An auction of the actor and NRA presidents possessions in Los Angeles reveals a trove of rare Shakespeare folios amid the movie props and statues
An auction in Los Angeles on 22 March reveals a side of the rugged American film star Charlton Heston that his fans and detractors might have missed. Heston, who died in 2008, won an Academy Award for his part in the epic Ben-Hur (1959) and later served five terms as president of the National Rifle Association (NRA).
But Heston considered himself to be a Shakespearean actor at heart. He once said the great roles are always Shakespearean, and he made his Broadway debut in Antony and Cleopatra. So it may not surprise that Heston owned some books by the Bard. And he kept not ordinary reading copies, but instead several rare Shakespeare volumes.
His collection included four original leaves from the first four collected editions of Shakespeares works, also known as Folios (1623-1685), bundled alongside limited edition reproductions for resale in 1935 and now estimated to sell for $3,000 to $5,000; three comedies removed from a Second Folio (1632), estimated at $3,000 to $5,000; and four tragedies removed from a Second Folio, estimated at $5,000 to $7,000.
The two greatest rarities from Hestons Beverly Hills home library, however, are a 1673 edition of Macbeth and a Hamlet from 1676. Referred to as quartos, these slim, pamphlet-like editions of individual Shakespearean plays are also known as players editions, in which the emphasis is on the contemporary performance, explained Adam G Hooks, professor of English at the University of Iowa and author of Selling Shakespeare: Biography, Bibliography, and the Book Trade. The Hamlet in particular is an interesting artifact, he said, since certain passages were omitted from the performance, and marked typographically in the quarto.
Although both editions can be found in several institutions in the US and the UK, they seldom appear on the market, and the auctioneers at Bonhams value the Hamlet at $15,000 to $25,000 and the Macbeth at $25,000 to $35,000.
The quartos are rather unexpected standouts among 322 lots, most of which are movie props and keepsakes that include a bronze sculpture of Heston playing Moses (from The Ten Commandments) and a cloak he wore while filming El Cid. There are also numerous portraits of Heston in his various leading roles and some NRA memorabilia.
You are more likely to find fine paintings, fine furniture, and jewelry in a celebrity estate, said Catherine Williamson, director of fine books and manuscripts and entertainment memorabilia at Bonhams in Los Angeles. So it was unusual to find these early Shakespeare imprints. However, when you realize that Heston started his career as a Shakespearean actor and really always felt a connection to Shakespeare, and thought of himself first and foremost as a Shakespearean actor, then it does make sense.
In addition to his stage performance as Marc Antony in 1947, Heston portrayed the Roman politician again in the film adaptation of Shakespeares Julius Caesar in 1950 and 1970 and again, in different form, in Antony and Cleopatra in 1972. He also took the role of the Player King in Kenneth Branaghs 1996 film version of Hamlet. Macbeth was another serial role for him when, in 1975, he starred on stage alongside Vanessa Redgrave.
It may be that Macbeth was a particular favorite. Auction lots include a framed oil painting by Heston himself of a fiery scene from a 1952 Macbeth and an 1845 theatrical broadside for a London production of the tragedy.
Williamson said she believed Heston and his wife, Lydia Clarke Heston, purchased the Hamlet and Macbeth quartos during their travels in the 1950s or 60s. Mrs Heston, who is living but has moved out of the house, was known to comb antiquarian shops while her husband filmed on location in various countries.
The Hestons home, Williamson said, contained layers upon layers of beautiful things. There was an art gallery, a screening room, a jewelry vault, and a two-storey library. As avid readers, they stocked the library mainly with modern trade fiction and nonfiction; they were not aggressive book collectors, instead amassing volumes of personal and professional interest over more than 50 years. Still, a few standouts shine alongside the cache of scarce Shakespeareana, such as Jack Hemingways copy of the limited first edition of his father Ernests book of short stories, In Our Time. It is valued between $25,000 and $35,000. According to the auction catalogue: Heston believed Hemingway was the greatest American writer of the 20th century.
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