Gregory Peck exists in many forms, each totally different from the next: as the street-smart Joe Bradley in Roman Holiday, as a courageous journalist in Gentleman’s Agreement, and of course, as the wise and virtuous Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s hard to see an actor as anything other than the characters he portrays, especially in the case of Gregory Peck, who seemed to “become” the person whose story he was telling.
You’d be surprised how complicated the man behind the actor can be, and Gregory Peck is no exception. His roles often put his intimidating stature and bellowing voice on display, but his private life proved that beneath his mighty exterior was a gentle giant…
1. They say that great acting is born from pain, and such is the case with Gregory Peck. His parents, Gregory and Bunny Peck, divorced when he was five years old, and he even lived with his grandmother for a spell.
2. Gregory’s deep, clear voice made him stand out in his university’s public speaking course, and he was encouraged to get into acting. He acted in five plays during his senior year at Berkeley, which he later said “woke [him] up and made [him] a human being.”
3. He was 25 when Pearl Harbor was attacked, but he was exempt from military services. For years it was believed that an old rowing injury made him ineligible, but Gregory claimed it was all because of an injury from a dance class!
Jack Benny’s New Look
4. One of Gregory’s most famous (and divisive) roles, that of Captain Ahab in 1956’s Moby Dick, almost cost him his life. He almost drowned twice while filming due to the stormy weather off the coasts of Ireland, and much of the crew suffered injuries as well.
Moby Dick/Warner Bros.
5. Gregory Peck was nominated for five Academy Awards for acting, and he eventually won for his performance in 1962’s To Kill A Mockingbird. He’s said that his role as Atticus Finch is his favorite, “without any question.”
6. Although he married Greta Kukkonen in 1942, he had a brief affair with actress Ingrid Bergman while filming the movie Spellbound together. He even admitted to the fling in a 1987 interview with People magazine.
7. His marriage to Greta Kukkonen was less than perfect, and they divorced in 1955. The day after his divorce was finalized, he married journalist Véronique Passani, and they remained married until his death in 2003.
8. Gregory was born and raised Catholic, and for a period of time he seriously considered becoming a priest. Later, he said that he wasn’t “a fanatic” and that he was concerned with issues of “abortion, contraception, the ordination of women and others.”
The Scarlet and the Black/CBS
9. Peck was a lifelong Democrat, and his liberal political views often came through in his acting roles. For instance, his film On The Beach, which showcased the devastating effects of nuclear war, put his distaste for nuclear weapons on display.
On The Beach/United Artists
10. He made his film debut in 1944’s Days of Glory. It was also the debut for a majority of the cast, though the film is now largely forgotten. Even then, Peck found his performance to be “amateurish” and never watched the completed film.
Days of Glory/RKO Radio Pictures
11. His first foray into comedy was Roman Holiday, which was Audrey Hepburn’s film debut. He was so sure that Hepburn would become a huge star that he insisted on her name being above the title card in the opening credits of the film.
Roman Holiday/Paramount Pictures
12. Released in 1958, The Big Country was the only movie Peck acted in with his sons from his first marriage: Jonathan, Carey, and Stephen Peck. Still, making the movie was a disaster, and though it was a financial success, he and director William Wyler didn’t speak for three years afterward.
The Big Country/United Artists
13. His portrayal of Atticus Finch is considered the best of his career, and the character was even honored as The Greatest Film Hero of the Past 100 Years by the American Film Institute in 2003.
To Kill a Mockingbird/Universal Pictures
14. With his deep voice and 6 ft. 3 inch height, Gregory Peck was rather intimidating to work with, at least physically. It didn’t help that the actor’s stature enabled him to do a majority of his own fight scenes throughout his career!
Duel in the Sun/Vanguard Films
15. His 1962 film Cape Fear was another success for the actor, so much so that when the film was remade in 1991, he was once again cast in the movie! His co-stars from the original, Robert Mitchum and Martin Balsam, were also in the remake.
Cape Fear/Universal Pictures
16. His political leanings were well-known in Hollywood, and not just because of his telling movie choices. He was an outspoken opponent of the House Un-American Activities Committee and was even featured on Nixon’s “enemies list.”
17. Gregory Peck had interests outside of Hollywood, including horse racing. He owned the thoroughbred steeplechase race horse Different Class, which was favored for the 1968 Grand National. The horse ended up finishing third!
18. Peck was almost the U.S. ambassador to Ireland, but since President Johnson didn’t run for re-election, it never happened. Gregory did say he would’ve accepted the role, noting it “would have been a great adventure.”
19. President Johnson did honor Gregory Peck with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1969, which is the highest honor a civilian can receive in the United States. He was also given Lifetime Achievement Awards by SAG and AFI.
20. Gregory Peck was offered the role of Grandpa Joe in the movie Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but he died of bronchopneumonia before he could accept it. Brock Peters, who played Tom Robinson in To Kill a Mockingbird, read his eulogy.
To Kill a Mockingbird/Universal Pictures
21. Though he died over a decade ago, Gregory Peck’s influence can still be felt thanks to his iconic screen roles. He had the pleasure of sharing the screen with many movie icons over the years, especially one special ingenue.
