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Gregory Peck (April 5, 1916 √ June 12, 2003) was an American film actor. He is considered to be among the most legendary film stars and handsome leading men of all time.
Born Eldred Gregory Peck in La Jolla, California, he was the son of Bernice Ayres (a Missouri-born convert to Catholicism) and Gregory Peck (a chemist/pharmacist of Irish Catholic maternal descent and English paternal ancestry). Gregory's paternal grandmother, Catherine Ashe, was related to the Irish patriot Thomas Ashe, who took part in the Easter Rising in the year of Peck's birth and died on hunger strike in 1917.
Despite their strict Catholic religion, Peck's parents divorced when he was five and he was reared by his grandmother. Peck was sent to a Roman Catholic military school in Los Angeles at the age of 10. He attended San Diego High School. When he graduated, he went to San Diego State University to improve his grades so that he could earn admission to his first choice, University of California, Berkeley. For a short time, he took a job driving a truck for an oil company.
In 1936, he enrolled as a pre-med student at UC Berkeley, majoring in English. Being 6'3" and very athletic, he also decided to row on the university crew. He developed an interest in acting and was recruited by the school's Little Theater and appeared in five plays his senior year. Although his tuition fee was only $26 a year, Peck still struggled to pay and had to work as a "hasher" (kitchen helper) for the Alpha Gamma Delta sorority in exchange for meals. Peck would later say about Berkeley that, "it was a very special experience for me and three of the greatest years of my life. It woke me up and made me a human being." In 1997 he donated $25,000 to the Berkeley crew team in honor of his coach, Ky Ebright.
After graduation, Peck dropped the name "Eldred" and headed to New York City in 1939 to study at the Neighborhood Playhouse. He was often broke and sometimes slept in Central Park. He worked at the 1939 World's Fair and as a tour guide for NBC's television broadcasting. He made his Broadway debut as the lead in Emlyn Williams' Morning Star in 1942. His second Broadway performance that year was in The Willow and I with Edward Pawley. Peck's acting abilities were in high demand during World War II, since he was exempt from military service due to a back injury suffered while receiving dance and movement lessons from Martha Graham as part of his acting training. Twentieth Century Fox claimed he had injured his back while rowing a boat at university. In Peck's words, "In Hollywood, they didn't think a dance class was macho enough, I guess. I've been trying to straighten out that story for years."
Peck's first film was Days of Glory, released in 1944. Though many critics initially dismissed Peck's acting as wooden, he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor five times, four of which came in his first five years of film acting: for The Keys of the Kingdom (1944), The Yearling (1946), Gentleman's Agreement (1947), and Twelve O'Clock High (1949).
Peck won the award for his fifth nomination, playing the role of Atticus Finch, a Depression-era lawyer and widowed father, in the film adaptation of the Harper Lee novel To Kill a Mockingbird. Released in 1962 during the height of the US civil rights movement in the South; this movie is said to have been Peck's favorite. In 2003, Atticus Finch was named the top film hero of the past 100 years by the American Film Institute. His other popular films include Roman Holiday, in which he appeared as a reporter alongside Audrey Hepburn in her Oscar-winning debut. Peck and Hepburn were close friends until her death, and Peck even introduced her to her first husband, Mel Ferrer.
In 1947, while many Hollywood figures were being blacklisted for similar activities, he signed a letter deploring a House Un-American Activities Committee investigation of alleged communists in the film industry. He was outspoken against the Vietnam War, while remaining supportive of his son, Stephen, who was fighting there. In 1972 Peck produced the film version of Daniel Berrigan's play The Trial of the Catonsville Nine about the prosecution of a group of Vietnam protesters for civil disobedience. Despite his initial reluctance to portray the controversial General Douglas MacArthur on screen, he did so in 1977 and ended up with a great admiration for the man.
In 1949, Peck founded The La Jolla Playhouse, at his birthplace, along with his friends Jose Ferrer and Dorothy McGuire. This local community theater and landmark (now in a new home at the University of California, San Diego) still thrives today. It has attracted Hollywood film stars on hiatus both as performers and enthusiastic supporters since its inception.
In the 1980s he moved to television, where he starred in the mini-series The Blue and the Gray, playing Abraham Lincoln. He also starred in the TV film The Scarlet and The Black, about a real-life Catholic priest in the Vatican who smuggled Jews and other refugees away from the Nazis during World War II.
