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Gregory Peck: A Charmed Life    by Lynn Haney order for
Gregory Peck
by Lynn Haney
Order:  USA  Can
Carroll & Graf, 2004 (2004)

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* *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

He was born Eldred Gregory Peck to his Irish immigrant mother Bernice (Bunny) and father, Gregory Peck, Sr. from Rochester, New York. They divorced in 1921. Greg was placed in St. John's Military Academy, where he developed his writing skills, and was promoted to Cadet Captain. Peck enrolled in the University of California at Berkeley, where 'He'd take out books by the bagful from the library, read late at night and in between classes in the day. Books were the solution to his life. He lived along with the authors of the great novels, transported by the light of their stories. It helped him understand the drama of his own life.' Favored authors included Anthony Trollope, Thomas Hardy, Joseph Conrad, and satirist Ambrose Bierce.

Peck's career spanned over half a century in more than fifty films, as well as stage appearances in diverse roles. Under scholarship, he studied at New York's Neighborhood Playhouse, the Stanislavsky Method of acting, and trained under the famous Martha Graham in dance and movement. New York City's Broadway (once referred to as 'The Great White Way' because of its luminous lighting) featured Peck's first stage appearance in the play, The Morning Star. In Hollywood studios, Greg fought (and won) against the standard policy of signing seven-year contracts. This allowed him to engage with various movie moguls at the same time, including Louis Mayer, Sam Goldwyn, David Selznick, Alfred Hitchcock, and Darryl Zanuck, as well as independent film makers.

In 1953, Peck starred in Roman Holiday with debut actress Audrey Hepburn (she won an Oscar). Peck is remembered for his roles in many films, including Captain Horatio Hornblower, Moby Dick (theater film and television adaptations), Guns of Navorone, Spellbound, The Gunfighter, The Snows of Kilimanjaro, The Man In The Gray Flannel Suit, and The Omen. Movies which garnered Peck an Oscar nomination were Keys of the Kingdom, The Yearling, Gentleman's Agreement, and Twelve O'Clock High. In 1963, he won an Oscar for To Kill A Mockingbird, in which he portrayed attorney Atticus Finch, who said 'You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view ... Till you climb inside his skin and walk around in it.'

Peck received awards for his involvement in organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (Bill of Rights Award 1991), the American Film Institute (Life Achievement Award 1989), Cannes Film Festival (Palme D'Or Award 1989), International Jewish Film Festival (Humanitarian Award 1999), and Legion d'honneur (Outstanding Contribution to Arts - France's highest national honor 1993). The popular actor initiated the La Jolla (CA) Playhouse, and Actors Company, 'a theater overlooking the sea to give film actors like himself the opportunity of performing in front of a live audience.' Lynn Haney met Peck at a National Endowment for the Arts event. This, along with extensive research, gives some validity to the unauthorized biography. However, lengthy diatribes about other actors, screenwriters, directors, etc., and descriptions of movie themes and scenes double the length of the book, and detract from its focus.

The last chapter, 'Magnificent Survivor', reads as a tribute to Gregory Peck, including 'His life, as Shakespeare would say, was 'rounded in a sleep' ... The crowd visibly warmed to a videotape performance of Greg featuring a lecture he gave several years before. In that rich baritone voice, which sounded like no other he said he hoped to be remembered first as a good husband, father and grandfather. Then, with quiet strength and unforgettable presence, he added: 'I'd like to be thought of as a good storyteller.' He will be.' Overall, I recommend Gregory Peck: A Charmed Life as a good read, especially for theater history and biography fans.

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