Born: Apr. 5, 1916 La Jolla, California, USA
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He was born Eldred Gregory Peck in La Jolla, California, on April 5, 1916. After studying at St. John’s Military Academy, he briefly considered becoming a priest. While studying pre-med at Berkeley, Peck caught the acting bug. He moved to New York, where he enrolled in the Neighborhood Playhouse. Peck, who was kept out of World War II by a bad back, made his Broadway debut, in 1942, was in Emlyn Williams’ stage play The Morning Star.
Peck’s Hollywood debut was in the 1944 RKO film Days of Glory. Unlike many actors at that time, Peck never signed any long-term contracts tying him down to a single studio. Even Peck’s first few films read like the listings of a classic movie channel: Spellbound (1945), The Yearling (1946), The Macomber Affair (1947), Duel in the Sun (1947), Yellow Sky (1948), Twelve O’Clock High (1950), The Gunfighter (1950), Captain Horatio Hornblower (1951), David and Bathsheba (1951) and The World in His Arms (1952).
In 1953, Peck starred in the romantic comedy Roman Holiday. As the bigger star, Peck’s name was above the title. He told the producers that co-star Audrey Hepburn would probably win an Oscar® for this, her first major role. He suggested they place her name above the title with his or they’d have egg on their face. Peck’s award prediction was accurate.
Some of Peck’s biggest successes came with The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit and Moby Dick. Peck co-produced and starred in 1958’s The Big Country. That successful film was followed by the successes of The Guns of Navarone and To Kill a Mockingbird, which won Peck his sole Oscar.
Peck continued appearing on the big screen up until 1991’s cameo in the Cape Fear remake (he starred in the original in 1962). Prominent roles during that period included The Omen, MacArthur, The Boys From Brazil and Old Gringo. He also made appearances in several TV productions including The Blue and the Gray, The Scarlet and The Black and a cameo in the TV remake of Moby Dick, his last acting job.
Peck was also a leader in the film industry. He was the founding chairman of the American Film Institute, a charter member of the National Arts Council, and president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences from 1967 to 1970. A supporter of many charities and public causes, Peck was awarded the Academy’s Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award and in 1968 he was given the Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian award.
In June 2003, the American Film Institute paid tribute to Peck by naming his Oscar®-winning turn as Southern lawyer Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird as the greatest movie hero of all time. He died roughly a week later.
Divorced from his first wife, Greta Rice, in 1955, Peck married French journalist Veronique Passani that same year. He is survived by his wife, two sons from his first marriage (his oldest son committed suicide in 1975), a son and daughter by Veronique, as well as several grandchildren.
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