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Gregory Peck was an actor from the United States. From the 1940s until the 1960s, he was one of the most famous movie stars. Peck was ranked No. 12 on the American Film Institute's list of the 25 Greatest Male Stars of Classic Hollywood Cinema in 1999.
In his first five years of acting, Peck received five Academy Award nominations for Best Actor for successful films, including "The Yearling" in 1946, "Gentleman's Agreement" in 1947, and "Twelve O'Clock High" in 1949. Peck went on to serve as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1967. He married Greta Kukkonen in 1942 and went on to have three sons before their divorce in 1955. He later married Veronique Passani and had another son and a daughter.
Eldred Gregory Peck was born on April 5, 1916, in the La Jolla neighborhood of San Diego, California, to Bernice Mae and Gregory Pearl Peck, a chemist, and pharmacist from Rochester, New York. His father was of English (paternal) and Irish (maternal) origin, while his mother was English and Scots. Peck was reared as a Catholic after she switched to her husband's faith, Catholicism. Peck was connected to Thomas Ashe (1885–1917), who took part in the Easter Rising less than three weeks after Peck's birth and died while being force-fed during a hunger strike in 1917, through his Irish-born paternal grandmother Catherine Ashe (1864–1926).
Peck was raised by his maternal grandmother, who took him to the movies once a week after his parents divorced when he was five years old. When he was ten years old, he was sent to St. John's Military Academy in Los Angeles, a Catholic military school. His grandma died while Peck was a student there. He returned to San Diego at the age of 14 to live with his father. Peck graduated from San Diego High School in 1934 and enrolled for a year at San Diego State Teacher's College (now known as San Diego State University). He joined the track team, took his first theatrical and public-speaking classes, and pledged the Epsilon Eta fraternity while he was there. Peck aspired to be a doctor and eventually transferred to California, Berkeley University, where Peck studied English and pre-medical science. He rowed with the university crew. Peck struggled to pay his tuition, which was just $26 a year, and took a job as a "hasher" (kitchen helper) for the Gamma Phi Beta sorority exchange for meals.
Peck's deep, well-modulated voice attracted attention at Berkeley, and after taking a public speaking course, he decided to try acting. He was encouraged by an acting instructor, who regarded him as an ideal material for university theater, and he developed a growing interest in the craft. During his senior year, he was recruited by Edwin Duerr, the university's Little Theater director, and he appeared in five productions, including Starbuck in Moby Dick. Peck would later say about his years at Berkeley that "it was an exceptional experience for me and three of the greatest years of my life. It awoke me and turned me into a human being." Peck gave $25,000 to the Berkeley rowing team in 1996 in honor of his coach, the legendary Ky Ebright.
Peck was not able to graduate with his peers since he was missing one course. His college friends were worried about him and questioned how he would manage without his diploma. He told them, "I have all I need from the university." Peck dropped the name "Eldred" and relocated to New York City to study acting with Sanford Meisner at the Neighborhood Playhouse. Even was frequently broke, and he slept in Central Park on occasion. Peck worked as a barker at the 1939 World's Fair and a tour guide for NBC television at Rockefeller Center and Radio City Music Hall. He dabbled in modeling until landing a job at the Barter Theatre in Abingdon, Virginia, in 1940, where he starred in five plays, including Family Portrait and On Earth As It Is, in exchange for food.
In 1941, he made his stage debut as the secretary in Katharine Cornell's George Bernard Shaw's The Doctor's Dilemma. Just one week before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the drama premiered in San Francisco. In 1942, he made his Broadway debut in Emlyn Williams' The Morning Star. His second Broadway engagement that year was alongside Edward Pawley in The Willow and I. Because he was excused from military service due to a back ailment sustained while receiving ballet and movement classes from Martha Graham as part of his acting training, Peck's acting abilities were in high demand during World War II. Twentieth Century Fox later claimed that he injured his back while rowing at university, but Peck claims that he "wasn't wounded at all." "I guess a dance class wasn't considered manly enough in Hollywood. For years, I've been attempting to clear up that narrative." Peck appeared in 50 plays, including three Broadway shows that were short-lived, four or five road tours, and summer theater.
