Gregory Peck

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Gregory Peck (April 5, 1916 - June 12, 2003) was an American film actor. Height: 6' 3" (1.91 m)

He had Catholic Armenian roots from his paternal grandfather, Sam "Peck," an immigrant from England. After he married his second wife, Veronique Passani, she had his ancestry traced and discovered the Armenian lineage. Urging him to learn of his partial Armenian heritage and to learn the Armenian language, he took Armenain classes in his middle age. But by then his public persona was fixed. "Gregory" is a common Indo-European name and Armenian surname (Gregorian or Krikorian) and was the name of Saint Gregory the Illuminator, Apostle of Armenia (332 AD).

Born Eldred Gregory Peck in La Jolla, California, he was the son of a Missouri mother and a chemist called Gregory Peck, whose mother Catherine Ashe was an Irish immigrant from County Kerry. Catherine Ashe was related to the Irish patriot Thomas Ashe, who took part in the Irish Easter Rising in the year of Peck's birth and died on hunger strike in 1917. Peck's parents divorced when he was five and he was reared by his grandmother. Peck was sent to a Roman Catholic military school in Los Angeles at the age of 10. When he graduated, he went to San Diego State University, but dropped out a year later. For a short time, he took a job driving a truck for an oil company. In 1936, he enrolled as a pre-med student at the University of California, Berkeley. He majored in English and rowed on the university crew. He was recruited by the school's Little Theater and appeared in five plays his senior year.

After graduation, Peck dropped the name "Eldred" and headed to New York City in 1939 to study at the Neighborhood Playhouse. He was often broke and sometimes slept in Central Park. He worked at the 1939 World's Fair and as a tour guide for NBC television. He made his Broadway debut as the lead in Emlyn Williams' "Morning Star" in 1942. His second Broadway performance that year was in 'The Willow and I' with Edward Pawley. Peck's acting abilities were in high demand during World War II, since he was exempt from military service due to a back injury suffered while receiving dance and movement lessons from Martha Graham as part of his acting training. Twentieth Century Fox claimed he had injured his back while rowing a boat at university. In Peck's words, "In Hollywood, they didn't think a dance class was macho enough, I guess. I've been trying to straighten out that story for years."

Peck's first film was Days of Glory, released in 1944. He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor five times, four of which came in his first five years of film acting: for The Keys of the Kingdom (1944), The Yearling (1946), Gentleman's Agreement (1947), and Twelve O'Clock High (1949).

Peck as Atticus FinchPeck won the award for his fifth nomination, playing the role of Atticus Finch, a Depression-era lawyer and widowed father, in the film adaptation of the Harper Lee novel To Kill a Mockingbird. Released in 1962 during the height of the US civil rights movement in the South; this movie is said to have been Peck's favorite. In 2003, Atticus Finch was named the top film hero of the past 100 years by the American Film Institute. His other popular films include Roman Holiday, in which he appeared as a reporter alongside Audrey Hepburn in her Oscar-winning debut.

In 1947, while many Hollywood figures were being blacklisted for similar activities, he signed a letter deploring a House Un-American Activities Committee investigation of alleged communists in the film industry. He was outspoken against the Vietnam War, while remaining supportive of his son, Stephen, who was fighting there. In 1972 Peck produced the film version of Philip Berrigan's play The Trial of the Catonsville Nine about the prosecution of a group of Vietnam protesters for civil disobedience.

In the 1980s he moved to television, where he starred in the mini-series The Blue and the Gray, playing Abraham Lincoln. He also starred in the TV film The Scarlet and The Black, about a real-life Catholic priest in the Vatican who smuggled Jews and other refugees away from the Nazis during World War II.

Peck retired from active film-making in the early 1990s, having received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Film Institute in 1989. A lifelong supporter of the Democratic Party, he was suggested once as a possible Democratic candidate to run against Ronald Reagan for the office of Governor of California. In an interview with the Irish media, Peck revealed that former President Lyndon Johnson had told him that, had he sought re-election, he intended to offer Peck the post of US ambassador to Ireland - a post Peck, on account of his Irish ancestry, said he might well have taken, saying "it would have been a great adventure". Peck encouraged his son, Cary, to run for national political office. Cary Peck was defeated on both accounts in Southern California, in 1978 and in 1980, by conservative Congressman Robert K. Dornan, first by a slim margin and later by a wider gap.

In 2000 he was made a Doctor of Letters by the National University of Ireland. He was a founding patron of the University College Dublin School of Film, where he persuaded Martin Scorsese to become an honorary patron. Peck also became chair of the American Cancer Society for a short time. Like Cary Grant did before him, Peck spent the last few years of his life touring the world doing speaking engagements in which he would show clips from his movies, reminisce, and answer questions from the audience.

He died in his sleep at the age of 87 in his Los Angeles home, with his second wife, Veronique, at his side. He was survived by Veronique, their two children and two of his children from his earlier marriage. His oldest son, Jonathan, had killed himself in 1975.

Notable film roles also include:

  • Spellbound
  • Duel in the Sun
  • The Paradine Case
  • The Gunfighter
  • Captain Horatio Hornblower R.N.
  • Moby Dick
  • Designing Woman
  • The Big Country
  • On the Beach
  • The Guns of Navarone
  • Cape Fear
  • Mirage
  • The Omen
  • MacArthur
  • The Boys from Brazil
  • Mackenna's Gold

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