- Peck, Gregory
▪ 2004American actor (b. April 5, 1916, La Jolla, Calif.—d. June 12, 2003, Los Angeles, Calif.), was most noted for portraying morally decent, dignified, and quietly strong characters. He was nominated for five Academy Awards and won one, for his performance in the role perhaps most identified with him—Atticus Finch, a small-town Southern lawyer who stands up against racism to defend a black man unjustly accused of rape in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962); in 2003 the American Film Institute named his Finch the all-time number one U.S. movie hero. As a student at the University of California, Berkeley, Peck had roles in several student productions. Following graduation (1939) he moved to New York, where he studied at the Neighborhood Playhouse, and he began to perform in stage productions. Aided by his good looks and his rich baritone voice, and also by the fact that many Hollywood actors were serving in the armed forces during World War II—a previous injury made Peck unable to join—he found himself in demand for leading roles in numerous motion pictures, among them Days of Glory, his debut (1944), The Keys of the Kingdom (1944), Spellbound (1945), The Yearling (1946), Gentleman's Agreement (1947), and Twelve O'Clock High (1949). The 1950s and early '60s saw some of his most memorable films, including The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952), Roman Holiday (1953), The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1956), Pork Chop Hill (1959), On the Beach (1959), The Guns of Navarone (1961), and Cape Fear (1962). Later notable appearances were in The Omen (1976) and The Boys from Brazil (1978). Peck supported a number of humanitarian and political causes and film-industry activities and served them in such capacities as member of the National Council on the Arts, chairman of the American Cancer Society, cofounding chairman and board member of the American Film Institute, board member of the Motion Picture and Television Relief Fund, and governor of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for 15 years and president for 3 years. He was honoured with the academy's Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 1968 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1969, as well as several life achievement awards.
* * *▪ American actorin full Eldred Gregory Peckborn April 5, 1916, La Jolla, California, U.S.died June 12, 2003, Los Angeles, Californiatall, imposing American actor with a deep, mellow voice, best known for conveying characters of honesty and integrity.A pharmacist's son, Peck attended military school and San Diego State College before enrolling as a premed student at the University of California at Berkeley. There he developed a taste for acting, and upon graduation he headed to New York, where he studied at the Neighborhood Playhouse and supported himself as an usher at Radio City Music Hall and as a concession barker at the 1939 World's Fair. He made his Broadway debut in The Morning Star (1942), the first of three consecutive flops in which he appeared, although critics liked Peck's performances.Invited to Hollywood, Peck made his first film appearance as a Russian guerrilla fighter in Days of Glory (1944). Because of an earlier spinal injury, he was unable to serve in World War II. This circumstance enabled him to emerge as one of the most popular leading men of the 1940s. He earned his first Academy Award nomination for his performance as an idealistic missionary priest in The Keys of the Kingdom (1944), and three years later he received a second Oscar nomination for his interpretation of a journalist who poses as a Jew in order to expose anti-Semitism in Gentleman's Agreement (1947). Peck's other notable films from this decade include The Valley of Decision (1945), Alfred Hitchcock (Hitchcock, Sir Alfred)'s Spellbound (1945), Duel in the Sun (1946), The Yearling (1946), and Yellow Sky (1948).Although Peck worked with most of the major Hollywood directors of the day, including Hitchcock, King Vidor (Vidor, King), William Wellman (Wellman, William), William Wyler (Wyler, William), Vincente Minnelli (Minnelli, Vincente), and Lewis Milestone, he did some of his finest work for Henry King (King, Henry). In King's Twelve O'Clock High (1949), The Gunfighter (1950), David and Bathsheba (1951), The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952), The Bravados (1958), and Beloved Infidel (1959), Peck portrayed outwardly strong and authoritative individuals whose inner demons and character flaws threaten to destroy them. He was finally honoured with an Academy Award for his performance as the ethical and compassionate Alabama lawyer Atticus Finch in the screen adaptation of Harper Lee (Lee, Harper)'s To Kill a Mockingbird (1962). His subsequent screen roles included an anguished father in the popular horror film The Omen (1976), the titular American general in MacArthur (1977), and a rare villainous turn as Nazi doctor Josef Mengele (Mengele, Josef) in The Boys from Brazil (1978). Although Peck continued to work into the early 1990s (at which time he announced that he was largely retired), his final films are mostly forgettable.Throughout his career, Peck received the most praise for his portrayals of stoical men motivated by a quest for decency and justice; he was less successful in performances demanding a broad emotional range, such as his interpretation of Captain Ahab in Moby Dick (1956), in which critics felt he failed to convey the compulsive qualities of one of American literature's most complex characters. Nevertheless, he was an ingratiating performer, fully capable in roles that required him to be the moral centre of a film. Peck was also widely admired and respected as one of the motion picture industry's most cooperative and least egotistical stars. Outside of his film work, he was tirelessly active in civic, charitable, and political causes. He served as chairman of the American Cancer Society and of the trustee board of the American Film Institute (which he cofounded), and for three years he was president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.Additional ReadingMichael Freedland, Gregory Peck: A Biography (1980); John Griggs, The Films of Gregory Peck (1984, reissued 1988).
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