Charlton Heston's Kids on Oscar-Winning 'Ben-Hur': "It Was a Big Risk for Him and the Studio"

Wesley Mann
Rochell and her son Charlie were photographed Feb. 5 in New York City.

"When he won, I think he finally felt validated as an actor," son Fraser Heston, who has the statuette today, tells THR. Daughter Holly Heston Rochell possesses the actor’s other Oscar, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.

This story first appeared in the March 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Fraser Heston says his earliest memory "is riding the chariot on the set of Ben-Hur with my father." Charlton Heston's son, a writer-director in his own right, also appeared in Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments (1956) as baby Moses (his contract was "signed" with a print of his foot). After playing the adult Moses, Charlton starred in William Wyler's 1959 epic about a Jewish prince forced into slavery and took home the Oscar. "Ben-Hur was a big risk for him and the studio [MGM]. When he won, I think he finally felt validated as an actor," says Fraser, 61. It was to be Heston's only Oscar nomination for acting, but in 1978, he won the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, honoring his longtime advocacy of civil rights, notably as part of a Hollywood contingent that included Sidney Poitier, Marlon Brando and Bob Dylan, who all marched on Washington with Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963.

Heston was photographed Feb. 5 in Los Angeles.

Today, the two awards live on opposite coasts. The humanitarian Oscar is with Fraser's Manhattan-based sister, Holly Heston Rochell, 54, who attended the ceremony that year with her parents. "This award is meaningful to me," she says. "I remembered flying to Bangladesh with my mom and dad and doing charity work." She keeps it by her bedside in the apartment she shares with her 15-year-old son, Charlie — the name her mother, Lydia, affectionately would call her actor father (known to everyone else as Chuck) — and her 19-year-old daughter, Ridley Charlton Rochell, a freshman at Northwestern (where the elder Hestons met as students).

After Heston, who served as president of the Screen Actors Guild for three terms, died in 2008 of pneumonia at age 84, the Oscars continued to live in Coldwater Canyon with Lydia, to whom he'd been married for 64 years. "He kept them on a little side table in his study where he read every morning," says Fraser. With the recent sale of the Heston home, and 92-year-old Lydia in an assisted-living facility, the Ben-Hur Oscar now sits in Fraser's home office near a French poster of Touch of Evil, the 1958 cult classic his father made with Orson Welles. "After me, my [24-year-old] son, Jack, will get the award."

Heston at the 1960 Academy Awards with Susan Hayward.

Additional reporting by Andy Lewis.