Mary Badham (above) and Phillip Alford (below) both looked up to Gregory Peck in Mulligan's "To Kill a Mockingbird." So did the audience in those days.Growing up, I paid scant attention to Gregory Peck. He wasn't my favorite movie star. I thought him too stiff and reserved, emotionally distant. What can I say? I was young and stupid.
But these days, when I look at what Hollywood passes off as men, Peck looks and sounds pretty good. Watching one of his films now, I see a genuine grown up - a fully formed, mature man. You don't see much of that on screen anymore, not even in the work of an elder statesman like Jack Nicholson.
It made me wonder - why aren't there any actors who want to be like Gregory Peck, who want to be "the next Gregory Peck" or who remind us, even slightly, of Gregory Peck? A few years ago, I read an article in which contemporary actors were asked what actors from the past they appreciated the most and hoped to emulate and the name invoked the most was Steve McQueen, a fine, commanding actor who shrewdly couched a certain immaturity into his performances. It was novel and appealing when the person in question was Steve McQueen, less so when it's (well, fill in the space with a young actor, almost any young actor, today).
Cary Grant, of course, is also a big reference point for most of today's actors. George Clooney is "the new Cary Grant," don't cha know.
But no one ever calls forth the name of Gregory Peck.
Tom Cruise is currently 48, although he seems like an eternal boy. Peck was actually three years younger than Cruise when he played his most defining character - Atticus Finch in Robert Mulligan's film of Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird" in 1961. (The film was released in 1962.)
No one would ever mistake Atticus Finch for a boy.
And I, for one, have given up on the idea of Cruise ever playing a character even remotely like Finch, even remotely mature.
By the way, Peck is currently being honored by Turner Classic Movies as its Star of the Month, via 26 titles. Tune in and see what it means to be a man, to be a grown up. Then go see Cruise in "Knight and Day."
Note in Passing: As another point of reference, Clark Gable was 37 - 11 years younger than Cruise - when he appeared in "Gone with the Wind."
Wow! Well put.
My favorite Peck role was in "Spellbound". It was one of those few roles that he had in which he was less than in control. Another one is "Gentlemen's Agreement". Not so much the role as just the movie itself, shining a light on anti-semitism.
Strangely enough, one of his greatest performances is in a film which now seems lost (it isn't included in the Turner line-up): THE MACOMBER AFFAIR, directed by Zoltan Korda in 1948. It's based on Ernest Hemingway's short story, "The Short, Happy Life of Francis Macomber", and it also stars Joan Bennett and Robert Preston, and it is absolutely riveting. As in DUEL IN THE SUN, Peck gets to be sexy and mean, and he does it very well; by the middle of the movie, when Joan Bennett is openly lusting after Peck, leaving Preston squirming, angry and humiliated, the tensions are so palpable, so thick (as they used to say) you could cut it with a knife. It's the best sustained film based on Hemingway that i know, and truly captures Hemingway's aesthetic. And Peck gives a commanding performance as the Hemingway archetype (far better than he is in the mishmash that is THE SNOWS OF KILIMANJARO). He uses everything in his arsenal: the ripely protruding lower lip, the way he can arch one eyebrow, his sideways grin, to create a portrait of an instinctive, sexual man.
Daryl- Good point. People rarely talk of Peck in terms of his sexuality, probably because he didn't push it himself. It rarely drove his performances but when it did, it was powerful.
I know what you mean by the immaturity that is pervasive among most of the screen actors today. Bruce Willis is actually a very good actor, but he insists on always being the bad boy - the operative word being boy. Just about all of the comic actors today are boys, not men. I guess it has something to do with our youth-obsessed society. NO one thinks it's unattractive to be immature.
Oddly enough, I think Leonardo DiCaprio, who I thought would always be an "eternal boy," has been making great strides in playing mature men, certainly in this films for Scorsese.
Hi, I was actually looking for Night Terrors and came accross this post. Glad I stopped by.
Hey, thanks for making the mistake!
How utterly depressing. Very, very sad.
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We-ell. I agree with you that there is something about Cruise that is off-putting and that a lot of that is the sense that he is not quite grown up. But it's also true that Cary Grant was older in North by Northwest (59)than Wilford Brimley was in Cocoon (51), and I wouldn't say that Cary Grant failed to give the impression he was an adult.
Your point is well taken, but it's also true that Clark Gable aged faster than any movie star you can think of. Look at the difference between the skinny, charming Gable in "It Happened One Night" (1934) and the 1939 Rhett Butler. And when Gable died in 1960, he was only 59 years old, but looked at least 70.
Cruise seems most interesting to me when he's working with directors who know how to exploit his peculiar star persona. He's perfect in Eyes Wide Shut because of the ways in which Kubrick tears apart the arrogance and sexual confusion in both Cruise and his character. He's also excellent in Collateral, in which Michael Mann channels Cruise's celebrity blankness into an icy, emotionless hitman, a consummate professional who only lets his real self show through in momentary flashes.
One word: Scientology
MAD MEN suggests that Jon Hamm has classic movie star potential, but I suspect those kind of roles won't be there for him in features (and, if he's like most actors these days, he'd probably rather show his range than develop a star persona anyway).
Never been a huge Peck fan (some selected exceptions: TWELVE O'CLOCK HIGH, THE GUNFIGHTER, MOCKINGBIRD, I WALK THE LINE), but I certainly take your point, Joe. And he made a lot of great movies, even if I didn't often think he was the best thing in them.
Josh (probably a) Hamm (?!), please. I had to endure an hour of "True Blood" (felt like 3) on Sunday at a friend's house, drew the line on watching "Mad Men" (True Blood in 1960's vintage suits/both shows are costumed soap opera style drama) & split. Also not a major Peck fan but do like a lot of his films (some Hitchcock & "The Boys from Brazil" come to mind).
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