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!