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Fraser Heston on His Father's Legacy and New Releases
Fraser Heston on His Father's Legacy and New Releases

Fraser Heston on His Father's Legacy and New Releases

When your father is Moses, and one of Hollywood's iconic actors, it can be a challenge to carve out a career and name for yourself. Unless you are Charlton Heston's son Fraser Clarke Heston, American film director, film producer, screenwriter and actor. Fraser was born just as THE TEN COMMANDMENTS was going into production, and when Cecil B. DeMille called his mother to congratulate her, he also told her, "He's got the part." Three-month-old Fraser played the part of Baby Moses in the epic film.

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Documenting BEN HUR
Charlton Heston's Most Personal Film
A Father's Legacy
A Son's Growing Legacy

On the 55th anniversary of the original THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, Fraser introduced the digitally re-mastered version of the epic film to a screening audience on the Paramount lot. The film is releasing on Blu-ray and DVD this week, and Fraser talked about his part in documenting the history of the classic Biblical epic.

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Treasure Island"I'm so proud of the work my dad did on these films up. When both Paramount and Warner Brothers contacted me, I said, 'Sign me up.' I'm so enthusiastic about it. I think it's a great idea to restore these films, and in a new technology that everyone's excited about. Blu-ray looks almost as good as if you're sitting in the theater. It's the closest thing you're going to get at home. It's really a full high-definition experience. Obviously, it's not going to look like it did on the big screen, but it's a great experience.

"To be able to restore it the way they did is phenomenal. It's ground-breaking. The good news is that Warner Brothers has also done BEN HUR as well. I was involved in the production of a film about my father's experience in BEN HUR, so we got to see the restoration."

One of the extras with the new release of the film is a documentary called MAKING MIRACLES. It's more than a behind the scenes story, it's a history of the making of THE TEN COMMANDMENTS. Old interviews with Charlton Heston are included, as well as an interview with Fraser. "They have all kinds of new stuff that I've never seen before. They've got shots of how they made the parting of the Red Sea and some of the other effects for the Exodus. I found a bunch of archival material and a journal my dad had written when he went up on Sinai. It's pretty exciting."

Documenting BEN HUR
Directing ALASKAThe studios also did a documentary about the making of BEN HUR, which Fraser produced. Charlton Heston started keeping a formal journal in 1956 or 57 and he wrote a paragraph every single day, usually typed. "We were able to go back to those journals and reproduce them. I read some of them on-screen for the BEN HUR film, which was a real pleasure."

Also included was a lot of old footage, some of which Fraser's mother actress Lydia Clarke took with a 16 millimeter camera. "There's stuff nobody  has ever seen before in the special features. I'm thrilled with it."

Preserving THE TEN COMMANDMENTS and BEN HUR means the work is going to be there for posterity, for generations, a fact Fraser greatly appreciates. "Film is a major part of our cultural heritage in America. I think, as my dad often said, 'Film is our best export next to freedom.' He's right. Next to freedom, film is what you think of when you think of American culture. For better or for worse. Some of them are pretty horrible, but some of them, by golly, are good."

Charlton Heston's Most Personal Film
One of the projects Fraser is most proud of is the series CHARLTON HESTON PRESENTS THE BIBLE, which he did with his father in 1997. "That was a wonderful project. Dad and I were literally sitting around one day talking about what we'd do next. We had already done a number of films together, and he said, 'You know, I want to record the Bible.' I said, 'Ok, but let's do it on video.'"

Presents the BibleThey decided not to do the whole thing, but to do redacted versions of his father's favorite stories.  Of course, that included Moses. "I said, 'Look, let's go do them in the Holy Land. Let's not do them in a studio in front of a curtain. Let's go find a Roman amphitheater somewhere.' So we found a marvelous old amphitheater. Then we came up with the idea of using great artwork from the whole spectrum of Biblical art throughout the ages to illustrate the show.

"We actually went to some of these sites in the Holy Land where these stories were said to have taken place. We wrote a kind of commentary, my dad and I, about what his personal reflections were as a storyteller. Not as a scholar or priest or theologian or an archaeologist, but as a storyteller."

Fraser describes that project as his father's most personal film. "He doesn't preach at you, and I think it could appeal to people of all faiths: Muslims, Jews, and Christians alike. Moses was sacred to all three religions. And even people who just like good stories might have a reason to watch that. We seemed to just sort of hit on the right project in the right way at the right time."

A Father's Legacy
"I'm sorry that we couldn't make another story together. We talked about it, but we both got wrapped up doing other features and unfortunately were never able to come back and do another one. At least we've got this one and people can enjoy it."

Charlton Heston in ALASKAFraser describes his father as a New Testament kind of a guy. "I think a lot of people don't realize what a kind man he was. He has this sort of Old Testament reputation, but he was loving, funny, kind, and compassionate. He was a good comrade, a good friend, a good husband, and of course a great father. He was a really committed artist also. If you met him, you would get that right away."

Even though he played fairly fearsome guys (including Moses, the quintessential Old Testament prophet), Fraser recalls his father as more like the Moses in the first part of the story. "He's not the guy that throws the tablets down on the golden calf. He was a really caring, compassionate, kind individual with a wonderful sense of humor. And he had a great outlook.

"He was relentlessly positive, even when he was sick and had Alzheimer's and knew it.  He could still recite poetry and sing old show tunes with my mom. He would do what he called "the death of Moses," which is where Joshua goes off and leaves Moses behind. He had that down by heart and could do 10-15 minutes of that until the day he died. That's his legacy."

A Son's Growing Legacy
Fraser continues to build his own legacy as a filmmaker. He's an avid outdoorsman, climbing mountains and leading white-water expeditions around the world. He's made a diving expedition to the Red Sea, an expedition to study humpback whales in Hawaii, and even a sailing expedition around Cape Horn.

Filming ALASKAFraser formed his own production company Agamemnon Films [click here to visit the site] in 1981, producing several feature films, including ALASKA, which co-starred his father. He also produced several television films including A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS, starring his father, Vanessa Redgrave and Sir John Gielgud.

His most recent project reflects his taste for adventure; even though it's something he didn't personally film. THE SEARCH FOR MICHAEL ROCKEFELLER was created from footage captured in 1969. After Michael Rockefeller's disappearance in 1961 in New Guinea, Argosy editor Milt Machlin took a 16 mm cameraman and 10,000 feet of film with him to look for Rockefeller. Fraser found the footage and crafted a feature-length documentary about the adventure. "That's a wonderful story and one of the great unsolved mysteries of the 20th century."

With Agamemnon Films, Fraser is set to direct DEMILLE DIRECTS, the story of how three men came to a farm town outside Los Angeles and make the first feature length motion picture THE SQUAW MAN, inventing Hollywood in the process. "As I may be the last actor to have ever been directed by C.B. de Mille, I guess it's only fitting that I direct this loving homage."


Photos courtesy of Castle Rock Entertainment and Agamemnon Films

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