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A Conversation with Gregory Peck
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A Conversation With Gregory Peck

Not your usual film biography, A Conversation With Gregory Peck (2000) goes on-the-road and behind-the-scenes with Gregory Peck and his one man show. The actor's traveling program features question and answer sessions with the American icon and allows the actor to reminisce about his career. This documentary was put together by director Barbara Kopple whose past successes include the Oscar® winning Best Documentaries Harlan County, U.S.A. (1976) about a Kentucky coal miners strike and American Dream (1991) which explores the problems facing a meatpackers union. She also directed the 1997 documentary Wild Man Blues, that captures the elusive Woody Allen showing off his musical skills with a jazz band.

Gregory Peck's story begins in La Jolla California, where he was born April 5, 1916, and the documentary follows him to Berkeley where he first discovered acting in college. As the story goes, it seems a group staging scenes from Moby Dick needed "a tall, skinny Starbuck to go with [an already cast] short, fat Ahab." Peck decided to give it a try (abandoning his pre-med studies) and ended up doing five plays in his senior year. Fresh out of college, Peck set off for New York, where he won a scholarship to the Playhouse School to study method acting. In September of 1942, he made his Broadway debut in the play The Morning Star. Although the play wasn't a success, it was enough to draw the attention of Hollywood. And Peck was soon cast in the Jacques Tourneur film Days of Glory (1944).

A Conversation with Gregory Peck includes clips from many of Peck's films including Days of Glory and his second feature role, as a Catholic missionary, in The Keys of the Kingdom (1944). It's interesting to watch Peck's reaction backstage during a montage of his greatest movies: MacArthur (1977), Moby Dick (1956), Cape Fear (1962) and The Yearling (1946), just to name a few. Peck talks about playing a bad guy in Duel in the Sun (1946) opposite Jennifer Jones and about working with newcomer Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday (1953). He also reveals his insistence that Hepburn's name be included with his over the title. And it was very intuitive on Peck's part - Hepburn would go on to win the Oscar for the role.

Of course Peck spends a lot of time reminiscing about his favorite film - To Kill A Mockingbird (1962). He tells of meeting the author of the book, Harper Lee, and how, after her father's death, she gave Peck her father's pocket watch. It was a gift he would always treasure and carried it with him on Oscar® night, when Peck was awarded the Best Actor award for To Kill A Mockingbird. The documentary includes footage of the awards ceremony with Sophia Loren presenting Peck his Oscar®.

But more than showcasing his career, A Conversation With Gregory Peck reveals the actor's generosity to his fans. Continually, he is gracious with requests for autographs, takes photos and goes out of his way to let his admirers know he appreciates them.

More importantly, A Conversation with Gregory Peck depicts the actor as a dedicated family man, illustrated by candid home movies with his children and grandchildren. Peck is seen in his greenhouse caring for orchids, holding his newborn grandson, hanging out watching basketball, getting a haircut from his daughter and a neck rub from his son. He visits Paris with his wife and daughter, and tells his favorite story about meeting his wife Veronique. And when asked what he'd like to be remembered for, Peck answers "as a good husband and father" before even mentioning his movie legacy.

Other famous faces turn up in the documentary, like long time friend (and co-star) Lauren Bacall. The Pecks dine in Paris with Jacques Chirac. He is honored with the National Medal of the Arts by President Clinton. And Mary Badham (Scout from To Kill A Mockingbird) attends one of Peck's talks, admitting that she still calls him Atticus.

A Conversation With Gregory Peck is all the more poignant with Peck's recent death on June 12, 2003 at the age of 87. Just weeks before his death, the American Film Institute had named Peck's character Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird as cinema's top hero on its list of 100 Heroes and Villains. It was a tribute that hopefully gratified Peck, seeing his favorite movie character so honored. His approach to acting was, after all, to simply be "a good storyteller."

Producer: Barbara Kopple, Cecilia Peck, Linda Saffire
Director: Barbara Kopple
Cinematography: Tom Hurwitz, Don Lenzer, Sandi Sissel
Film Editing: Bob Eisenhardt
Music: Art Labriola
Cast: Gregory Peck, Lauren Bacall, Cecilia Peck.
BW & C-97m. Closed captioning.

by Stephanie Thames

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