Gregory Peck (1916-2003)
Gregory Peck was an American actor who became one of the most popular and respected Hollywood stars in a career which lasted more than 50 years, during which he came to represent an enduring decency, and the solid traditional values of an older America.
He was one of Hollywood's major stars from the 1940's onwards and he was ranked by the American Film Institute at number twelve on their list of Greatest Male Stars of All Time. He received five Academy Award nominations and won one Best Actor Oscar for his performance in 1962 as Atticus Finch in the film 'To Kill a Mockingbird'. In May 2003, only two weeks before Peck's death, his character, Atticus Finch, was voted the greatest screen hero of all time by the American Film Institute.
In addition to his Oscar, Peck received many awards including the Academy's Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 1967, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Film Institute in 1989, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his humanitarian work.
He was born Eldred Gregory Peck on April 5, 1916 in La Jolla, California where his father was a pharmacist. He lived with his grandmother in La Jolla after his parents divorced when he was six and at the age of ten he was sent to St John's Roman Catholic Military Academy in Los Angeles. After 4 years his grandmother died and Peck went to live with his father again and began attending San Diego High School.
After graduating he spent one year at San Diego State Teacher's College where he took courses in drama and public speaking and then enrolled as a medical student at the University of California, Berkeley respecting his father's wish that he should become a doctor, but Peck did not enjoy his medical studies and soon changed to studying English with the aim of becoming a newspaper reporter. His main interest outside his studies was rowing and with his 6'3" athletic frame he was selected to represent the University.
He developed an interest in acting whilst at Berkeley and he became a regular performer in the university's Little Theater, discovering a natural talent and flair he had hitherto not known he possessed. When he graduated with a degree in English in 1939 he changed his name from Eldred to Gregory Peck and relocated to New York City to pursue his new vocation. He studied at the Neighborhood Playhouse under acting teacher Sanford Meisner and, to earn money to live, he worked for a while as a fairground barker at the 1939 World's Fair. Within a year he was filling small roles in short run travelling shows but his natural, easy style marked him out and in 1942 he was selected for his professional debut on Broadway as the lead in Emlyn Williams' 'The Morning Star'.
During his first year as a full time actor Peck began to be noticed and to receive offers from Hollywood. He was very careful throughout his career about selecting film roles and he rejected the first movie offers made to him. After playing a double role in the stage play 'The Willow and I', he appeared in Irwin Shaw's drama "Sons and Soldiers," co-starring with Stella Adler and Karl Malden and he finally accepted his debut movie role playing a resistance fighter in 'Days of Glory' in 1944. His next role, in 1946, as a priest, Father Francis Chisholm, in 'The Keys of the Kingdom' was a resounding success and brought him his first Academy Award nomination. It was the start of a run of movie successes which made Peck a major Hollywood star. Over the next few years he had roles in hit movies , first for MGM with 'The Valley of Decision' in 1945, and then in the same year he appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s 'Spellbound'.
He followed this in 1946 with King Vidor’s 'Duel in the Sun' and in 1947 he received his second Academy Award nomination for 'The Yearling' and, in the same year, he had another success as the reporter uncovering anti-semitism in Elia Kazan’s 'Gentleman's Agreement' which won an Oscar for Best Picture and another nomination for Peck for Best Actor. It also marked the beginning of Peck's status as the national embodiment of strong convictions and moral values.
He continued to make memorable, commercially successful movies and in 1949 came his fourth nomination for the Best Actor Academy Award with 'Twelve O'Clock High', the first of many successful war films in which he appeared. In his first five years as a movie actor Peck had been nominated four times for the Academy Best Actor Award.
During the following years he continued starring in important and successful successful films such as 'The Gunfighter' in 1950, the delightful romantic comedy, 'Roman Holiday' in 1953 with Audrey Hepburn, as Ahab in 'Moby Dick' in 1956, 'On the Beach' in 1959', bringing to the screen the terrors of global nuclear war, and 'The Guns of Navarone' in 1961.
Peck finally won the Academy award for Best Actor with his fifth nomination when he played Atticus Finch in a film adaptation of the Harper Lee novel 'To Kill a Mockingbird'. It was released during the height of the US civil rights movement in 1962 and the role forever remained one of Peck's favorites. In 2003, the American Film Institute put Atticus Finch at the top of their list of film heroes of the past 100 years. Also in 1962 Peck had another success, co-starring in the epic 'How the West Was Won'.
He was now a major Hollywood superstar, at the pinnacle of his career, an outstanding actor with an Oscar and a string of successful roles. He continued to make movies throught the remainder of his long career, but there were more disappointing films in between the successes. He played unconvincingly a Spanish loyalist in 'Behold a Pale Horse' in 1964 and the dark comedy with Tony Curtis, 'Captain Newman,M.D.', was not well received.
Peck started to cut down the time he spent making movies although he continued to accept roles which appealed to him. After more disappointing reviews for his performances in 1966 in 'Mirage' and 'Arabesque' he left movies completely for 3 years to spend more time with his wife, children, and grandchildren.
He returned to Hollywood duty in 1969 with little real success. In the early 1970's, he produced two movies, 'The Trial of the Catonsville Nine' in 1972 and 'The Dove' in 1974, and showed his underlying quality in the horror film 'The Omen' in 1976 'MacArthur' the following year, and 'The Boys from Brazil' in 1978.
He remained a great star, a household name, into old age, and moved into television work with the mini series 'The Blue and the Gray' in 1982 and the TV movie 'The Scarlet and the Black' in 1983. He performed cameos in remakes of his earlier movies, 'Cape Fear' in 1991 and'Moby Dick' in 1998. Peck was married twice, firstly to Greta Kukkonen in 1942. They had three sons and remained on good terms after their separation in 1953. They divorced in 1955. Their oldest son, Jon, committed suicide by gunshot in 1975.
When he came to Italy to shoot 'Roman Holiday' in 1953, Peck was inwardly unhappy about his recent separation and imminent divorce from his Greta. However, during the shoot, he fell in love with a French reporter, Veronique Passani who had interviewed him prior to his departure to film 'Roman Holiday'. After his divorce, he married Veronique and they remained together until his death. They had two children, Anthony and Cecilia, who both became actors.
Aged 85, Peck reverted to his first love, the stage. For two years he toured America, speaking about his life and experiences as a father, and as a Hollywood celebrity and actor.
Gregory Peck passed away in his sleep on June 12th, 2003, at the age of 87, from a bronchial ailment. He is buried in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles.
Gregory Peck Academy AwardsOne Win:
Best Actor ... To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
Four Unsuccessful Nominations:
Best Actor ... The Keys of the Kingdom (1944)
Best Actor ... The Yearling (1946)
Best Actor ... Gentleman's Agreement (1947)
Best Actor ... Twelve O'Clock High (1949)
Gregory Peck Filmography
The Keys of the Kingdom
Days of Glory
The Valley of Decision
Duel in the Sun
The Macomber Affair
The Paradine Case
The Great Sinner
Twelve O'Clock High
Captain Horatio Hornblower R.N.
Only the Valiant
David and Bathsheba
The World in His Arms
The Snows of Kilimanjaro
The Million Pound Note
The Purple Plain
The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit
The Big Country
Pork Chop Hill
On the Beach
The Guns of Navarone
How the West Was Won
To Kill a Mockingbird
Captain Newman, M.D.
Behold a Pale Horse
The Stalking Moon
The Most Dangerous Man in the World
I Walk the Line
Billy Two Hats
MacArthur, the Rebel General
The Boys from Brazil
The Sea Wolves
Amazing Grace and Chuck
Other People's Money