Friday, April 5, 2013

Happy Birthday, Gregory Peck!

Last night I dreamt I had an interview with Gregory Peck. He was born on April 5, 1916.

I have been thinking about him recently because I knew I wanted to write this article to celebrate him on what would have been his 97th birthday. I collected the various photos you see below yesterday, and as I searched for them I thought about what I wanted to write. I thought about how I would mention how Gregory Peck was in two of the better known and most powerful "liberal Hollywood" films, Gentleman's Agreement (1947) and To Kill A Mockingbird (1962). In both he plays a widowed father fighting against prejudice, in part to show his children what it means to take a stand.

Gentleman's Agreement won the Academy Award for Best Picture for it's then-ground-breaking portrayal of prejudice; in this case, anti-Semitism. Peck portrays a magazine reporter who, having moved to a new city, decides to "pass" as Jewish to uncover the hidden prejudice in the world. To watch it today it seems dated; however, it is all too easy to imagine that there are still similar scenes occurring here, today. In fact, I could imagine a similar movie being made today with a reporter passing as gay to face the same type of situations. Celeste Holm won Best Supporting Actress for her role as Peck's co-worker. Holm is much more interesting than his love interest, Dorothy Maguire, who is saddled with having to represent "Society" and "what it will think." And John Garfield steals every scene he is in as Peck's friend, an actual Jew who helps him to "pass." Gentleman's Agreement is available at your local library. If you do watch it, keep an eye open for a young Dean Stockwell as Peck's son.
Dean Stockwell (left) as Peck's son 

What else can has to be said about To Kill A Mockingbird? It may just be one of the greatest films of all time. It doesn't hurt that it was based on one of the greatest books of all time, of course. Does the message of standing up for what is right against a mob ever become dated? Sure, the actual situation presented here of a black man accused of raping a white woman is not quite as powerful a "scandal" as it was in 1961 (when this film was made). However, to think that this was not life-and-death at the time....that's just ignoring the history of Emmett Till, the Freedom Riders, Medgar Evers, and so many other martyred heroes. And as Atticus Fitch, Gregory Peck won his only Academy Award for Best Actor. If you have never seen this film, you owe it to yourself to do so. It is a classic.

Of course, Gregory Peck didn't just do social dramas. Another one of my all-time favorite films is Roman Holiday, the romantic comedy starring Peck, Eddie Albert, and Audrey Hepburn in her Academy Award-winning debut. If you have never seen this film, you are in for a real treat. Hepburn portrays a princess from a Western European nation who longs for adventure, excitement, and romance. She manages to find all of these in Rome with the help of her two co-stars. I would be surprised if the ending doesn't make you tear up.

In close to 50 years of making movies, Gregory Peck appeared in all genres. Some of my other favorites: the amnesiac murder suspect in Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound; the father in The Yearling; one of the heroes of the war classic, The Guns of Navarone; another father, this time of a different sort, in The Omen; as Josef Mengele in The Boys From Brazil. And he appeared as the lead in the original Cape Fear (1962) with Robert Mitchum and as the lawyer in Martin Scorsese's remake (1991). He also appeared as Captain Ahab in Moby Dick (1956) and then as Father Mapple in the 1998 remake. This was his last film.

Gregory Peck passed away on  June 12, 2003.

So in my dream he was a charming, talkative guy who told me some of his Hollywood adventures. I woke up and immediately thought, "I just dreamt I interviewed Gregory Peck....and he was a helluva nice guy!"

Happy Birthday,  Gregory Peck! 
 with Ingrid Bergman in SPELLBOUND

with Mary Badham in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

 winning the 1962 Academy Award


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