In the 1990’s, Charlton Heston produced and starred in a series of videos about the Holy Lands. They were quite excellent, as you would expect from someone with his amazing talent. They sold well on an infomercial and finally made it to QVC. He was running late for his first appearance and I did not have the chance to meet with him before the show.
They had scheduled him to appear in a “Sampler” hour, which, as the title indicates, was a hodgepodge of items that we sold. I was presenting a plastic diorama of the bridge from the Star Trek Enterprise, complete with little plastic crewmembers. I hope you can appreciate the absurdity of this. One of the greatest actors of all time is sitting 5 feet from me and I’m selling a Star Trek toy.
Near the end of the presentation, I looked at the camera and said, “You know what they forgot in the 23rd century? Seat belts!” As I said it, I wacked the model and all the little plastic figures went flying. I continued, “Hello, if you were injured in a Starship accident, call the outer space injury experts at Ferengi and Sons.” The diorama sold out.
I heard a loud laugh coming from my right side. It was Charlton Heston. He was howling at my on-air shtick. We took a quick break before Heston’s presentation. We shook hands and he asked if my bit had been scripted. He was impressed with the fact that we were all ad lib. I asked him what I should call him on-air and he said, “Call me Chuck.” Wow, I was sitting next to an international icon and I was calling him Chuck. We talked a little about his amazing career. He was impressed that I knew his film, The Omega Man, was based on the novella by Richard Matheson, I Am Legend, which had already inspired an Italian film titled – The Last Man on Earth, starring Vincent Price.
He was a great communicator and naturally funny. His Holy Land videos sold out in a couple of minutes. We said our goodbyes and he had left the building before I was off the air. I was impressed to hear that he did not travel with an entourage and had just rented a car at the airport and drove to QVC on his own.
We met again when we were selling his Holy Land videos a few weeks later. This time, we had time to chat in the green room. I congratulated him on winning the Presidency of the NRA. As a longtime NRA member I voted for him (I have since sent back my membership card – I cannot support them today.) I knew he was here for a few days and, realizing he was alone, I asked him if he’d like to go shooting at my local range. He agreed. I picked him up at the hotel and we had dinner at Antonio’s in West Chester. I took most celebrities there, it was my favorite restaurant in the area.
Anthony, the owner was a great guy, but a little rough around the edges. When he recognized Chuck, he said, “You did that movie with them big monkeys, right?” Chuck was extremely gracious, extended his hand to the restaurateur and introduced himself. Like everyone else I took there, he loved the food. They made quite a fuss about having him as a guest and went out of their way to serve him.
After dinner we went to the target range. Walking in with Charlton Heston made me quite the Big Man on Campus. I brought several of my guns and the owners of the range kept bringing him different guns to try. He’s a hell of a shot! I took him to the range during many of his next visits. He returned the favor and took me to the Beverly Hills Gun Club as his guest a couple of times when I was in L.A.
During one of Chuck’s visits, Buffalo Bob Smith, a genuinely nice and very funny man, was also on QVC selling Howdy Doody merchandise. Bob was quite a basketball fan and we set up a big screen TV at his hotel (where most QVC guests stayed) to watch the championship NBA game and arranged for an open bar and buffet. Chuck heard us making the arrangements and asked if he could attend. Of course he could. If I had known he was also a basketball fan I would have already asked him.
What’s wrong with this picture? That night, I was sitting in a hotel room watching the national NBA championship, eating roast beef and drinking single malt Scotch with Charlton Heston and Buffalo Bob. It was a magical night!
I worked several more times with both Charlton Heston and Buffalo Bob. If you had told the 10-year-old New Jersey farmboy that he would someday do that, he would have called you a liar and wondered what you were drinking.
A couple of interesting sidebars. I was the last person to interview Buffalo Bob on television. One day my producer spoke to me through my earpiece (IFB) and told me that Bob had died peacefully in his North Carolina home. They took a break and gave me 60 seconds to come up with a eulogy. Talk about having to think fast! When they came back to me I said, “A legend who helped to raise many of us sitting in front of the TV during the 1950’s, has passed away. But in this business, I’ve found that you never say goodbye. You just say so long for now. God bless and rest in peace, Buffalo Bob.”
On a lighter note, Charlton Heston loved to laugh. They had him doing these very somber promos where he would sit on a stool in a single spotlight and ask people to tune in to his presentation of Holy Land videos. He wanted to break it up. I rented a really good gorilla costume. We didn’t tell the production people what we were going to do.
During his live promo, my arm, clad in the gorilla costume, kept trying to interrupt him. He kept slapping my hand away. At the end of the promo, he grabbed my gorilla arm, the only part of me that was visible on-camera, and said, “Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!” Then he turned to the camera and finished, “So join me, Charlton Heston, next hour as we explore the Holy Lands together.” At that point, he let go of my hand and my gorilla hand made the okay and then thumbs up sign to the camera. The Holy Lands videos sold out again.
The memos from the gorilla incident stopped coming last year.
© 2017 Steve Bryant – No portion of this or any blog can be reproduced or copied and pasted on any online site or read aloud on any audio media without the express permission of the author.