For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Gregory Peck has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6100 Hollywood Blvd. 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.
Peck retired from active film-making in 1991, having received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Film Institute in 1989 and Crystal Globe award for outstanding artistic contribution to world cinema in 1996. A lifelong supporter of the Democratic Party, he was suggested in 1970 as a possible Democratic candidate to run against Ronald Reagan for the office of Governor of California. In an interview with the Irish media, Peck revealed that former President Lyndon Johnson had told him that, had he sought re-election, he intended to offer Peck the post of US ambassador to Ireland ≈ a post Peck, on account of his Irish ancestry, said he might well have taken, saying "it would have been a great adventure". Peck encouraged his son, Cary, to run for national political office. Cary Peck was defeated on both accounts in Southern California, in 1978 and in 1980, by conservative Congressman Robert K. Dornan, first by a slim margin and later by a much wider gap.
In 2000, he was made a Doctor of Letters by the National University of Ireland. He was a founding patron of the University College Dublin School of Film, where he persuaded Martin Scorsese to become an honorary patron. Peck also became chair of the American Cancer Society for a short time. Like Cary Grant did before him, Peck spent the last few years of his life touring the world doing speaking engagements in which he would show clips from his movies, reminisce, and answer questions from the audience.
He died in his sleep from natural causes at the age of 87 in Los Angeles. He was survived by his second wife, Veronique Passani, their two children, and two of his children from his first marriage. His oldest son, Jonathan, committed suicide by a single gunshot blast to the head in 1975.
Peck was then buried in the mausoleum of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles, California.
∙ Days of Glory (1944)
∙ The Keys of the Kingdom (1944)
∙ The Valley of Decision (1945)
∙ Spellbound (1945)
∙ The Yearling (1946)
∙ Duel in the Sun (1946)
∙ The Macomber Affair (1947)
∙ Gentleman's Agreement (1947)
∙ The Paradine Case (1947)
∙ Yellow Sky (1949)
∙ The Great Sinner (1949)
∙ Twelve O'Clock High (1949)
∙ The Gunfighter (1950)
∙ Captain Horatio Hornblower (1951)
∙ Only the Valiant (1951)
∙ Screen Snapshots: Hollywood Awards (1951) (short subject)
∙ David and Bathsheba (1951)
∙ Pictura: An Adventure in Art (1951) (documentary) (narrator)
∙ The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952)
∙ The World in His Arms (1952)
∙ Man with a Million (1953)
∙ Roman Holiday (1953)
∙ Boom on Paris (1954)
∙ Night People (1954)
∙ The Purple Plain (1954)
∙ The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1956)
∙ Moby Dick (1956)
∙ Designing Woman (1957)
∙ The Bravados (1958)
∙ The Big Country (1958) (also producer)
∙ Pork Chop Hill (1959)
∙ Beloved Infidel (1959)
∙ On the Beach Great movie SW(1959)
∙ The Guns of Navarone (1961)
∙ Cape Fear (1962)
∙ Lykke og krone (1962) (documentary)
∙ How the West Was Won (1962)
∙ To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
∙ Captain Newman, M.D. (1963)
∙ Behold a Pale Horse (1964)
∙ Mirage (1965)
∙ John F. Kennedy: Years of Lightning, Day of Drums (1966) (documentary) (narrator)
∙ Arabesque (1966)
∙ Pahkahullu Suomi (1967) (Cameo)
∙ The Stalking Moon (1969)
∙ Mackenna's Gold (1969)
∙ The Chairman (1969)
∙ Marooned (1969)
∙ I Walk the Line (1970)
∙ Shoot Out (1971)
∙ Billy Two Hats (1974)
∙ The Omen (1976)
∙ MacArthur (1977)
∙ The Boys from Brazil (1978)
∙ The Sea Wolves: The Last Charge of the Calcutta Light Horse (1980)
∙ The Scarlet and The Black (1983)
∙ Sanford Meisner: The American Theatre's Best Kept Secret (1985) (documentary)
∙ Directed by William Wyler (1986) (documentary)
∙ Amazing Grace and Chuck (1987)
∙ Old Gringo (1989)
∙ Other People's Money (1991)
∙ Cape Fear (1991)
∙ L'Hidato Shel Adolf Eichmann (1994) (documentary) (narrator)
∙ Wild Bill: Hollywood Maverick (1996) (documentary)
The Art of Norton Simon (1999) (short subject) (narrator)
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