Interview with Charlton Heston

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Heston: It's hard to be cheerful about it, isn't it? I think it's Parkinson's law that says that work and effort and the manpower applied to it expand exponentially according to the amount of time you give it. The more people you put on it, the more time you give them to do the job, the more job there seems to be to do. I've had more than a little public-sector experience, in organizations like the American Film Institute and the Screen Actors Guild and the National Council for the Arts, which is the body advisory to the National Endowment for the Arts, and a task force I ran, co-chaired with Hanna Gray, on the arts and humanities. I've come to feel very strongly, not as a joke, that if you appoint a committee of more than four people, their efficiency starts to deteriorate.

Reason: That's what's happened to the arts bureaucracy in this country, isn't it?

Heston: Oh yes. But, I'm sure it's true of every bureaucracy, including the armed services, including the financial community, the church, professional sports.

Reason: Does it make sense for government to subsidize the arts?

Heston: So the task force I chaired with Dr. Gray found, and so I agree. When the president asked me to head that task force, it was widely assumed in the press that we were simply undertaking to do a hatchet job on the arts. In the first place, that would have demonstrated a capacity to reverse bureaucratic expansion, which is impossible. In the second place, it wasn't what we set out to do. We appointed a large committee of quite distinguished administrators. And we concluded that the arts and humanities were a sufficiently valuable national resource to be at least as deserving of federal support as, say medicine and education.

Reason: I wonder, though, if government subsidization doesn't discourage private philanthropy, as it seems to in welfare?

Heston: Well, we found that not to be the case. I think there's a distinct difference between funding for the arts in Europe and here. In Europe, traditionally, the state funded the arts, going back to when the state meant popes and kings. So it's understandable if regrettable that in Europe the state pays for more or less everything, whereas in this country, quite the contrary was true. In the 19th century, there was no thought of government doing it, but there were any number of very wealthy men who were quite happy to do it. And now that the government has picked up a corner of this, there still is a very active role for private corporations.

Reason: What is your political philosophy? You started out as a Stevensonian Democrat, didn't you?

Heston: I did. He was the first presidential candidate I worked for. Twice.

Reason: Glutton for punishment, huh?

Heston: Well, he was an easy man to work for. He was a very attractive public figure. He was a very good speaker. In retrospect I feel that the public in their wisdom had chosen correctly in picking Eisenhower twice. It's a curious thing. We don't think well of our presidents when they are serving. Even Kennedy, with such a short presidency, was beginning to lose his remarkable appeal to the American people when he was suddenly sainted by death. If we look back over the years, at least in my lifetime, Roosevelt was widely vilified. So was Truman. Eisenhower was regarded as a bumbler by large segments of the press. It is curiously true that it is usually the press that leads this assault.

Reason: Well, isn't that their function?

Heston: No, it isn't their function. It is their right, but they tend to confuse right with responsibility. It is their right to criticize. It is their right to stand in opposition, but it is not their function.

Reason: We are the freer for the fact that the press is skeptical of the government, don't you think?

Heston: We are certainly freer for the fact that they have the right to be skeptical. That it should therefore follow that they become increasingly skeptical is a proposition that I think doesn't stand up under scrutiny.

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