Charlton Heston simply looks like a movie star. Even when he's not in a movie.
Last night he was at a rather small reception -- in his honor -- at the National Portrait Gallery, surrounded by a sedate but appropriately adulatory crowd.
It's not just his face. It's the way he stands. His shoulders are formidably broad, his navy suit impeccably tailored, his white shirt impeccably . . . white. One massive hand rests -- almost as if posed -- in one pocket, and the other hand grasps a wine glass heroically held at his torso.And then the voice -- well, the throaty voice of Ben Hur, the voice of Moses. . . .
His companion said something funny and Heston laughed. "Hah, hah, hah, haaahhh . . ." It resounded through the room.
Heston was there to receive the little-known Portrait Gallery medal for service (which can be for pictures, time or money donated). Heston narrated the film, "The Faces of Freedom," a look at U.S. history through the portraits of the gallery, shown there each day.
He is in two films now in "post-production," called "The Mountain Man" and "The Awakening." "I've only made two biblical movies out of 54," he said solemnly.
"I'll probably do 'Lion in Winter,' in the theater in Los Angeles," said Heston, sipping his wine, "or if I can find an actor who can alternate lead roles, 'Becket.'
"I' like to act Macbeth better than the last five times I did it. I'd like to do one part that satisfied me. No part really did."
He is asked about his favorite part.
"Of mine?" he said, wide-eyed. "I haven't done it yet."
"'Khartoum' was quite good," offered Hollis Alpert, editor of American Film, and Heston nodded, as if his memory were jogged. "You meshed well with Olivier," Alpert added.
Then, the favorite is "Khartoum"?
Heston, paused, and looked blank. "It was a good film," he said.
He posed for pictures with anyone who wanted them. The waitress serving vegetables slipped up to him and pulled out a dollar bill. Heston signed it.
S. Dillon Ripley, secretary of the Smithsonian, made a little speech before presenting "our handsome medal to our handsome subject."
Heston cradled the award in his hands and told his audience, "I got a couple of medals in World War II -- but those were just for showing up."
He explained later, "You don't get the Golden Globe award unless you show up. Indeed, I was surprised that you could get this one without showing up."
Heston didn't make it to the first reception. Marvin Sadik, director of the gallery, already had awarded 65 of the 100 medals, struck in silver, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the gallery. Most were given out at the anniversary reception -- in October 1978. The ones who didn't make it got theirs in the mail.
For Heston, the gallery was willling to hold another reception.
"The speech he gave was really good," said Sylvia Ripley, daughter of Dillon Ripley, after Heston's remarks.
"Well, no better than your father's," Mary Ripley told her daughter.
"Oh, you're biased," Sylvia softly admonished.