On the 100th anniversary of his birth, a few thoughts from Gregory Peck

Gregory Peck photographed at his Bel Aire home on May 31, 1994.

Gregory Peck photographed at his Bel Aire home on May 31, 1994.

(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

April 5 marks the centennial of Academy Award-winning actor Gregory Peck’s birth. On-screen, he was known for portraying men of conviction such as Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Off-screen, Peck was a crusader as well. He served as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and was an outspoken supporter of liberal and civil rights causes.

Below are some of our favorite Peck quotes from the pages of The Times.

On storytelling


“Telling a good story and having people laugh if it’s funny or gasp if it’s suspenseful or just express enjoyment when the story has been told. Even if the story has been told on film and shipped around in tin cans, it creates a bond between a performer and an audience. It is life’s blood to a storyteller, an entertainer like me, to achieve a response from the audience.

“You occasionally tell a story that doesn’t come off. You say to yourself, ‘Why did I tell that story? It flopped. I must remember not to tell that one again.’ … The entertainer goes away and licks his wounds. But since he deals in dreams and illusions, and is not the most realistic-minded fellow anyway, he soon begins to think of the next story he wants to tell.” (1974)

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On directors

“There are some who direct out loud for the benefit of 40 or 50 people standing around the set. They all become instant critics to see whether or not you do exactly what the director wants you to do. But the directors I’ve always admired are those who do the job quietly. They talk only for the actor’s ears.” (1974)

“I must say I’m getting a little bit sick about questions about Hitchcock … People kind of get hung up on Hitchcock. I loved Hitch … How about some of the actors? Let’s concentrate on the actors …” (1999)

On television

“The reason I don’t do TV is that I’m as busy as I want to be making movies — and making movies brings me all the income I need … I feel there is little difference in the media … except that in TV there is less time to do a job and a greater degree of censorship in the subject matter that can be dealt with.

“I would never do a series. Once the characterization is set the actor has to play the same part every week — which to me has no appeal.” (1960)

On ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’

“The minute I read [it] I felt completely at home. Making the film became a piece of cake. This was the small-town life I knew in La Jolla, walking barefoot, living in tree houses, rolling down the road curled up in an old rubber tire.” (1974)

“La Jolla was maybe 1,800 to 2,000 people, so you knew everybody … The general tone of life there was similar to what Harper Lee was talking about.” (1997)

The role of Atticus Finch was “so easy to do. My father was that kind of man. I met the author Harper Lee’s father who was that man.” (1967)

“It seemed to just fall into place without stress or strain — the screenplay by Horton Foote was very well-written. When you have that kind of screenplay it becomes rather easy if you lend yourself to it and you go along and share the emotions with the character … You have to think your way through the part and identify emotionally with the situations and characters.” (1997)

On life

“I can be tough and combative when the occasion demands. I’m ambitious. I have my share of vanity. I couldn’t have survived for 30 years in the highly competitive business of movies without being stubborn and, when necessary, hard. I don’t wear it on my sleeve, but I can’t be pushed around much.” (1974)

“I don’t resist change. I love the seasons of life, the process of change. I’m fascinated with the pageant of growing older.” (1974)

“I can laugh at fears and anxieties that seemed desperately serious to me 30 years ago. I still know insecurities — I always have — but now I keep them in perspective. I’ve had some dark periods of despair when I was ready to quit. But with maturity one gains confidence that there’s always another chance to do one’s best. I look upon maturity not as a sad sequel to lost youth but as a time of knowing what is really important and enjoying it to the fullest.” (1974)

“I’m not as wise as I’d hoped to be. There’s obviously more to remember than to look forward to. But I suppose in the end, I am a family man … I like thinking about all my grandchildren. In the long term, family is all that counts. The fame and the awards and the nonsense that goes with them fades away. You’re left with a good family and maybe some good works.” (2000)


The life of Gregory Peck

April 5, 1916: Born Eldred Gregory Peck in La Jolla

1938: Graduated UC Berkeley, went to New York to study acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse with Sanford Meisner

1941: New York stage debut in George Bernard Shaw’s “The Doctor’s Dilemma”

1942: Broadway debut in Emlyn Williams’ “The Morning Star”

1942: Married Greta Kukkonen

1944: Film debut in “Days of Glory”

1946: Oscar nomination for “The Keys of the Kingdom”

1947: Oscar nomination for “The Yearling”

1947: Co-founded La Jolla Playhouse with Mel Ferrer and Dorothy McGuire

1948: Oscar nomination for “Gentleman’s Agreement”

1950: Oscar nomination for “Twelve O’Clock High”

1954: BAFTA nomination for “Roman Holiday”

1955: Divorced Kukkonen; married French journalist Veronique Passani

1963: Lead actor Oscar for “To Kill a Mockingbird”

1967: Elected president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

Gregory Peck, Academy president, announces nominations for the 42nd annual awards on Feb. 16, 1970.

Gregory Peck, Academy president, announces nominations for the 42nd annual awards on Feb. 16, 1970.

(John Malmin / Los Angeles Times)

1968: Received the academy’s Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award

1969: Presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Lyndon B. Johnson

1989: American Film Institute Life Achievement Award

For the record

April 6, 11:44 a.m.: An earlier version of this article listed the wrong year for Peck’s AFI Life Achievement Award. It was 1989.

1998: Awarded National Medal of Arts

June 12, 2003: Died in his sleep in Los Angeles