Gregory Peck – one of the greatest Hollywood stars

By Declan Fitzwilliam

Born on 5th April 1916 in San Diego, California Gregory Peck’s illustrious stage career began in 1941, when he appeared in George Bernard Shaw’s play ‘The Doctor’s Dilemma’. It opened in San Francisco, just one week before the bombing of Pearl Harbour.

Gregory Peck cut a striking figure. With his classic good looks, he’d a magnetic screen presence and, at 19, he was well over 6 ft tall. He attended San Diego State College and the University of California. In 1942 he made his Broadway debut in Emlyn Williams’ ‘The Morning Star’. In total he appeared in 50 plays.

In 1942, Gregory Peck married the Finnish-American Greta Kukkonen. They had one son, Jonathan.

His first film role was in the dramatic war-romance ‘Days of Glory’ (1944). In his second movie ‘Keys of the Kingdom’ (1944) Gregory Peck played a Roman Catholic priest. The film was nominated for four Academy Awards.  Gregory Peck starred in Westerns, for example ‘The Gunfighter’ (1950) and ‘Only the Valiant’ (1951). In the same year he made the stunning Biblical epic ‘David and Bathsheba’ which was the top grossing movie of 1951.

He also performed in comedy roles, for example ‘Roman Holiday’ (1953) with Audrey Hepburn, which took an eye-watering USD 10m at the box office. Later, at the 1955 Golden Globe Awards, both Peck and Hepburn were named the World Film Favourite Award winners. In 1956 he starred as the daring Captain Ahab in Herman Melville’s ‘Moby Dick’.

Yet perhaps Gregory Peck is best remembered for his memorable role in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, playing the widowed lawyer Atticus Finch, defending a wrongly accused black man. This film won him an Academy Award for best actor. “It was my favourite film,” he recalls. “In twenty years of making movies, I can honestly say I never had a part that came close to being the real me – and my true feelings about racial justice, inequality and opportunity.”

In 1999 the prestigious American Film Institute named Gregory Peck ‘One of the greatest male stars of classic Hollywood film’.

Gregory Peck died in his sleep on 12th June 2000 and was entombed in the Chapel of Our Lady in Los Angeles. At his funeral mourners were shown a touching, heart-felt taped interview of his eventful life. And despite his outstanding Hollywood career, in it Gregory Peck said: “Above all, I hope to be remembered first as a good husband, father and grandfather.”

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