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Gregory Peck: One Of American Masters

By Author: tearsjoong
Total Articles: 51

One of the silver screen's best known leading men, Peck was nominated for Best Actor Oscars five times in the course of his career and appeared in nine Best Picture

nominated films. His main works are; Spellbound, Roman Holiday, Moby Dick, To kill a Mockingbird, Other People's money. Among the celebrated pantheon of Hollywood

royalty, few are as well-respected and universally adored as Gregory Peck2. For more than fifty years, he was a major presence in the theater, on television, and most

importantly, on the big screen. For many, Peck was a symbol of the American man at his best-a pillar of moral courage and a constant defender of traditional values. As

General MacArthur, Melville's Captain Ahab, and Atticus Finch3, he presented4 audiences with compelling5stories of strength and masculinity.

By the time he was six, his parents had divorced. His mother married a travel-ling salesman and was often away with her new husband, while his father, a local

pharmacist, spent much of the time working the night-shift. For a number of years he lived with his maternal6grandmother, but at the age of ten was sent to St. John's

Military Academy in Los Angeles. The four years he spent there were important in forming his sense of personal discipline. There he also began to acquire a sensitivity

to the social importance of authority figures-a topic that remained important throughout his career. After the Academy, he returned to live with his father, and to

attend public high school.

After graduating, Peck enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley. Greatly influenced by his father's desires for him to be a doctor, Peck began as a fresh

student. By the time he was a senior, however, he found his real interests to be in writing and acting. Initially drawn to the communal7, almost fa?milial8 , aspects

of the theater, Peck soon realized that he had a natural gift as

both an expressive actor and a storyteller. After graduating in 1939, he changed his name from Eldred to Gregory and moved to New York. There, his abilities were

almost immediately recognized. Within a year he began to fill small roles in traveling shows9and in 1942, made his debut on Broadway with The Morning Star. Though many

of his early plays were doomed to short runs, it seemed clear that Peck was destined for something bigger.10 In 1944 that "something bigger" arrived in the form of his

first two Hollywood roles, as Vladimir in Days of Cloryand, Father Francis Chisholm in The Keys to the Kingdom.

Though an amiable and fun-loving man at home, Peck's stern presence made him one of the screen's great patriarchs. " Tough and caring, he was the quintessential mid-

century American man-the good-looking romantic lead across from Audrey Hepburn as well as the rugged World War II bomber com-mander12. For many, the actor and the

characters he portrayed were insepara?ble; the authority of his passionate yet firm demeanor13 was attractive to postwar Americans who longed for a more stable time.

During the 1960s and 1970s, Peck continued to challenge himself as an actor, appearing in thrillers, war films, westerns and in his best known film, To Kill a

Mockingbird. Based on the book by Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird addresses problems of racism and moral justice in personal and powerful ways'4. As Atticus Finch, a

lawyer in a small Southern town. Peck created a character that remains a great example of an individual's struggle for humanity within deeply inhumane conditions. It

seems clear however, that the reason for Peck's constant assertion that To Kill a Mockingbird is his best (and favorite) film, was the film's attention to the lives of

children and the importance of family. From The Yearling (1946) to Cape Fear (1962) familial concern has been the underlying structure from which his greatest

characters have grown.

While continuing to act on television and in Hollywood throughout the 1980s and 1990s, including a remake of Cape Fear in 1991, Peck focused much of his energy on

spending time with his wife, children, and grandchildren. For Peck, life as a father and as a public figure have been inseparable-; he was simultaneously a major voice

against the Vietnam war, while remaining a pa-triotic15 supporter of his son who was fighting there. If years of breathing life into characters such as Captain Keith

Mallory and General MacArthur taught him anything, it was that life during wartime was profoundly complex; and rarely has there been a time free from war or struggle.

In his more than fifty films, Peck continually attempted to investigate these complex struggles, and in doing so, created a library of stories that shed light

on16human possibility and social reality.

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