Here are 10 things you should know about Gregory Peck, born 104 years ago today. He played a wide variety of roles, but will always be most closely associated with a certain fictional Alabama lawyer he played in a movie he cited as his favorite.
Gregory Peck was born Eldred Gregory Peck 101 years ago in La Jolla, California. Here are 10 GP Did-You-Knows:
- Peck’s father, a druggist in San Diego, and his mother divorced when Peck was just five years old, and he was sent to live with his grandmother, who took him to the movies every week. He studied pre-med UC-Berkeley and there became interested in acting. While at UC Berkeley, Peck was a houseboy for the school’s chapter of the Gamma Phi Beta sorority. (Atta boy, Greg!)
- After graduating from UC-Berkeley, Peck moved to NYC to study acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse. He debuted on Broadway in 1942 in an Emlyn Williams play, The Morning Star. By 1943, he’d returned to Southern California, where he made his motion picture debut in the RKO film Days of Glory (1944).
- Stardom came quickly for Peck, who was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his second film, The Keys of the Kingdom (1944). In all, he was nominated as Best Actor five times, finally winning the Academy Award in 1963 for his portrayal of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. Peck was the first California native to earn the Best Actor nod.
- Mockingbird was Peck’s favorite among his pictures, and he said of Atticus, “I can honestly say that in twenty years of making movies I never had a part that came close to being the real me until Atticus Finch.”
- Peck, along with Dorothy McGuire, Mel Ferrer and David O. Selznick, was one of the founders of the La Jolla Playhouse. His busy schedule didn’t allow him to return to Broadway, but the Playhouse allowed him to occasionally scratch his itch to work in live theatre.
- In 1969, Peck was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award, by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
- Peck, a liberal Democrat, strongly considered challenging Ronald Reagan, then governor of California, when Reagan ran for reelection in 1970, but decided against it at the last minute despite strong encouragement from state and national Democratic officials.
- In 1980, Peck volunteered to be TV spokesperson for the then-struggling Chrysler Corporation out of concern for the 600,000 jobs that would be lost if the company went under.
- In 1997, Peck was a presenter at the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) awards ceremony. “It just seems silly to me,” he said at the time, “that something so right and simple has to be fought for at all.” Peck was also a vocal supporter of AIDS fund-raising efforts.
- Peck was close friend to Michael Jackson for the final quarter-century of the pop star’s life, often going horseback riding with Jackson at the singer’s Neverland Ranch.
Happy birthday, Gregory Peck, wherever you may be!
George Brent, born George Brendan Nolan 112 years today in Ballinasloe, County Galway, Ireland, enjoyed an odd sort of career. By any measure, he achieved great success, but outside movie-buff circles, he’s all but forgotten today. Odd, considering that when he arrived in Hollywood, he was touted as the next Clark Gable. The comparison seems almost laughable today, so low-key was Brent compared to the man once known as the King of Hollywood.
George Brent was a rebel during the Irish War of Independence, though how active he was is open to question; he acknowledged having served as a courier for IRA leader Michael Collins. In any case, the British government put a price on his head, at which point Brent (then Nolan) saw fit to hightail it to the United States.
Brent started his career in the theatre, touring in a production of Abie’s Irish Rose and acting in stock theatre around the country. In 1927, he debuted on Broadway in Love, Honor and Obey. Also in the cast? None other than Clark Gable.
Brent headed for Hollywood a couple of years later, appearing in minor roles for Universal and Fox before signing a contract with Warner Brothers in 1932. It was at Warners that Brent achieved his greatest success. Perhaps the greatest strength of his low-key (but hardly milquetoast) on-screen persona was that he was a perfect complement to strong leading women, holding his own but never overshadowing them.
Given how little he’s remembered today, it’s remarkable to consider how often George Brent worked with some of the most iconic actresses of the Golden Age of Hollywood. He made eleven features with Bette Davis (enjoying an offscreen romance with her as well), six with Kay Francis, five with Barbara Stanwyck, four with Ruth Chatterton (to whom he was married from 1932–1934) and two with Myrna Loy. He also played opposite Ruby Keeler, Greta Garbo, Ginger Rogers, Madeleine Carroll, Jean Arthur, Merle Oberon, Ann Sheridan (to whom he was married from 1942–1943), Joan Fontaine, Claudette Colbert, Dorothy McGuire, Loretta Young, Lucille Ball and Yvonne De Carlo. That’s a line-up of costars that any leading man might envy.
By the late 1940s, Brent was appearing in mostly B pictures, and he retired from films in 1953, though he continued to act on television for another seven years. He was married five times, and if you read some of his early interviews, it’s not hard to see why most of those marriages didn’t work out. Brent clearly had no interest in being tied down and seemed to resent the responsibilities that relationships carried with them. “No woman will ever own me,” Brent once said. “I own myself.”
But he and his fifth wife, former model and dress designer Janet Michaels, were together for 27 years until she passed away in 1974.
George Brent, who suffered in later years from emphysema, died in 1979 in Solana Beach, California.
Happy birthday, Mr. Brent, wherever you may be!