Gregory Peck, the well remembered actor, began his acting career in the 1940’s, People loved him and respected him on and off the stage. Not only was he a talented man, he was also very generous and deeply involved in politics. The story of this great actor began on April 15, 1916 in La Jolla, California (Fishgall insert). The name Gregory had been a family name, but Bunny, Peck’s mother, did not find this quite suitable for her son. She searched through her yearbook and chose the name Eldred. Her new baby boy was to be named Eldred Gregory Peck (Fishgall 23).
Three years later, Peck’s parents, Gregory Pearl Peck and Bunny Peck, filed for divorce (Avery 143). After the divorce of his parents, he was sent off to live with his grandmother, Catherine (Fishgall 31). Over the next couple of years, he was forced to separate his time between his mom, dad, and grandmother (Avery 133). Peck’s love for the movies came early in his life. As a young boy, he stumbled upon the making of a film. He says it was one of the most memorable experiences he’s ever had (Fishgall 29, 30). In the fifth grade, Peck performed in his first play, not knowing there would be many more to come.
It was called “Pandora’s Box”, based on the Greek myth (Fishgall 31). Peck would not return to the stage until college. While in high school, although being shy, he participated in sports and various organizations. He was a member of San Diego High School’s rowing and football teams, and also took part in the glee club called Walter (Pop) Reyer. “If you could hit a few notes, you were in. I tried never to be heard,” Peck recalled (Jones 2). After growing eleven inches between the ages of fifteen and seventeen, he was a skinny and gawky six
Hilley 2 foot two inches tall teenager. This of course not convincing himself he was attractive in any way. One man remembers, “He had dark black hair that he kept perfectly combed. He wore a lot of pastel colors in those days and was quite sought after by the opposite sex” (Fishgall 36). Secretly, Peck idolized the star of the varsity football team, praising and looking up to anything that he did. He said, “I was too shy to speak to him, but I used to watch him, admire everything that he did, and glow over his triumphs” (Fishgall 35)
After graduating from high school in 1933, the young Peck set off for San Diego State University to become a doctor (Jones 2). Peck soon realized it just wasn’t the right thing for him to do. He took mainly science, but his struggle with chemistry and calculus soon pointed him to different career choices (Fishgall 42). Peck said that he could either be a newspaper reporter, an interview writer, or a college professor. He had said he was “comfortable with those and just loved them in fact” (Jones 2). Soon Peck would be led in yet another direction.
While walking along campus, a man named James Fitzgerald randomly introduced himself. He explained he was directing scenes from Moby Dick and strongly encouraged him to audition, thinking he would make the perfect “Starbuck” (Fishgall 43). Theatre had never been of interest to him until then. Peck recalls, “I don’t know why I said yes. I guess I was just fearless and it seemed like it might be fun. I wasn’t any good, but I ended up doing five plays my last year in college” (Avery 43). Peck never have thought he would develop a love for acting. Theatre made a huge impact on Peck in college.
The brief experience got Peck hooked, and after graduating from college, he immediately went to New York to pursue a new dream (Avery 143). While on his way to New York in 1939, he decided to start Hilley 3 calling himself by his middle name, Gregory. He had thought that because he was embarking on a new life, he needed a new name (Fishgall 49). Peck had performed in more than twenty shows before being spotted by leading Broadway director, Guthrie Mclintock. She cast him in a small role for the tour of George Bernard Shaw’s, “The Doctor’s Dillemma”.
Peck said, “I got Mr. Danby with a scene in the third act. And I was assistant stage manager. I watched that distinguished company at work and I began to soak up how they do it” (Jones 3). Later Peck began trying out for acting schools. He was told to take a dance class by Martha Graham. While dancing, he developed a back injury. Which kept him out of World War II and off the stage (Jones 3). A man named David Pressmen, whom Peck knew said this about his early career, “The thing I remember most about Peck at this time, is that there was nothing phony about him-in his personality or when he acted.
You know some actors come with whole fixed notion of what they want the world to see and sometimes it takes on a very phony, what you might call a actory layer, and you have to tear that away. Peck didn’t have that. Whatever he did was honest and sincere. We could tell that he had the capacity to be very truthful on the stage or on the screen” (Fishgall 57). Before heading off to Hollywood, Peck married for the first time in 1942 to a hairdresser named Greta (Avery 144). They had three sons, but there was no happy ending in this relationship.
Both had quick tempers and neither liked to admit to being wrong (Fishgall 117). The struggle to keep his family together had failed. After finally making it to Hollywood to meet with studios, he soon realized that maybe he was meant to be a stage actor all along. “I am a stage actor. I want to continue Hilley 4 to be one. I am determined not to sign an elusive contract for anyone” (Fishgall 81). However, a man named Casey Robinson didn’t agree with this. He didn’t even ask for a screen test. He said, “I love your voice; I love your stature. I can see you on the screen.
I don’t have to put a camera on you to see you on the screen (Fishgall 82). Apparently, he was not the only person to say that. Peck was said to be “an imposing figure with a smooth deep voice which was perfect for the silver screen” (Avery 143). Peck’s Hollywood acting career immediately sprang to life after moving to Hollywood. Before long, he was doing several movies, thus putting him in the history books of Hollywood. “A lonely son of divorced parents; the aspiring college thespian; the hot Hollywood newcomer; the handsome movie star” (Fishgall front/back flap).
He also got married for the second time to a young French journalist named Veronique Passanin, whom he was married to for over 40 years and had a daughter with ( Avery 144). Although Peck had been careful in choosing his roles, he appeared in over fifty three movies (Avery 143, Fishgall 346). Also, you can’t forget his four Broadway Productions. His Broadway appearances included “The Morning Star” in 1942, “The Willow and I” in 1942, “Sons and Soldiers” in 1943, and “The Wile Rodgers Folley” in 1991 (Fishgall 346-347). With this many movies and Broadway shows under your belt, you would think Peck would not care about anything but acting.
But in Peck’s case, this was not true. During the years from 1967-1969 he served on the board of the American Film Institute, and was also the founding chairman. At this time he was also the president of the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences (Avery 144). Of course, this was not enough for Hilley 5 So he was the California fundraising chairman for the American Cancer Society. At the time he took the job off, his stepmother was suffering from cancer. Giving over thirty five speeches to eighteen communities, Peck traveled all around the state of California. He recalls, “This is the most rewarding work I’ve ever done.
I don’t care how much time it takes, I have to do it” (Fishgall 246). Charity work was not the only thing he gave his time to out of acting. He was described as a, “committed activist, Peck dedicated himself to political causes throughout his career supporting Democratic candidates, as well as social justice issues (Avery 143). Peck was determined to extend himself beyond the bounds of his own profession. Throughout his career, Peck also received many awards. These including liftetime achievement awards from the Screen Actor’s Guild, the American Film Institute, and the
Kennedy Center (Avery 144). Not only did he receive numerous Academy Award nominations, but he finally won his Oscar in 1962 for his absolutely breathtaking portrayal of Atticus Finch in “To Kill A Mockingbird” (Fishgall front flap). His death on June 12, 2003, of course affected Hollywood greatly (Avery 144). Peck once said “I just want to entertain” (Jones 4). And that is exactly what he did. Eldred Gregory Peck was meant to be on stage and on the screen. He not only touched our hearts, but made an impact on us that forever changed the way we look at the world of movies.