As two of the late great Charlton Heston's biggest projects—The Ten Commandments and Charlton Heston Presents the Bible—re-release to Blu-ray and DVD this week, we caught up with his son, 56-year-old Fraser Heston, to talk about his dad's life and legacy.

Fraser Heston

Fraser Heston

Fraser, who was the baby Moses in The Ten Commandments, followed in his father's Hollywood footsteps in some ways—as a writer, director, and producer, but never as an actor. Fraser was executive producer on Charlton Heston Presents the Bible, a series of four videos, each about one hour long, featuring Heston in a cross between documentary and performance on one section of Scripture. All were recorded in the Holy Land.

The new, 55th anniversary edition of The Ten Commandments is being released in high definition for the first time. It comes in a massive six-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo gift set, as well as in two-disc Blu-ray and DVD versions.

In 1981, Fraser and his father formed Agamemnon Films, for which Fraser is now president and CEO. Father and son worked on several films together with Agamemnon, including the TV movies Treasure Island, Crucifer of Blood, and A Man for All Seasons.

The elder Heston died in 2008, at the age of 84 after 65 years of marriage to Lydia Clarke, who was at his side at his death. Fraser remembered his dad not only as a great actor, but a wonderful father and man of faith who loved his family.

So, you were the baby in The Ten Commandments.

Yeah. If I live long enough, I'll be the last surviving actor to work with Cecil B. DeMille!

Did your dad pulled any strings to make that happen?

The first telegram my mom got when I was born was from Cecil B. DeMille. It said, "Congratulations. He's got the part." I think they had already started production. They had gone to Egypt, and then they came back. The scenes with me as the baby were shot in Hollywood, at Paramount. [LIFE magazine has a great picture of Fraser with his dad on the set.]

What was it like growing up, knowing that was you in this movie?

Fraser Heston as the infant Moses

Fraser Heston as the infant Moses

I can't remember a time when Ten Commandments wasn't a part of my sort of family history. Later on when we got into pictures like Ben Hur, I felt that that was a pretty big deal. My earliest memory was of my dad coming home in his chariot driver's outfit. I think I assumed he was a professional charioteer. And I remember him bringing sand from the Roman arena for my sandbox, and being told this was not just any sand. It was MGM sand!

How old were you when he was shooting Ben Hur?

About three-and-a-half or four. But I have distinct memories; I remember riding in the chariot. How could you forget that? We recently produced a film about my dad, called Charlton Heston & Ben-Hur: A Personal Journey—a feature-length documentary that will be included with the 50th anniversary Blu-ray release this fall. In it, we used a lot of 16-millimeter footage that my mom took. There's a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff of Dad driving the chariot around and me in it. It's pretty cool.

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Do you feel like you had a normal life as a kid, or was it surreal?

It was surreal in a wonderful way. I had, obviously, tremendous advantages, but the most important one was that I kind of won the parent lottery. I had wonderful loving parents who took me all over the world with my sister, Holly. And I was able to see things and do things and live in places not just as a tourist but, as I got older, but to kind of live and work in these countries with local people in different cultures. I just can't imagine a better childhood with better parents, to be honest.

The Ten Commandments seems like it's been re-released many times. What's so special about this one?

It's unbelievable, a life changer, the way it's been remastered. It's just so compelling. You've never seen it like this. This is the way C.B. DeMille or [Ben-Hur director William Wyler] would have wanted to see those films. And they both hold up today. Ben-Hur is a more modern epic, like Gladiator; side-by-side, there's not that much difference in the way they're shot and the way they look, but I think Ben-Hur is a much better film.

Ben-Hur in some ways is the first modern epic. Ten Commandments is a more of the Hollywood style of epic that you saw in the 40s and 50s, but it holds up really well.

Tell me about Charlton Heston Presents the Bible.

In many ways that was Dad's most personal film, because it was something he wanted to do. It started out as a recording concept; we would record on video his favorite stories from the Bible, and his personal reflections on some of these stories. Then we decided to illustrate it with great works of biblical art throughout the ages. And from there we decided, "Well, why don't we go to the Holy Land and shoot it?" And it became this combination of performance art where Dad stands up in a wonderful Roman amphitheater in Israel, and reads kind of performs selected segments of the Bible. And then he travels to some other sites to have a discussion from a storyteller's point of view. As he says in the beginning, he's not a priest or a scholar and he doesn't presume to lecture on theology, but he says they're the greatest stories ever told. We were there for months, and came back and cut together four hours of this unusual documentary/performance film.

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When you were a kid, did you want to be an actor like your dad?

