Gregory Peck, R.I.P.

Gregory Peck, Hollywood legend and the very model of integrity, passed away last night at his home in Los Angeles, California. He was 87 years old.I hope you will take the time to read this little retrospective I have prepared on a truly great Actor, Humanitarian and Human Being.Please feel free to add your comments to this post, or in the forums, and I encourage all of you to seek out some of Mr.Peck’s work and enjoy the magic he brought us for so many years. Gregory Peck, Hollywood legend and the very model of integrity, passed away last night at his home in Los Angeles, California. He was 87 years old.Eldred Gregory Peck was born April 5, 1916 in La Jolla, California. His parents divorced when he was 5 years old, and Peck was sent to live with his Grandmother, who he has credited with fostering his love for the movies. He once revealed that his earliest movie memory was being so terrified after seeing the 1925 version of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA that he had to sleep in his grandmothers bed. Peck attended UC Berkeley as a pre-med student, also acting as an oarsman on the JV rowing team. While at Berkeley, Peck became interested in the dramatic arts and changed his academic focus to theatre, receiving his BA in 1939. Peck enrolled in the prestigious Neighborhood Playhouse in New York and would soon debut on Broadway in Emlyn Williams’ THE MORNING STAR in 1942. The following year, Gregory Peck returned to his native California, where he starred in his debut film, RKO’s DAYS OF GLORY. That same year, he starred as Father Chisholm in THE KEYS OF THE KINGDOM for which he received his first Academy Award nomination.Gregory Peck quickly rose to become one of Hollywood’s most reliable leading men, starring opposite Ingrid Bergman in Hitchcock’s 1945 thriller SPELLBOUND, garnering a Golden Globe win and another Oscar nomination. He would follow with a string of memorable classics, including THE YEARLING and DUEL IN THE SUN (both 1946). He was again nominated for Academy Awards with the 1947 anti-Semitism expose GENTLEMAN’S AGREEMENT and the high-stress war film TWELVE O’CLOCK HIGH (1949).Throughout the 1950’s, Peck continued to ply his trade, playing several famous literary characters. King David in the 1951 epic DAVID AND BATHSHEBA, the title role in CAPTAIN HORATIO HORBLOWER, Harry Street in the 1952 adaptation of Hemingway’s THE SNOWS OF KILIMANJARO, Henry Adams in the Mark Twain story THE MILLION POUND NOTE, Captain Ahab in MOBY DICK and his portrayal of writer F. Scott Fitzgerald in BELOVED INFIDEL. It was a trend that would continue throughout his career, including turns as Abraham Lincoln, General Douglas MacArthur, Ambrose Bierce, Nazi devil Josef Mengele, and most notably as Atticus Finch in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.The 50’s also presented Gregory Peck’s first legend-making role, when he starred alongside a then-unknown Audrey Hepburn in one of the greatest films of the era, 1953’s ROMAN HOLIDAY. While Peck had long been regarded in Hollywood circles as a sturdy and dramatic leading man, he had not been given many chances to do comedy. Peck took the role of Joe Bradley, an American journalist who stumbles into the scoop of a lifetime when he makes the acquaintance of a runaway Princess, and turned it into a masterpiece performance full of charm, humor and genial nobility. He also showed that to be a true representation of his real character, when he demanded that the studio heads credit Audrey Hepburn above the title of the film, and market her as the films star, as she deserved. The unquestionably classy Audrey Hepburn once said of Gregory Peck, “If you can possibly imagine, what it was like for me, many years ago, a totally unknown ‘hoofer’, to be cast in a Hollywood movie alongside Gregory Peck. The beautiful, quiet, gentle hero of countless marvelous movies. In my innocence, I thought he’d be just like that. He was.”The 1960’s provided the world with more gems from Peck, including THE GUNS OF THE NAVARONE, CAPE FEAR, HOW THE WEST WAS WON and of course, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Gregory Peck’s portrayal of southern gentleman hero Atticus Finch is the absolute blueprint for gentleman heroes. He immediately became the father every child wanted, and every man hoped to be. While the character is equally influential in terms of the best selling Harper Lee novel, Gregory Peck was, is and always will be Atticus Finch. His strength of character, his unwavering ideals, and his simple, but intelligent attitude towards mankind as a whole, have informed generations of actors, gentlemen and human beings for 40 years. His portrayal is so well received that Atticus Finch was recently voted the #1 hero in the history of film. Peck was also finally awarded his first Academy Award for this landmark performance.The 70’s and 80’s slowed down for Peck in terms of acting. He put in memorable turns in films like MACARTHUR, THE OMEN, OLD GRINGO and TV fare like THE SCARLET AND THE BLACK and THE BLUE AND THE GRAY.While his acting career was winding down, Gregory Peck was just beginning to make his mark. In 1967, Peck was named President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Peck was awarded with a special Oscar for humanitarian efforts that same year. He was also the man responsible for postponing the 1968 Oscar ceremony out of respect for America’s loss following the death of Martin Luther King Jr. He has served as the National Chairman of the American Cancer Society, as a member of the National Council on the Arts and was named the inaugural Chairman of the American Film Institute when it was created in 1967. He received the AFI Lifetime Achievement Award in 1989.Gregory Peck was the definition of a humanitarian. When his friend and one-time co-star Ava Gardner passed away, Peck took in her housekeeper and dog. In 1980, concerned for the welfare of 600,000 Americans who were in danger of losing their jobs when the Chrysler Corporation was going under, Peck volunteered to be an unpaid spokesperson for the company, and starred in a series of commercials that helped increase sales throughout the country. In 1995, he became an Honorary Chair of the Los Angeles Library Foundation, where he spent most of his philanthropic energies these last few years.Gregory Peck was an accomplished screen actor, who garnered a number of accolades and awards. He was the role model for generations, through his portrayals of strong, upstanding and morally responsible human beings. But it was not an act. Gregory Peck was that man. A noble, gentle and dignified man, always helping to better humanity, and always hoping to create a better world for us to live in. Whatever your religion and whatever concept of everlasting reward you believe in, I think we can all agree on one thing. Gregory Peck will be there today, with a quiet smile and a twinkle in his fatherly eyes. Rest in peace, sir.“I was to think of these days many times. Of Jem and Dill and Boo Radley, and Tom Robinson and Atticus. He would be in Jem’s room all night, and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning.”ELDRED GREGORY PECK 1916 – 2003

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