In the end, Gregory Peck was remembered at his memorial service as both the legendary actor and the extraordinary man -- the heroic screen lawyer Atticus Finch of “To Kill a Mockingbird” and the generous friend and humanitarian. On-screen or off, he showed the same character, according to every person who paid him tribute Monday.
Delivering the eulogy at the afternoon service, actor Brock Peters quoted Harper Lee, author of the book on which the movie was based, as saying, “Atticus Finch gave him an opportunity to play himself.”
More than 1,000 people filled the high-ceilinged Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels to remember Peck, who died in his sleep at his Holmby Hills home last Thursday at the age of 87. His family, his colleagues and his fans paid homage to a man recalled as a rare combination of great talent and personal integrity.
“Gregory Peck did not have to act at being an extraordinary human being,” said Cardinal Roger M. Mahony in his homily, citing Peck as an exemplar of authenticity, integrity and constancy.
Stars of varying vintage filed in: Lauren Bacall; Sidney Poitier; Harry Belafonte, along with his daughter, actress Shari Belafonte; Harrison Ford and Calista Flockhart, who attended together; actor Mike Farrell and his actress wife, Shelley Fabares; Jimmy Smits; Louis Jourdan; Dyan Cannon; Stephanie Zimbalist; and Michael York. Angie Dickinson and writer and producer Larry Gelbart, who both used to play poker with Peck, were there.
Singer Michael Jackson, who wore a red velvet jacket, arrived just before the gospel reading and was escorted up the far left aisle to the front. According to family spokesman Monroe Friedman, Jackson and Peck had been friends for years, visiting each other at their homes.
“When people talk about old stars and how they aren’t like that today, he was one of the last leaves on that tree,” said Jennifer Grant, the actress daughter of Cary Grant and Dyan Cannon. She grew up knowing Peck and his wife, Veronique. “He was a true, elegant gentleman.”
Actress Anjelica Huston, as she walked into the cathedral, called him “a wonderful man, a friend, a father figure.”
Harry Belafonte, who lives in New York, said he would remember Peck’s “stirring humanity.” They socialized and ran into each other at political functions, such as ACLU events. “I played the Greek Theatre -- still do -- every year,” Belafonte said. “There would always be an opening night dinner at Greg’s house.”
Actor Peters, who played Tom Robinson, the black man wrongly accused of raping a white woman in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” said Peck telephoned to welcome him before shooting began on the film. Peters said he was so stunned he dropped the phone. “I thought, ‘This is truly significant.’ Needless to say, that has never happened again,” he said in his eulogy.
As he did at the funeral of Duke Ellington, Peters sang an Ellington song, “They Say”: “They say that people turn into stars when they die, and live again in the midnight sky ... " After the song, he concluded, “To my friend Gregory Peck, to my friend Atticus Finch, vaya con Dios.”
Peck also was remembered as a supporter of the Music Center, the downtown library and the new cathedral. But, in a short clip from a documentary on his life, Peck himself told a crowded auditorium how he wished to be known: “I’d like to first be remembered as a good husband and father,” he says.
It was fitting that the password for invited guests was “Atticus.”
Perhaps less fitting was that there should be a password at all for a ceremony celebrating Peck as a man of the people. A family spokesman explained that the password was to grant passage to family and close friends into the front of the cathedral. After some initial confusion, the public was allowed, then members of the media. By the time the service began, everyone who wanted a seat, whether arriving on foot or in a limousine, was allowed entrance.
Stars arriving at the memorial service walked across a plaza from the parking garage to the cathedral entrance while fans watched along the sidelines. Some waited for their turn to enter the cathedral; others simply waited for a glimpse of a celebrity. As befit the solemnity of the occasion, fans were subdued, with only occasional outbursts
“Calista! Calista! Calista!” onlookers cried as Flockhart, wearing a simple black dress, continued past with her boyfriend, Harrison Ford, also in black.
As Lionel Ritchie walked in, one woman squealed, “He’s my idol!”
But most of the hero worship was reserved for Peck.
“He’s one of my mentors,” Ritchie said as he walked to his seat in the cathedral. “He was not only a huge celebrity, but you could talk to him. He’d call you up at night, say, ‘Hey, I’m not done with our conversation.’ ”
Nearly two-thirds of the cathedral filled with mourners. The front section was devoted to colleagues, friends and family -- Peck’s widow, Veronique, his three sons, Stephen, Anthony and Carey, his daughter, Cecilia Peck-Voll, and all of his six grandchildren. The former supermodel Cheryl Tiegs, who is divorced from Peck’s son Anthony, also sat in the first section with their son.
Also there were Frank Pierson, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and George Stevens Jr., co-producer of the Kennedy Center Honors, one of which Peck received.
So was Claude Chirac, daughter of French President Jacques Chirac, representing her family, who are longtime friends of the Pecks.
In the second section of the cathedral sat members of the public who hadn’t known Peck but felt as if they had.
“He wasn’t a member of my family” but his death “hit me,” said artist Craig O’Rourke, 54, after the service. “It was a loss. He was an actor who could pervade your life. You got the feeling he was a remarkable individual.”
Ann Kirchner, 71, of Redondo Beach, said she couldn’t “think of anyone else I’d come down here for.”
Susy Wong, a judge’s secretary, walked from the county courthouse. “Everyone says it was ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ that made him a star,” she said. “But I loved him in ‘Roman Holiday.’ ”
Peck had been interred in a crypt below the cathedral early Monday. After the service, guests were allowed to file past the crypt. Most ran their hands over his name, etched in the cool limestone.
Times staff writer Carla Hall contributed to this report.