No, I never had a desire to do that. I was interested in science and oceanography, and I spent a year studying marine biology at UC San Diego. And then I had a change of direction and decided to become a writer. I finished my college at UCLA as an English lit major and basically started writing screenplays. And from there got into producing, and from there got into directing.

Your dad will probably be most remembered for Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur. Why do you think your dad was attracted to these biblical epics?

He made three biblical films—Ten Commandments, Ben-Hur, and The Greatest Story Ever Told—plus the Bible project. He was definitely a man of faith. He believed in all the fundamental Christian values, and he just loved the stories from the Bible. As he said, they were the greatest stories ever told.

In the famous chariot with his dad and race choreographer Yakimah Canutt

In the famous chariot with his dad and race choreographer Yakimah Canutt

As an entertainer, he didn't have a theological agenda. He wanted to tell these wonderful stories. And the great thing about both Ben Hur and Ten Commandments is that they're stories about human beings. They're not divine. Moses was perhaps an instrument of God's will, as described in the Bible. But he was a human being. He had foibles. He had weaknesses. He wasn't worthy; he said, "Why me, Lord?"

What makes Ten Commandments compelling is the people in that story. They're compelling characters. They seem real, and you care about them. And that's what makes any movie or story work. And Ben Hur perhaps even more so because here you have a fictional character at this stage of the Roman Empire set against the passion of Jesus Christ and his crucifixion. That's a remarkably big story, but the personal story is very small. It's about one man who loses his family, ends up becoming a slave in the galleys, and then makes this huge transformation. It isn't overtly stated, but I think he becomes one of the first Christians. I think that's really what that film is about.

Just from his random encounters with Christ.

Yeah. And they're wonderful moments, and they're done so subtly in the film where he looks on Jesus' face the first time Jesus gives him water. And it just kind of changes his life. He's never going to be the same again.

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Were you a churchgoing family when you were a kid?

We would go from time to time. My parents belonged to St. Matthew's Church in Pacific Palisades. That's where Dad was buried. We were, I would say, a family of faith, but I'm not a dutiful churchgoer, I have to admit.

How did your dad's faith inform his work as an actor?

I don't think it was overtly stated, but it certainly informed everything he did. I think Ben Hur is closest to the kind of man he really was and became. He had this incredible sense of decency and the ability to make sacrifices and to put himself last, basically, against bigger causes.

Speaking of causes, your dad was a political activist on several fronts. Were you onboard with him on those things?

I was aware of it, but I didn't take part in it. I was busy doing my own stuff. I certainly didn't discourage his activism. But it wasn't really my thing.

Did you have conversations or arguments about these things?

Fraser with his dad on the 'Treasure Island' set

Fraser with his dad on the 'Treasure Island' set

Not really. We got along really well, even when we made some pictures together. [Fraser directed his dad in the TV movies Treasure Island and Crucifer of Blood.] A lot of people asked, "Isn't it hard working with your dad? Aren't there frictions and difficulties?" Well, yeah, sure. There would be frictions and difficulties with any actor. But the time I spent with my dad was golden.

When you were directing your dad, were there times when you had to say, "Cut! Dad, you did that wrong"?

Oh, all the time. That's my job. Sure.

And would he say, "Listen, you young whippersnapper …"?

No. He'd say, "How can I do it better?" I've worked with all kinds. I've worked with Vanessa Redgrave, John Gielgud, Ed Harris, Max von Sydow. They're all pros, and they need to be directed. They want to be directed. Your job as director is to try to get your vision across, and that means working with your actors in whatever way is necessary. It doesn't mean being an autocrat. It's a collaborative art.

Your dad had Alzheimer's in his final years. I bet it was incredibly difficult, seeing such a strong, articulate man fading like that.

Well, I made a promise to myself not to talk about that too much. But I do want to say on behalf of people who suffer from this disease, you have to look into your soul and your faith and say, "How am I going to cope with this?" It's terribly trying. It's terribly difficult for families. My dad was remarkably courageous; he made a public statement on film or videotape [referenced in his final TV interview, with Peter Jennings]. As soon as it was diagnosed, he came out and made a public statement; it was on all the networks. He knew that he could try to help other people who suffered from that disease, and try to raise awareness. It needs a lot of funding, a lot of research. I think they're making remarkable strides in medication and treatment, early diagnosis, which is terribly important. I think those things gave him several more years of useful, conscious life than we expected, to be honest. It's not necessarily something you want to draw out. But as long as you have a reasonable quality of life and can communicate, then life is worth living.

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