22. In 1929, a British subject and a Dutch noblewoman welcomed their daughter, Audrey Hepburn, in Belgium. She was bound to live a uniquely European experience. You’d think her childhood would be sheltered, prim, free of concern.
23. Her trademark elegance wasn’t learned in finishing school. Initially, she enjoyed all the privileges of a well connected international family — language lessons, travel, money — but World War II shifted the foundation and future of her family.
Audrey Hepburn Estate Collection
24. Given her father Joseph’s prominent position in the community, he was targeted for recruitment by the British Union of Fascists. He made a quick convert, but his dedication to their cause derailed his entire life. He left his wife and daughter unceremoniously for the Fascist Party in 1935.
25. In her own right, Audrey’s mother, Baroness Ella van Heemstra, shared Nazi sympathies before the start of the war. She even sang Hitler’s praises in fascist publications. But life under German occupation opened her eyes to the horrors of her past political affiliations.
Audrey Hepburn Estate Collection
26. Their divorce was finalized at the beginning of the war, leaving young Audrey devastated. The New York Post quoted her opinion on divorce: “It tortures a child beyond measure,” she said. “Children need two parents for their emotional equilibrium in life.”
The Vintage News
27. Hoping to shield her daughter from the impact of the war, Ella moved them back to Arnhem in the Netherlands. Naively, she believed the Dutch would remain neutral, untouched by the conflict. But within months, Germany invaded; the war had begun.
28. Ella regretted bringing her daughter back to the Netherlands. Audrey recalled, “Had we known that we were going to be occupied for five years, we might have all shot ourselves. We thought it might be over next week…six months…next year…that’s how we got through.”
29. “The first few months, we didn’t know quite what had happened,” Audrey said. “I just went to school.” The telltale signs of Nazi invasion cropped up all around her: swastikas plastered the city, German signs were posted, even in school, math equations centered on bomb droppings.
Times of Israel
30. Audrey adopted a less English sounding name, Edda van Heemstra, using her mother’s maiden name. She was forbidden from speaking English in public to avoid negative suspicions about her British citizenship. The only place she felt free was on the dance floor.
31. Trained in ballet during her boarding school years, Audrey continued her lessons in the Arnhem Conservatory. Her talent was obvious, and she was a favorite of her teacher, Winja Marova.
The Vintage News
32. Her bubble of escapism burst in 1942 with the death of her uncle Otto. In the family’s attempts to fly under the radar, avoiding any resistance activity, they still suffered at the hands of the Nazis.
33. Otto van Limburg Strium faced death as punishment for rebellious acts he had no part in. Chosen solely as a message to others, he was executed for his high social standing. He was forced to dig his own grave until he was executed at the stake.
34. This trauma, along with the fact that her half brother Ian was abducted and forced into a German labor camp, led the family to flee to the neighboring village of Velp. Taking refuge in the house of her grandfather, Audrey plotted to help the resistance.
35. Both Audrey and her mother became fully committed to the Allied forces. Making use of her talents, Audrey performed at secret events as a dancer for Dr. Hendrik Visser Hooft’s underground resistance.
Times of Israel
36. Despite their titles, Audrey’s family was deeply impoverished. She remembered, “My mother didn’t have a dime.” Citywide, people were starving. Audrey and her friends, weak from malnutrition, rattled off the foods that haunted their dreams, then went home to dine on tulip bulb flour.
Dutch Network War Collection
37. Teen Audrey blended into the crowd, delivering the Oranjekrant resistance newspapers. “I stuffed them in my woolen socks…got on my bike and delivered them,” she said. Paper was in short supply, so each edition was printed on a small pocket-sized napkin.
38. In her own small ways, Audrey worked against the Nazi party. Visser Hooft, who later went on to be the 1st secretary general for the World Council of Churches, noted her advanced skill with English language…so he tasked her with a special job.
39. The 15-year-old future star slipped into an area of downed Allied pilots, passing messages and bearing food packages. Her age and ability to speak English made her uniquely qualified to avoid suspicion.
40. Since the murder of her brother, and after watching friends, neighbors, and children get carried off to concentration camps, Audrey’s mother regretted her past association with the fascist party. So, she took a risk for the resistance that put them all in danger.
41. Ella followed in her daughter’s footsteps and harbored an enemy pilot. The details of his stay are murky, but Audrey’s son, Luca, remembered his mother lighting up at the mention of their secret guest. Luckily, the English pilot whose craft was shot down escaped undetected.
42. Relief came at last in 1945. Allied troops marched into the city, but when they reached the Hepburn’s house, their guns remained raised. Audrey’s English prowess came in handy once again, as her cries stopped them from ambushing the family.
43. “Not only have we liberated a town; we have liberated an English girl,” the soldiers hollered out, letting their weapons fall. That was the end of the war, but the memories of the hunger and violence of survival stayed with Audrey forever…
44. Once out from the grips of German occupancy, Audrey went on to blossom into one of the most iconic actresses of all time. Her former sheepish nature, a handy tool for espionage, became one of her best-remembered charms.
