How the actor's kindness helped a woman in trouble start a new life.
By Jaye Lewis
It was June of 1968 and I was fleeing for my life, carrying my two-month-old baby daughter.
My brother had managed to come up with the money for a one-way first-class ticket on an airplane traveling from Atlanta to Detroit. My marriage had become too dangerous, and as I flew home to be with my family, I felt very agitated. Anything, God, I silently prayed--anything to break the monotony of my own tortured thoughts.
At that moment, my baby with a bit of a drool dripping from her chin, bobbed over toward a smoker. As she studied him with wide-eyed wonder, she let out an enormous belch, right in his face! It was all I could do to keep from laughing! The man gave a disgusted grunt, and stepping over us, he retreated down the aisle into the back of the plane. I never saw him again.
Behind me, across the isle, I heard someone laughing. Turning to look at him, I saw a man with a beet red face, nearly helpless with amusement. Our eyes locked and we both cracked up.
"Out of the mouths of babes!" said my conspirator, with a wicked twinkle in his eye. We laughed for some time and then we began to visit. He was heading home to visit his parents in Detroit, Michigan. My daughter and I were also on our way home to stay with my parents, who lived just south of Detroit.
"What a beautiful child," he said, gazing at my little girl, with her soft dark curls and her big brown eyes. I agreed. Something about this man was vaguely familiar, but I just couldn't place him. We talked. He was warm, kind, and funny. I was pensive from time to time, but it was a relief to have a kindred soul to distract me from my troubles.
I introduced myself and he told me that his friends called him"Chuck." As we were talking, I just couldn't help but think I knew this man from somewhere. I certainly knew no one who traveled first class, and it would have been unlikely that we had ever met. He was traveling from Los Angeles. I was traveling from the south, and we had no similar points of reference, except Atlanta.
His voice was mesmerizing. It was so familiar. Strong and evenly tempered. Where had I heard that voice? All of a sudden, I knew him! I was sitting across from a very famous man.
My God! I couldn't believe it, and we were talking like we were old friends! Should I tell him that I recognized him? What could I say?! "I just loved you in 'The Ten Commandments'?!" How stupid would that sound? And breaking into his privacy to ask for an autograph, was simply not going to happen. So I never said a word.
He was charming and kind. He held my little girl and he played the typical baby games, speaking to her in a warm and coaxing way. She crowed in his face and giggled. I don't remember what we talked about. Ordinary things. We visited for three and a half hours. I didn't tell him that I was fleeing for my life and he never told me that he was a famous movie star.
All too soon our trip was over. The plane landed and we both got our carry-ons. Mine was a diaper bag. His was something more Samsonite. He gathered his things and I picked up my infant daughter.
He left the plane to be greeted by the press and cameras. I left to obscurity. We both hugged our families and my last sight of him was to see him smile and nod his head at me as he began to answer questions from someone holding a microphone. I smiled back and we parted forever.
I didn't watch the news. I didn't see the interview. I don't know the rest of his story. I did tell my parents, who doubted that the man was famous. After all, on the plane we were simply two travelers, passing time.
Somehow, this event was a pivotal point in my life. I had respected the privacy of a famous man simply because I could. After eleven months of married hell, he had made me feel, well, normal.
Now that he has passed on, I remember a man who gave me my first glimpse into a normal life--one where humor and kindness saved the day.
Mr. Heston could have been aloof and superior, but somehow I don't think that was a part of his character. Often in the tumultuous days of my bitter divorce, I would think of that very famous man who touched my life with so much grace.
Now, nearly forty years later, it occurs to me, how blessed I am, that I did not invade the privacy of that famous man. He gave me a precious memory and he did give me his autograph: He wrote his autograph on my life.