Gregory Peck was born in Los Angeles, CA on April 5, 1916—making today his 99th birthday. In celebration of the life of this phenomenal actor, we’d like to tell you a bit more about the man who played Atticus Finch so well.
Gregory Peck, Esteemed Actor
Nominated for the Academy Award five times, he finally succeeded in bringing home the prize for his portrayal of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. To Kill a Mockingbird was Peck’s 38th movie role, but it carried a special place in his heart, and he went on record multiple times to tell the world how honored he was to play the part of Finch, a small-town defense attorney with an unwavering sense of right.
Gregory Peck was often noted for the type of man he successfully played—tall, dark, handsome, decent and full of common sense. Those who knew him well agreed that such parts reflected the actor’s character and integrity. He had wonderful box-office appeal and was well recognized for a variety of roles that spanned from the 1940s to the 1980s—Mockingbird, of course, being his crowning achievement.
As Atticus Finch, Gregory Peck played the father who spoke to his children as though they were already adults, wishing often that there were topics that could be avoided and yet never shying away from the truth. Finch’s focus was on setting an example, not only for his children, but for those who would listen in the sleepy town of Maycomb, Alabama, a setting based on the author’s own hometown of Monroeville, which Peck visited for inspiration and direction.
There are still accounts of the friendship that developed between the book’s author, Harper Lee, and Gregory Peck during the production of Mockingbird and it is well known to film buffs and literary aficionados alike that Peck won Lee’s respect and admiration during the making of the film. It is said that the Lee gifted Peck her father’s pocket watch, which he carried the night of his Academy Award win.
Gregory Peck, Good Guy
Gregory Peck once said, “They say the bad guys are more interesting to play, but there is more to it than that. Playing the good guys is more challenging because it’s harder to make them interesting.” Atticus Finch was the epitome of the “good guy” role, and Peck accomplished the feat beautifully, making the aging widower attorney one of the most beloved characters of stage and screen for decades.
When Peck himself was classified as a humanitarian by the Motion Picture Academy, it was a title he didn’t feel comfortable with, telling The Telegraph, “I’m no do-gooder… I simply take part in the activities I believe in.”
At 6’3”, Gregory Peck seemed the perfect fit for the role of Finch, always dapper in a coat and tie. As Atticus, he gently espoused wisdom concerning equality and justice in the face of close-minded townsfolk with deeply ingrained prejudices, all the while taking them for what and who they were without judgment. In 1989, Peck told a CNN Journalist that he’d put everything he had into the part of Atticus Finch, “All my feelings and everything I had learned in 46 years of living, about family life, and fathers, and children… and my feelings about racial justice and inequality and opportunity.”
At Peck’s death in 2003, his eulogy was given by Brock Peters, the man who played Tom Robinson in To Kill a Mockingbird. Gregory Peck was laid to rest at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels mausoleum in Los Angeles.
What’s your favorite Gregory Peck film? Let us know!