Movie Legends: Gregory Peck

Gregory Peck

Born Eldred Gregory Peck in La Jolla, California in 1916, Gregory Peck was the epitome of the tall, dark, and handsome leading man. Stalwart, dependable and always dignified, Peck was a free agent untrapped by the studio system and able to move from genre to genre with ease, appearing successfully in comedies, dramas, westerns, epics, and action pictures.

He gravitated toward the steadfast hero types, which worked out fine from an audience perspective. There was something comforting, after all, in knowing that Peck would be around the make things right.

The 6’3″ Peck didn’t set out to become an actor; he was pre-med at UC Berkeley when he was recruited by the director of the drama department, which was suffering from a shortage of tall men that year. It would not be the last time Peck would benefit from such shortages. The acting bug bit hard-he did five plays at Berkeley, changed his major to English, and graduated to New York to study at the Neighborhood Playhouse.

He made his Broadway debut in 1942s “The Morning Star,” and shortly thereafter left for Hollywood. Unable to serve in the Armed Forces in World War II because of a spinal injury incurred in a college rowing match, Peck stepped into the vacuum created by the absence of so many leading men and quickly became one of the biggest draws in Hollywood.

He made his debut in Days of Glory (1944) and received an Oscar nod for his very next performance, as a priest in The Keys of the Kingdom (1945). For four decades Peck continued to turn in finely crafted performances, working with the best directors in Hollywood (including Hitchcock, Kazan, Huston, Wellman, Wyler, Ford, Frankenheimer, and Scorcese) on projects that included Spellbound (1945), The Yearling (1946) Gentleman’s Agreement (1947), The Gunfighter, Twelve O’Clock High (1950), Roman Holiday (1953), Moby Dick (1956), The Big Country (1958), The Guns of Navarone (1961), Cape Fear, How the West Was Won (1962), Arabesque (1966), The Omen (1976), The Boys from Brazil (1978) and Old Gringo (1989). In 1962 after four nominations, Peck took home an Oscar for his most memorable role, that of the ethical Southern lawyer Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird.

Truly one of Hollywood’s leading citizens, Peck had long been an active participant in the film community and worker for charitable institutions (serving as National Chairman of the American Cancer Society.) In 1969 he was presented with the nation’s highest civilian award, The Presidential Medal of Freedom. Retired from acting, he made a cameo appearance in the 1998 TV production “Moby Dick” and was filmed for the 1999 documentary “Conversations with Gregory Peck,” based on Peck’s traveling series of lectures on life in Hollywood.

Gregory Peck died on June 12, 2003 at the age of 87, leaving behind a body of work that will inspire many for years to come.