Though Gregory Peck appeared in dozens of movies over the course of his half-century Hollywood career, there’s one role that stands out: his portrayal of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. Peck earned an Oscar for playing the small-town lawyer and father, and he has inspired generations of lawyers, civil rights crusaders, and fathers to be the best they can be.
In this file photo, Gregory Peck is shown as attorney Atticus Finch, a small-town Southern lawyer who defends a black man accused of rape, in a scene from the 1962 movie "To Kill a Mockingbird." The film is among the American Film Institute's best courtroom drama movies. (AP Photo)
It can be disappointing when we learn that a favorite actor isn’t as good a person in real life as he seems in the roles he plays, but that’s not the case with Gregory Peck. Friends and coworkers described him as a good man, as good as the gentle Atticus Finch. Harper Lee, author of the book that became the movie, made two telling statements about Peck’s work: “In that film, the man and the part met,” and “Atticus Finch gave him an opportunity to play himself.”
Peck himself said of the role, “I put everything I had into it – all my feelings and everything I'd learned in 46 years of living, about family life and fathers and children. And my feelings about racial justice and inequality and opportunity.”
In his own life, Gregory Peck was both a father – five times over – and strong supporter of the Democratic Party and its platform of social justice. He was active in the movement to end the Vietnam War, though he supported his son who fought there, and he spoke out against nuclear weapons.
Peck died nine years ago today, but he and his greatest character still stand as an ideal for many of us. A champion of justice… and a loving father.
Written by Linnea Crowther