A Tribute to Gregory Peck
If you ask most people which classic actor they think of when you talk about “heroes,” they’ll probably say John Wayne or Jimmy Stewart, who certainly played a lot of heroes. But for my money, Gregory Peck is right up there, if not in first place. (NOTE: His role as Atticus Finch was in fact chosen by the AFI as the #1 screen hero of all time.) To Kill A Mockingbird (1962), Gentleman’s Agreement (1947), The Guns of Navarrone(1961), The Big Country (19) and Twelve O’Clock High (1950) come to mind immediately. That’s why, when you see him as the crazed Captain Ahab in Moby Dick (1956) or the Nazi Dr. Mengele in The Boys From Brazil (1978), it’s such a shock.
After all, just about every Gregory Peck character is the epitome of the tall, strong, silent, totally dependable man who will always make the right decision in the end, no matter what the consequences. While he’s been occasionally compared to Gary Cooper, he clearly has greater range.
Gregory Peck was born in California in 1916. His goal as a college student (or at least his father’s goal for him) was to become a doctor, and while we know from his movie portrayals of physicians that he would have had a tremendous bedside manner, he gave that up to become an English major, and then an actor. After appearing on Broadway in 1943, he headed for Hollywood, where he achieved instant stardom with an Oscar nomination for only his second film The Keys of the Kingdom (1944). He went on to receive several more nominations and finally an Oscar for his role of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, which was also nominated for Best Picture and appears on many lists of favorite classic films. Peck was once quoted as saying, “I probably, without exaggeration, have had a hundred grown men over the years come to me and say, ‘I became a lawyer because of Atticus Finch’.” (We’re not sure whether to thank him for this or not!)
His off-screen life was in some ways a mirror of his most famous heroic characters. He was always one of Hollywood’s most active people, involved in charities and politics. He was a member of the National Council on the Arts, chairman of the Board of Trustees of the American Film Institute and president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and even chairman of the American Cancer Society. He earned the Medal of Freedom Award and the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, and received a Life Achievement Award from the American Film Institute in 1989, as well as awards from the Museum of Modern Art (1990), the John F. Kennedy Center (1991) and the Film Society of Lincoln Center (1991). He recently appeared as a presenter at the Media Awards for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (G.L.A.A.D.) and said, “It just seems silly to me that something so right and simple has to be fought for at all.” He will be greatly missed.
Part I: Introduction
Part III: Movie Reviews & Where to Find His Movies
Part IV: Photos, Art, and Posters