To Kill a Mockingbird
“I put everything I had into it - all my feelings and everything I’d learned in 46 years of living, about family life and fathers and children, and my feelings about racial justice and inequality and opportunity.” Gregory Peck on his 1962 Oscar-winning role in To Kill a Mockingbird
The embodiment of the tall, dark and handsome leading man, Gregory Peck (born in 1916, died in 2003) was an American film actor and is considered to be among the most legendary film stars and handsome leading men of all time. Strong, reliable and always dignified, Peck was a free agent, un-trapped by the studio system and able to transform from genre to genre with ease, appearing successfully in comedies, dramas, westerns, epics, and action pictures. The recipient of the 1996 Crystal Globe Award for Outstanding Artistic Contribution to World Cinema and the 1989 Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Film Institute, Peck acquired a wealth of appreciation and recognition starring as the ethical Southern lawyer Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), where he was honored with an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award. His Oscar nominating performances in The Keys of the Kingdom (1944), The Yearling (1946, nabbed a Golden Globe Award), Gentleman's Agreement (1947) and Twelve O’Clock High (1950, won a New York’s Film Critics Circle Award) helped keep Peck on top.
Peck, who was on screen from 1944 to 1998, also built his name in such other memorable films as Spellbound (1945), The Gunfighter (1950), Roman Holiday (1953), Moby Dick (1956), The Big Country (1958), The Guns of Navarone (1961), Cape Fear (1962), How the West Was Won (1962), Arabesque (1966), The Omen (1976), The Boys from Brazil (1978) and Old Gringo (1989), among others. On the small screen, Peck made a name for himself with the supporting role of Father Mapple in the USA Network miniseries version of “Moby Dick” (1998), wherein he nabbed a Golden Globe Award and received an Emmy nomination.
Aside from being a movie star, Peck was well-known for his huge contribution to charitable and political issues. In his lifetime, Peck had been a chairman of the American Cancer Society and the American Film Institute, and served as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences from 1967 to 1970, and in 2000, he was given a Doctor of Letters by the National University of Ireland. For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Peck has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6100 Hollywood Blvd, but in November of 2005, the star was stolen. It has been replaced with a new one. In 1979, he was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. A lifelong supporter of the Democratic Party, Peck was recommended in 1970 as a possible Democratic candidate to run against Ronald Reagan for the office of Governor of California.
Childhood and Family:
Eldred Gregory Peck was born on April 5, 1916, in La Jolla, California, to Gregory Peck, a chemist/pharmacist of Irish Catholic (maternal) and English (paternal) ancestry and Bernice Peck, a Missouri-born convert to Catholicism. Catherine Ashe, Peck’s paternal grandmother, was related to the Irish patriot Thomas Ashe, who participated in the Easter Rising in the year of Peck’s birth and passed away on a starvation strike in 1917.
At age 5, Peck’s parents divorced and he went to live with his grandmother. Growing up in a strict Catholic family, he was sent to a Roman Catholic military school in Los Angeles five years later. Next, Peck attended San Diego High School and improved his grades at the San Diego State University so that he could earn admittance to his first choice, the University of California, in Berkeley. Inspired to become an actor after watching Vera Zorina in “I Married an Angel,” Peck soon withdrew from medicine and changed his major to English while also joining the school’s Little Theater. Upon graduation, he dismissed the name “Eldred” and moved to New York City in 1936 to study at the prestigious Neighborhood Playhouse School of Dramatics. Shortly after, his acting career took flight.
Gregory Peck was married twice. In October 1942, he married first wife Greta Rice, but the couple later divorced in 1954. Peck and Rice shared three sons, Carey Paul Peck (born on June 17, 1949), Stephen Peck (born on August 16, 1946; created Far From Home, an organization which assists homeless veterans) and Jonathan Peck (born on July 20, 1944; committed suicide in 1975). Peck then married Veronique Passani on December 31, 1955, and the couple had two kids, daughter Cecilia Peck (born in May 1958) and son Tony Peck (born in October 1956).
At age 87, on June 12, 2003, Peck died in his sleep from natural causes in Los Angeles. He was buried in the mausoleum of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles, California.
Though he once planned on being a doctor, and even studied medicine at the University of California at Berkeley, Gregory Peck was lured to the stage as a young man, leaving his native California for an unsure existence as an actor in New York. After a string of odd jobs, such as a barker at a concession stand in the amusement zone of the New York World’s Fair and later as a tour guide at Radio City Music Hall, Peck made his professional acting debut on stage when he had a small role in the touring company of “The Doctor’s Dilemma” (1941), which starred Katharine Cornell, and debuted on Broadway a year later with the lead in Emlyn Williams’ “The Morning Star.” The well-received play was followed by performances in “The Willow and I” and “Sons and Soldiers,” before Peck returned to California to give acting a more serious try.
Unable to serve in the Armed Forces in World War II due to a spinal injury incurred in a college rowing match, Peck stepped into the vacuum generated by the absence of leading men and immediately became one of the most requested actors, signing contacts with four studios that included RKO, 20th Century-Fox, Selznick Productions and MGM. Peck made his feature acting debut in Days of Glory (1944), but it was his Oscar nominated performance as a dedicated Roman Catholic priest named Father Francis Chisholm in The Keys of the Kingdom (1944), which really launched him to stardom.
