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Alumnus Charlton Heston honored for career, philanthropy and activism

Legendary Hollywood icon, humanitarian, and Northwestern School of Communication alumnus Charlton Heston was honored as the 18th inductee into the U.S. Postal Service’s “Legends of Hollywood” stamp series on April 11.

The event was marked by a ceremony at the Creative Life Chinese Theatre as part of the TCM Classic Film Festival, where Heston’s family and representatives from the U.S. Postal Service and the American Film Institute, which Heston helped found, gathered to remember Heston’s many accomplishments.

Heston, born John Charles Carter, acted in plays as a student at New Trier High School in Winnetka, and became a student of theatre at Northwestern’s renowned program in 1941. He made a quick impression on faculty and other students performing in campus productions. Heston met his wife, Lydia Clarke Heston (C45), on campus before leaving Northwestern to serve in the military. He served the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II as a radio operator and gunner on a bomber crew stationed in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. Though he never completed his Northwestern studies, Heston is considered an alumnus of the Northwestern University class of 1945 in honor of his military service and his life’s work.

Throughout his seven-decade career of more than 70 films, Heston played larger than life roles, including a tough circus manager in The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) and Moses in The Ten Commandments (1956), both directed by the legendary Cecil B. DeMille. Heston won an Academy Award in 1959 for his portrayal of the title character in Ben-Hur. He’s also well known for his work in The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965), Planet of the Apes (1968), and Julius Caesar (1970).

Heston also worked with the Screen Actors Guild to help others in his profession, serving as a board member and later as president from 1965-71. A civil rights advocate, Heston marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and led the arts contingent to the 1963 March on Washington.

Heston received the Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award in 1971. He helped found the American Film Institute and received the prestigious Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1978 for his philanthropic efforts. In 1997, Heston was awarded the Kennedy Center Honors, and in 2003, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

“Acting was not Charlton Heston’s whole life,” said U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors Chairman Mickey Barnett in dedicating the stamp. “He was never afraid to stand up for his beliefs.”

Joining Barnett and film dignitaries at the dedication was Heston’s son, filmmaker Fraser C. Heston

“On behalf of my mother, Lydia, my sister, Holly Rochell, and the entire Heston family, I can say enthusiastically how deeply grateful we all are that my father, Charlton, has been honored with a ‘Legends of Hollywood’ postage stamp,” Fraser Heston said. “In many ways, a nation’s stamps are a cross section of a culture, its ideals and icons, in microcosm. As a fervently patriotic American, my father would be deeply moved to know that his image—based on one of my mother’s photographs—will be on a Forever stamp.”

The stamp was designed by art director Greg Breeding of Charlottesville, Virginia. It features a color portrait of the actor by noted movie artist Drew Struzan of Pasadena, California, based on a photograph taken by Lydia Clarke Heston. On the full sheet of Heston’s stamp, the border outside the stamps is decorated with an image of the actor from the film Ben-Hur. Originally shot in black and white, the photo was later hand-colorized. Heston is shown wearing his costume from the film’s monumental chariot racing scene.

In 2002, Heston announced he was diagnosed with “symptoms consistent with” Alzheimer’s disease. He died on April 5, 2008, at the age of 84.