Running the Race

The “Public Face” of Charlton Heston

Brian Steel Wills

Award-winning historian Brian Steel Wills dug deep to paint a rich portrait of Heston's extraordinary life—a mix of complications and complexities that touched film, television, theater, politics, and society. His carefully crafted "public face” was impactful in more ways than the ordinarily shy and private family man could have ever imagined.
Date Published :
October 2022
Publisher :
Savas Beatie
Language:
English
Illustration :
29 color images
Format Available    QuantityPrice
Binding : Hardback
ISBN : 9781611216288
Pages : 456
Dimensions : 9 X 6 inches
Stock Status : In stock
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$35.00
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Overview
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Thundering across the screen, Judah Ben-Hur’s iconic chariot race against his former friend turned bitter foe remains an indelible part of cinematic history and established Charlton Heston as an international superstar. In many ways, the race was a metaphor for the actor’s dynamic life, symbolizing his struggle to establish himself in his profession. Brian Steel Wills captures for the first time a comprehensive view of the actor’s climb to fame, his search for the perfect performance, and the meaningful roles he played in support of the causes he embraced in Running the Race: The “Public Face” of Charlton Heston.

Heston was born and raised in the Michigan woodlands and suburbs of Chicago, where he found his love of acting in the books he read and the movies he saw. “Chuck” Heston’s introduction to the craft that would become his life’s work began at New Trier High School and carried over into Northwestern University. The Second World War interrupted his journey when he served his country, after which he and his wife Lydia headed to Asheville, North Carolina, where they both acted and directed in theater.

The lights of New York City and Broadway beckoned, and live television offered an important platform, but Hollywood and feature films were his destiny. His roles were as varied as they were powerful, and included stints as Moses, Ben-Hur, El Cid, Michelangelo, Mike Vargas, and Charles “Chinese” Gordon under legendary directors like Cecil B. DeMille, William Wyler, Franklin Schaffner, and Orson Welles. He shifted to science fiction in Planet of the Apes and Soylent Green, a wide range of action and disaster films, as well as more nuanced roles such as Will Penny.

Over his decades of performance Heston defined and redefined his “public face” in a constant quest for an audience for his work. He undertook wide-ranging public service roles for the government, the arts, and other causes. His leadership in the Screen Actors Guild and American Film Institute carried him from Hollywood to the halls of Congress. He became an outspoken advocate of the arts and other public and charitable causes, marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Washington, and supported Second Amendment rights with the National Rifle Association. He did so even when his positions often clashed with other actors on issues ranging from nuclear arms, national security, and gun rights.

The proud independent shifted decidedly to the Republican Party and appeared at political rallies and conventions, but rebuffed calls to run for office in favor of assuming similar roles on the big screen. Award-winning historian Brian Steel Wills dug deep to paint a rich portrait of Heston’s extraordinary life—a mix of complications and complexities that touched film, television, theater, politics, and society. His carefully crafted “public face” was impactful in more ways than the ordinarily shy and private family man could have ever imagined.

About The Author
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Brian Steel Wills is the Director of the Center for the Study of the Civil War Era and Professor of History at Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, GA. In addition to leading tours, offering lectures, and conducting programs, Dr. Wills is the award-winning author of many books relating to the Civil War, including biographies of Confederate generals Nathan Bedford Forrest and William Dorsey Pender, and Union general George Henry Thomas. Brian has also written about the Civil War in the movies and recently published a study on noncombat deaths in the Civil War. He is a graduate of the University of Richmond, Virginia, and the University of Georgia. He spends time on his farm in Virginia when not teaching and working in Kennesaw.

REVIEWS
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“Anyone interested in film and Hollywood’s depiction of historical events must come to terms with Charlton Heston. No actor played more famous characters, from Moses and Michelangelo to Andrew Jackson and Thomas Jefferson, and Brian Wills provides a compelling treatment of Heston’s long and successful career. Apart from roles and films, Running the Race also conveys the complexity, too often overlooked, of Heston’s political stances and actions. This insightful and enjoyable book should find an appreciative audience.”

- Gary W. Gallagher, author of Causes Won, Lost, and Forgotten: How Hollywood and Popular Art Shape What We Know About the Civil War

“Far from being a ‘star biography,’ Running the Race is a serious work approached the way a historian ought to address a subject: with an inquiring, analytical, and unbiased mind. The result is success on multiple levels, a compellingly interesting read, and a sober contemplation of the place and meaning of an iconic figure in American society and culture. Students of American film will learn much. Viewers who read this before seeing Heston’s films will see them in a whole new light.”

- William C. Davis, author of The Whartons’ War: The Civil War Correspondence of General Gabriel C. Wharton and Anne Radford Wharton, 1863–1865

“Charlton Heston’s towering presence could dominate a movie screen, whether as Moses, Judah Ben-Hur, or even Bill Tyler, a mountain man. He was more than a consummate, Oscar winning actor, however. A proud American, he marched for civil rights, stood with fellow actors in their union, counseled elected officials, and served as president of the National Rifle Association. In private, he was a loving husband and father and a trusted friend. Heston led a full and rewarding life, which Brian S. Wills captures in this deeply researched, richly detailed, and finely written biography. Running the Race is an outstanding literary work.”

- Jeffry D. Wert, author of The Heart of Hell: The Soldiers’ Struggle for Spotsylvania’s Bloody Angle

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