“I don’t lecture and I don’t grind any axes. I just want to entertain.”–Gregory Peck
Eldred Gregory Peck was born on this day in La Jolla, California, USA in 1916. Today is the 97th anniversary of his birth.
He was born to Bernice Mae “Bunny” and Gregory Pearl Peck. Bunny was Scottish, English and Protestant, Gregory senior was Irish and Catholic. She converted when they married and they raised Eldred Catholic. When the couple split little Eldred was six, he went to live with his grandmother.
Peck…”never felt he had a stable childhood. His fondest memories are of his grandmother taking him to the movies every week and of his dog, which followed him everywhere.” [IMDb] When he was ten his grandmother passed away and he went to live with his father full-time.
He went to St. John’s Military Academy, a Roman Catholic military school in Los Angeles, then to San Diego High School. He enrolled at San Diego State Teacher’s College for one year before transferring to the University of California, Berkley where he settled on Acting. Working as a truck driver and kitchen assistant helped pay the bills.
Upon graduation Peck headed east to New York City. Gregory Peck was ‘born’ when he dropped his first name. “I never liked the name Eldred. Since nobody knew me in New York, I just changed to my middle name.” He worked as an usher at Radio City Music Hall and a tour guide at NBC. He worked for the acting experience and for food, landing progressively larger roles as he honed his craft.
His debut was in Emlyn Williams‘ play “The Morning Star” (1942). By 1943 he was in Hollywood, where he debuted in the RKO film Days of Glory (1944).
Stardom came with his next film, The Keys of the Kingdom (1944), for which he was nominated for an Academy Award. Peck’s screen presence displayed the qualities for which he became well-known. He was tall, rugged and heroic, with a basic decency that transcended his roles. [IMDb]
He was nominated for four Academy Awards in the 1940’s for his work in: The Keys of the Kingdom, The Yearling, Gentleman’s Agreement and Twelve O’Clock High. He’d have to wait another 20 years before winning the statue.
An old back injury keep him out of the service during World War II (he’d hurt himself while taking dance and movement classes — not while on the UC Berkley Rowing team as 20th Century Fox claimed.)
He kept his stage skills up at The La Jolla Playhouse, a theatre he co-founded with Mel Ferrer and Dorothy McGuire in 1947.
His best known and most love role came in 1962 as Atticus Finch in the film adaptation of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mocking Bird. He won an Academy Award for his portrayal of the soft-spoken, southern lawyer. And his portrait of Finch was voted as the #1 greatest hero in American film by the American Film Institute in 2003.
Other notable films from his large library of movies include:
- Captain Horatio Hornblower
- The Snows of Kilimanjaro
- Designing Women with Lauren Bacall
- On the Beach
- The Guns of Navarone
- Cape Fear
- The Omen
- The Boys From Brazil
and my other favorite (besides Mocking Bird)… Roman Holiday with Audrey Hepburn.