Gregory Peck: A Charmed Life

Overview

His first screen test was a disaster, his features were large and irregular and his left ear outsized the right, yet he would one day be headlined as the Most Handsome Man in the World. And most of his leading ladies-among them, Ingrid Bergman in Spellbound, Jennifer Jones in Duel in the Sun, Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, Sophia Loren in Arabesque, Ava Gardner in On the Beach-would not disagree. Nor would Greta Konen, the vivacious hairdresser who in 1942 married a shy, insecure New York stage actor named ...
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Overview

His first screen test was a disaster, his features were large and irregular and his left ear outsized the right, yet he would one day be headlined as the Most Handsome Man in the World. And most of his leading ladies-among them, Ingrid Bergman in Spellbound, Jennifer Jones in Duel in the Sun, Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, Sophia Loren in Arabesque, Ava Gardner in On the Beach-would not disagree. Nor would Greta Konen, the vivacious hairdresser who in 1942 married a shy, insecure New York stage actor named Gregory Peck. Irreverent, candid, and refreshingly honest, Lynn Haney's carefully researched biography not only charts the remarkable career of the star who took the Oscar for his memorable performance as Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, but also plumbs Peck's frequently troubling complexity in his off-screen roles as husband, father, lover, son. For along with Peck's engaging charm and easy generosity came an ingrained stubbornness, explosive temper, and often-melancholy turn of mind. And with his triumphs came heartbreak, personal tragedy, failure, and doubt. This is a story cast with movie moguls, directors, and nearly every major luminary in Hollywood and, starring for the first time in toto, Gregory Peck.
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Editorial Reviews

John DiLeo
Haney scores in her depiction of the working relationships between Peck and some maverick directors: old-timers like William Wellman, Henry Hathaway and Lewis Milestone, some of whom found the cautious, cerebral actor a real pain.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Before Peck died in 2003, Haney (Naked at the Feast: A Biography of Josephine Baker) had full access to the actor, who earned his iconic status as a national father figure after portraying the noble and taciturn Atticus Finch in 1962's To Kill a Mockingbird. The ease with which Peck inhabited that role was rare for the actor: his dogged, wooden Method approach sometimes made him the bane of critics and of fellow actors and directors trying to elicit spontaneity from him. Disciplined preparation, however, was Peck's way of compensating for the emotional toll of a peripatetic childhood and absent parents. Method preparation also, Haney says, helped correct for features that seemed "large, irregular and gaunt" up-close. Haney plumbs Peck's own neglectful fathering (Peck blamed himself for his son Jonathan's suicide) and philandering with such co-stars as Ingrid Bergman, who mentored him during the filming of Hitchcock's Spellbound (1945). Peck often projected a stentorian calm on-screen, but in private he apparently required his first wife, Greta, to cater to his "monomania"; he was also a heavy drinker. Haney writes vaguely about Peck's "being repressed," but doesn't satisfactorily investigate how an emotionally stunted actor became a cultural treasure. Haney's insider perspective on Peck-whom she refers to as "Greg" throughout-is marred by a scattershot narrative and flat, workmanlike prose. B&w photos. Agent, Jeremey Robson. (Dec.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Peck is probably best known for his portrayal of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, for which he won an Academy Award, but during his long career, he also started the La Jolla Playhouse and was active in liberal causes. Haney (Naked at the Feast: A Biography of Josephine Baker) uncovers many details about Peck's life, but her extensive breadth and depth sap the narrative. Considering that Peck had two long-term marriages and yet appeared to cheat with most of his leading ladies, one assumes the book would be a dramatic, engrossing read. Unfortunately, like Gary Fishgall's Gregory Peck, it is rather wooden, an adjective often applied to Peck's acting, and doesn't offer much insight into the man-strange, given that Haney befriended Peck while working at the National Endowment for the Arts. However, this is the first major biography of Peck since his death and a chronicle of an acting career that spanned five decades. For larger film collections.-Rosellen Brewer, formerly with Monterey Cty. Free Libs., Salinas, CA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The movie actor's career-and careerism-get generous scrutiny from a veteran pop biographer. In Haney's profile, Peck (1916-2003) is a fascinatingly ambiguous character. He had the looks and voice to make Hollywood fall to its knees, the author writes, but he also had a fragile ego and fell short in the talent department. Yet he was dedicated to his work and knew how to make and keep useful friends. After the married Peck's fling with Ingrid Bergman on the set of Spellbound, notes Haney (Naked at the Feast, not reviewed, etc.), "the important thing for him was to preserve their friendship. On his way up, he needed to forge lasting bonds with his more successful colleagues. . . . From a career standpoint, it was a smart strategy. Domestically, it probably didn't play so well." When it came to HUAC's interrogation of left-leaning Hollywood, the author concludes, Peck "never took a front position at the barricades; his was not one of the braver stance . . . committed political activism would have taken too much time away from his career." Keeping that career afloat occupied so much of his attention that his first marriage crumbled, though the actor appears to have learned a lesson. In later life he displayed more of the gumption that fired his Oscar-winning performance as Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, pulling close to his second family, speaking out on abortion, gun control, and gay rights, and throwing a dart at Robert Bork's nomination for the Supreme Court. Haney covers all Peck's films, from storylines to activities on the set, probing as deeply into his acting qualities as she does into his politics and ambition. His work got better through the years, she writes, but concludesthat he will not be remembered as a brilliant actor so much as a fine and human one. A perspective-setting biography: gracious, but pulling no punches. (16 pp. b&w photos)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780786714735
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press
  • Publication date: 12/28/2004
  • Pages: 475
  • Product dimensions: 6.26 (w) x 9.12 (h) x 1.48 (d)

Meet the Author


Lynn Haney is the author of Naked at the Feast: A Biography of Josephine Baker and ten other books. She became friends with Gregory Peck during her employment at the National Endowment for the Arts, and she has worked at CBS Television News and the New York Times. She lives in Guilford, Connecticut.
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