45. The Breakfast at Tiffany’s actress had that certain quiet courage perfectly suited for undercover missions, something she shared with another famously dignified woman of notoriety — Julia Child.
Radcliffe Institute Harvard University
46. Before she became a household name, Julia Child was called Julia McWilliams. Back then, her grand ambitions simmered like a beautiful bouillabaisse, yet they had absolutely nothing to do with food.
47. From high school, Julia, a bright pupil, went straight to Smith College. There, she studied history and was an active member of the Student Council and a competitor on the basketball court. But things were about to change for her — and for the nation.
Smith College / Twitter
48. When the tumult of World War II was growing, Julia heard the call to fight for her country. She decided to join the military, and her branch of choice was the Women’s Army Corps. However, her dream to serve came to a halt fairly fast.
49. Julia exceeded the height requirements, as she stood at 6′ 2″. Acapella group The Bobs penned their song “Julia’s Too Tall” about culinary master’s life. As the lyrics tell it, “She’s too tall to be a spy, but not too tall to bake a pie…”
50. Julia didn’t dwell on the military denial for long. She volunteered for the Office of Strategic Services, the OSS for short. Sitting down with the future famed chef, they recognized her potential, documenting in her interview notes, “Good impression, pleasant, alert, capable, very tall.”
51. The OSS was a brand new organization, the predecessor to the Central Intelligence Agency. Julia was in the thick of it all during the formative years of the lofty organization and saw a wide variety of sensitive projects throughout her tenure.
52. Among the 4,500 women who served in the OSS, Julia held a particularly important role. Working at the headquarters in Washington DC, her job reported directly to General William J. Donovan, the man appointed by FDR to head the OSS.
United States Army Special Operations Command
53. Every day Julia would sit at her OSS Headquarters desk, clacking away at a typewriter. Her job, a research assistant for the division of Secret Intelligence, involved keeping track of the thousands of names of each member of the armed services.
54. At first, she was riding an undeniably boring desk job. However, after months of monotony, higher-ups took notice of Julia’s sharp mind. Thrilled to escaped her typist work, she climbed the ranks of various departments, working with top officials.
55. Julia moved on to the Emergency Sea Rescue Equipment Section, where she was set with a specific request. During WWII, besides having to cope with the harrowing realities of war, soldiers on the seas were facing a more ferocious predator who didn’t discriminate in its attacks.
56. Naval Officers were vulnerable to sharks. As more soldiers flocked to the shark-infested waters, the problem became too gruesome to ignore. In fact, there were over 20 documented cases of military men attacked by the ocean’s gnarliest meat-eaters in less than 18 months.
That Was History / YouTube
57. Sharks threatened the safety of individual sailors but also had the potential to sink larger military missions. The curious creatures would occasionally swim head-on into explosives intended for German U-boats, resulting in a huge waste of time, money, and sea life.
58. Joint Chiefs of Staff, frustrated by this unforeseen complication, wanted to nip it in the bud as quickly as possible. There were, figuratively, bigger fish to fry. So, they tasked the Office of Strategic Services with developing a strategy to solve the shark situation.
59. So, just a month after the agency’s inception, the OSS started a project worthy of Adam West’s Batman — shark repellent. The ERE, lead by Dr. Henry Field and Captain Harold J. Coolidge, began trial-and-error testing various lethal poisons.
60. Julia worked directly with Coolidge as his Executive Assistant while they tested their anti-shark recipes. Unfortunately, her hands were not yet trained in the culinary arts, so Julia couldn’t offer ingredient suggestions. Though, admittedly, Julia’s additions would probably involve clarified butter and squeeze of lemon.
61. Julia reflected on the project, “I must say we had lots of fun. We designed rescue kits and other agent paraphernalia. I understand the shark repellent we developed is being used today for downed space equipment.”
62. Eventually, they settled on a mixture of copper acetate and black dye. Formed into a noxious little cake, it was released into waters and emitted a powerful odor of dead shark.
63. When the shark project finished, Julia was promoted yet again, this time to Chief of the OSS Registry. She set off for Ceylon, now known as Sri Lanka. She was then re-stationed in Kunming, China, where she oversaw every bit of intelligence in her department.
64. Asked about her duties, Julia downplayed her position, saying she was merely a clerk. Her husband, Paul Child, set the record straight. Julia was responsible for highly classified documents, including the orders of the invasion of the Malay Peninsula.
65. The details were hush-hush, but Paul had a good idea of Julia’s duties because he too was an OSS Officer. The couple met during Julia’s two-year stint as Chief of Registry. In her off hours Julia was falling in love with her future husband and his passion for fine French cuisine.
Food and Wine
66. Yep, it was through her husband that Julia discovered her fascination with cookery and food. By her own admission, she was a disaster in the kitchen up until that point. Growing up, her family had even had a cook prepare all of their meals.
67. The lovebirds were married in 1946. Two years later, Paul was reassigned to France, so they relocated to the hub of fine dining. It was then that Julia buttoned her chef’s coat and began the journey to becoming one of the culinary world’s most cherished icons.