Steely jawed, hard bodied, terse in speech, Charlton Heston was an American man's man, an epic unto himself. While he played modern men, he was at his best when portraying larger-than-life figures from world history, preferably with his shirt off. He was born John Charles Carter on October 4, 1924 and originally trained in the classics in Northwestern University's drama program, gaining early experience playing the lead in a 1941 filmed school production of Peer Gynt. He also performed on the radio, and then went on to serve in the Air Force for three years during WWII. Afterwards, he went to work as a model in New York, where he met his wife, fellow model Lydia Clarke, to whom he remained married until his death. Later the two operated a theater in Asheville, North Carolina where Heston honed his acting skills. He made his Broadway debut in Katharine Cornell's 1947 production of Anthony and Cleopatra and subsequently went on to be a staple of the highly-regarded New York-based Studio One live television anthology where he played such classic characters as Heathcliff, Julius Caesar and Petruchio. The show made Heston a star.
He made his Hollywood film debut in William Dieterle's film noir Dark City playing opposite Lizabeth Scott. Even though she was more established in Hollywood, it was Heston who received top billing. He went on to appear as a white man raised in Indian culture in The Savage (1952) and then as a snob who snubs a country girl in King Vidor's Ruby Gentry (1952). His big break came when Cecil B. DeMille cast him as the bitter circus manager Brad Braden in The Greatest Show on Earth (1952).