Following high profile roles in Hitchcock’s Spellbound (1945) and David O. Selznick’s Duel in the Sun (1946), Peck gained even more attention when he was cast as the perceptive father, Ezra ‘Penny’ Baxter, in The Yearling (1946). Peck’s performance was critically applauded and he was handed a Golden Globe for Best Actor, as well as received a second Academy Award nomination.
The following year saw Peck make three films. He was first cast in the Ernest Hemingway-based movie The Macomber Affair (1947), then played Anthony Keane in The Paradine Case and received an Oscar nomination for his fine starring portrayal of Philip Schuyler Green, the daring writer who pretended to be Jewish to expose anti-Semitism, in Elia Kazan’s Gentleman’s Agreement (1947). He was then seen as James ‘Stretch’ Dawson in Yellow Sky (1949, also Anne Baxter) and Fedja in The Great Sinner (1949).
In the Henry King-directed Twelve O’Clock High (1949), Peck won a New York Film Critics Circle for Best Actor, as well as earned a forth Best Actor Oscar nomination, for his interesting portrayal of an Air Corps colonel Frank Savage. The same year, at his birthplace, Peck co-founded a local community theater called The La Jolla Playhouse with friends Jose Ferrer and Dorothy McGuire. The La Jolla Playhouse, now in a new home at the University of California, San Diego, still flourishes today and has attracted Hollywood performers and enthusiastic supporters since its beginning.
Peck was still in high demand in the 1950s. He starred as weary, laid-back, hired killer Jimmy Ringo in Henry King’s The Gunfighter (1950), took to the high seas in Captain Horatio Hornblower (1951), and was seen in Only the Valiant (1951), David and Bathsheba (1951), Ernest Hemingway’s The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952), The World in His Arms (1952) and The Million Pound Note (1953). He also portrayed a reporter, opposite Audrey Hepburn, in the successful Roman Holiday (1953) and delivered a strong performance as Captain Ahab in John Huston’s Moby Dick (1956). He went on to star in such movies as the delightful comedy Designing Woman (1957, opposite Lauren Bacall), The Bravados (1958), Beloved Infidel (1959), and appeared in Stanley Kramer’s On the Beach (1959). He also took the duty of producer for Wyler’s The Big Country (1958) and the Korean War drama Pork Chop Hill (1959). During the decade, he took home two Golden Globes for Favorite Male Film Actor in 1951 and 1955.
After The Guns of Navarone (1961), Cape Fear (1962) and How the West Was Won (1962), Peck became the center of attention for his spectacular performance in Robert Mulligan’s To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), based on the Harper Lee best-selling novel. As Atticus Finch, a small-town, Southern lawyer, Peck was so amazing that he was eventually awarded the 1963 Academy Award and a Golden Globe for Best Actor.
He rounded out that tiring decade with performances in Captain Newman, M.D. (1963), Behold a Pale Horse (1964), Mirage (1965), Stanley Donen’s secret agent thriller Arabesque (1966, starred opposite Sophia Loren), The Stalking Moon (1968), Thompson’s Mackenna’s Gold (1969), The Chairman (1969, also directed by Thompson) and Marooned (1969). In the 1970’s, he was cast as Sheriff Henry Tawes in I Walk the Line (1970), Clay Lomax in Shoot Out (1971), Arch Deans in Billy Two Hats (1974), and starred as Robert Thorn in Richard Donner’s The Omen (1976). He then gave a memorable performance as the controversial General Douglas MacArthur in MacArthur, the Rebel General (1972), and portrayed Joseph Mengele in The Boys from Brazil (1978). Besides, Peck also produced the film version of Daniel Berrigan’s play, The Trial of the Catonsville Nine (1972), and The Dove (1974).
After collaborating with director Andrew V McLaglen for the film The Sea Wolves: The Last Charge of the Calcutta Light Horse (1980), he was seen on television with the CBS mini-series “The Blue and the Gray” (1982, starred as Abraham Lincoln) and the made-for-TV movie The Scarlet and the Black (1983). He then took a supporting turn as the President of the United States in the inoffensive fable Amazing Grace and Chuck (1987), and then replaced an ill Burt Lancaster in the plum role of Ambrose Bierce in Old Gringo (1989), adapted from the novel by Carlos Fuentes. Peck made his last film performances with a costarring role in Other People’s Money (1991) and a cameo role in Martin Scorsese’s remake of Cape Fear (1991) before deciding to retire from active filmmaking.
In 1993, Peck executive produced and starred in a television movie adaptation of an Off Broadway play, The Portrait, opposite Lauren Bacall and his daughter Cecilia, and began performing a one-man show of anecdotes and film clips from his career in “An Evening with Gregory Peck” two years later. In 1996, Peck was rushed to the hospital and underwent surgery for appendicitis in the Czech Republic, but two years later he impressed many with his notable supporting turn as the fire-and-brimstone preacher Father Mapple (played by Orson Welles in the movie) in the 1998 miniseries version of “Moby Dick,” where he took home a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor and earned an Emmy nomination. The role proved to be Peck’s last turn before the cameras before his death in 2003.