Peck started the 1950s with two westerns, the first of which was directed by Henry King, who had previously worked with him on Twelve O'Clock High. Peck portrays an aging "Top Gun of the West" who is tired of murdering and wants to retire with his attractive but sensible wife and seven-year-old son, whom he hasn't seen in years. Peck and King conducted an extensive photographic study into the Wild West Era, noting that most cowboys had facial hair, "bowl" haircuts, and wore worn-out attire; as a result, Peck grew a mustache and wore it during filming. When the studio's president saw the initial film and saw the mustache, he demanded reshoots. Still, he backed out due to costs inflated by the production manager at King and Peck's insistence. The Gunfighter accomplished a decent but unimpressive job at the box office, grossing $5.6 million, good for 47th place in 1951. Peck's mustache was blamed by 20th Century Fox studio boss Darryl Zanuck for the lackluster response from Peck's customary admirers. The latter expected to see the usual gorgeous, clean-shaven Peck, not the authentic-cowboy Peck. When The Gunfighter was released, the movie got "good reviews," with some writers praising Peck's performance as "earning him some of his greatest notices." "Through Mr. Peck's fine performance, a fair comprehension is conveyed of the loneliness and isolation of a man with a lurid name... an arresting and quite exciting film," the New York Times wrote. The film has gained critical acclaim over the years and "is now considered one of the all-time classic westerns." Peck's portrayal has received unanimous praise from critics in recent decades, with David Parkinson of RadioTimes stating, "Peck offers a performance of remarkable dignity and grit."
Peck married Greta Kukkonen, a Finnish woman, in October 1942, and they had three sons: Jonathan, Stephen, and Carey Paul. On December 31, 1955, they divorced. On June 26, 1975, Peck's eldest son was discovered dead in his house, officials believing it was a suicide.
Peck with his wife, Veronique
Peck had a brief affair with Spellbound co-star Ingrid Bergman during his first marriage. In a 1987 interview with Brad Darrach of People, he admitted to the affair, saying: "All I can say is that I adored her [Bergman], and I believe that's where I should end it... I was a kid at the time. She was a young lady. We had been working closely and intensively for weeks."
Peck married Véronique Passani, a Paris news reporter who had interviewed him in 1952 before he flew to Italy to film Roman Holiday, on New Year's Eve in 1955, the day after his divorce was formalized. Six months later, he invited her to lunch, and the two became inseparable. Anthony Peck was their son, and Cecilia Peck was their daughter. Until Gregory Peck's death, the couple stayed married. Anthony, his son, is the ex-husband of supermodel Cheryl Tiegs. Both of Peck's marriages resulted in grandkids. Actor Ethan Peck is one of his grandsons from his first marriage. Peck was a thoroughbred steeplechase racehorse owner. Owen's Sedge came in seventh place in the Grand National in 1963. Another of his horses competed in the 1968 Grand National, the horse was the favorite, but he came in third.
Peck was a devout Roman Catholic who explored becoming a priest. Peck was questioned if he was a practicing Catholic later in his career by a journalist. Peck replied: "I'm a devout Roman Catholic. I'm not a die-hard fan, but I put in enough effort to keep the series alive. I am not always in agreement with Pope Francis. Several topics concern me, including abortion, contraception, women's ordination, and others." Because the Church forbids remarriage if a previous spouse is still alive and the first marriage was not annulled, his second marriage was performed by a justice of the peace rather than a priest. Peck was a major fund-raiser for the missionary work of a priest friend (Father Albert O'Hara), and he and his son Stephen co-produced a tape recording of the New Testament.
Death and Legacy
Peck died in his sleep from bronchopneumonia on June 12, 2003, at 87, at his home in Los Angeles. Veronique, his wife, was by his side.
Gregory Peck is buried in the mausoleum at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles. Brock Peters, whose character, Tom Robinson, was defended by Gregory Peck's Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, read his eulogy. Lauren Bacall, Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, Shari Belafonte, Harrison Ford, Calista Flockhart, Mike Farrell, Shelley Fabares, Jimmy Smits, Louis Jourdan, Dyan Cannon, Stephanie Zimbalist, Michael York, Angie Dickinson, Larry Gelbart, Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie, Louise Fletcher, Tony Danza, and Piper Laurie were among the celebrities who attended Peck.
The Peck family established the Gregory Peck Award for Cinematic Excellence in 2008 to celebrate a director, producer, or actor's life's work in memory of their father. It was first shown at the Dingle International Film Festival in his ancestral birthplace of Dingle, Ireland, and has been shown in the San Diego International Film Festival in his hometown since 2014. Gabriel Byrne, Laura Dern, Alan Arkin, Annette Bening, Patrick Stewart, and Laurence Fishburne are among the honorees.
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