Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Gregory Peck:He kept viewers spellbound

By Kuldip Dhiman
SOMETIMES, even great film producers and directors get it wrong. So when a tall, handsome young man with a classic chiselled face appeared for a test in the early forties, David O Selznick, the producer of Gone With the Wind was not impressed. No one knows how the rejected aspirant felt, but poetic justice was done when Alfred Hitchcock cast him as the leading man in the highly successful suspense film Spellbound in 1945.

But there were others who did recognise the potential of Gregory Peck, who after scoring a big hit in a dual role in The Willow and I, caught the attention of filmmakers, and the media as shown by this news report of 1944. "RKO's Days of Glory, another Hollywood tub-thumper for our Soviet allies, has launched the film career of handsome 28-year-old newcomer Gregory Peck. He co-stars with Tamara Toumanova . . . Days of Glory has had a cool reception, but Peck is a hot property."

And he remained a hot property for the next two decades, slowly fading out of public memory after the eighties. By then, the golden age of Hollywood was anyway over. All the major studios had pulled their shutters down, and the rules of filmmaking were being rewritten.

Born in La Jolla, California, and christened Eldred Gregory Peck, his parents separated when he was only five, and he grew up with his maternal grandmother. His mother married a travelling salesman and was often away with her new husband. His father was a local pharmacist who was always doing the night-shift. At the age of 10, Gregory was sent to St John's Military Academy in Los Angeles. After the Academy, he returned to live with his father, and to attend public high school. After graduating, Peck enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley. Prompted by his father's wish of seeing him become a doctor, he set out to become one. But, then, there were better things in store for Gregory than a hospital.


In 1939, he changed his name from Eldred to Gregory and moved to New York. where he began to accept small roles in travelling shows.

Modelling for shirts in his spare time, he made his Broadway debut in Emlyn William's The Morning Star, in 1942. He didn't quite make an impact in theatre, and just as well, for Gregory Peck was fashioned for the big screen. And it did not long before he got his first break.

In his long illustrious career spanning almost five decades, Gregory acted in such great films as: Gentleman's Agreement (1947), The Guns of Navarrone (1961), Twelve O'Clock High (1950), Moby Dick (1956) and The Boys From Brazil (1978). But he is specially remembered for Spellbound, Roman Holiday, and The Sea Wolves. He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor four times, and finally won it for To Kill a Mockingbird in which he played the role of Atticus.

Known for his gentle behaviour and traditional values, Gregory was hugely popular as a star, mainly due to his good looks, which often overshadowed his acting abilities.

Gregory Peck had three sons, Jonathan, Stephen and Carey, from his first wife, Greta.

After their divorce in 1954, he married Passani. They had two children, Anthony and Cecilia, both actors. Jonathan, a TV reporter, committed suicide when he was only 30.

His magnetic screen presence was so pervasive that even great stars fell in love with him, foremost among them being Suraiyya, the heroine of yesteryear. Gregory would not have known, but he did fashion the mannerisms of Dev Anand who was to later himself become a legend.

This giant of a star died on the night of June 12 at the age of 87. 

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