Picker-Firstenberg shared some fond memories of Heston and showed her admiration for his diligence and work ethic. She said, "the truth was that Chuck was bigger than life, bigger than his roles and most people were in awe of him." Apparently Ted Turner was star struck when he met Heston for the first time! She finished her speech by reading us a very moving statement Charlton Heston wrote when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease. Heston said, "I lived my whole life on stage and screen before you. I found purpose and meaning in response. For an actor there is no greater loss than the loss of the mind..." You can read the whole statement here.
Following Picker-Firstenberg was Mickey Barnett, the USPS Board of Governors chairman. Barnett's speech was short and he mostly complimented Heston as a performer, civil rights activist and a family man. He also promoted the USPS Legends of Hollywood series which includes Alfred Hitchcock, John Wayne, Gregory Peck, Gary Cooper among others and now includes Charlton Heston. Barnett said, "The US Postal Service hopes everyone will use the Charlton Heston stamp. When your correspondence is sent around your community and around the country, let it serve as a small reminder of one of the biggest stars Hollywood has ever known.”
Then came the unveiling of the stamp. I shot a little video of the unveiling which you can watch below.
The final speech was delivered by Charlton Heston's son, director Fraser Heston. Fraser Heston shared stories about his dad and called him a great husband, father and grandfather who had a great sense of civil duty. He also gave us a background on his father's early life and noted that he had received many awards in his lifetime including lifetime achievement awards, Golden Globes, an Oscar, Kennedy Center Honors, etc.
He went on to liken sending a stamped letter in the mail to "A deeply personal expression of who you are as a person, a window into your character...” He also reflected that if you look at all the figures who have been profiled on USPS stamps you’d get a pretty good idea of who we are as a country, our ideals, what we stand for and the kind of men and women we honor.”
Heston's widow Lydia Clarke Heston posed for photos by a large image of the stamp. Fraser Heston told us that the image on the stamp came from a black and white photograph his mother had taken of his father. The image was colorized and turned into an illustrated portrait by artist Drew Struzan.
This was a wonderful event and I'm so glad I attended. I learned a lot about Charlton Heston and it was a very touching tribute to his life and work. Afterwards, they sold first day issue stamps. They also had a signing which I'm very sorry I missed!
I just wanted to take a moment to talk about Max. We quickly became friends while we were waiting in line to get into the ceremony. One of the wonderful things about the TCM Classic Film Festival is making new friends. Meeting Max was a highlight for me. We attended this ceremony together as well as the screening of How Green Was My Valley. I had a lot of fun chatting with him about festivals, movie memorabilia, film clubs (he ran one for 17 years!), and more. If you go to the festival, chat with fellow festival goers while you wait in line. You never know, you might make a new friend!