LOS ANGELES -- Charlton Heston, the actor who played Moses in "The Ten Commandments," is being picketed at the Skirball Cultural Center, a major Jewish institution in Los Angeles. Women Against Gun Violence, a group devoted to stringent gun control, is protesting the Skirball's invitation to the 75-year-old actor to do a benefit for some of the center's leading donors on Thursday, Dec. 2, 1999.
Heston, who is reading from such writers as Shakespeare, Byron, Shelley and Frost, is president of the National Rifle Association. Ann Reiss Lane, a former Los Angeles police commissioner who heads Women Against Gun Violence, said it is particularly inappropriate for a Jewish center to invite Heston, in view of the August attack at a Jewish community center in the San Fernando Valley. Several people were injured and a 39-year-old postal clerk was later shot to death, allegedly by the same man.
"We support everyone's 1st Amendment right to speak and your institution's right to have a speaker of your choice," Lane wrote to the center. "However, we wonder whether you fully appreciate how identified Mr. Heston is with a group that advocates absolutely no regulations on private gun ownership, including assault weapons and other weapons of mass destruction."
Heston said that the letter was "entirely irrational. The reading I'm doing...has nothing to do with what she's talking about. Will I appear? Of course."
Skirball officials defended their invitation and a full house of several hundred patrons is expected. Rabbi Uri Herscher, Skirball's president and chief executive, said it would be a mistake not to have Heston there. Part of the center's mission since it opened in 1996, he said, has been to provide a forum on public and religious issues."Uri Hescher doesn't have to agree with Heston," the rabbi said. "My disagreement on Heston's views on guns does not preclude his taking the stage as an actor. This is not a political event. This is a cultural event."
For information call the Skirball Cultural Center at (310) 440-4500 or visit http://www.skirball.org
-- By Willard Manus
Southern California Correspondent