Thompson on Hollywood

It was hard to believe it was 11 am on a Thursday morning – there was Sidney Poitier, James Darrin, Nancy Olson Livingston, Felicia Farr Lemon, Sally Kellerman, Jimmy Smitts, Marsha Hunt, Tony Danza and that was just the audience. They and 1,200 others packed the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences theater on Wilshire in Beverly Hills to honor former Academy President and Oscar-winning actor Gregory Peck as his Hollywood Legends Forever Stamp was unveiled.

The U.S. Post Office, the Academy and the Peck family went to great lengths to organize the event. M.C. Sharon Stone introduced the honor guard; then Natalie Mains, of Dixie Chicks fame, sang the National Anthem. Clips from some of Peck’s best known works – The Gunfighter, Roman Holiday, Gentlemen’s Agreement and To Kill a Mockingbird – were shown before Peck’s widow, Veronique, and his children, Cecilia, Anthony and Carey. Each spoke of the man they knew and loved and his many acts of quiet giving and political activism.

Laura Dern paid tribute to him as both an artist and the man who had started the Gregory Peck reading series at the LA Central Library, which still continues under Veronique’s guiding hand. Morgan Freeman had the audience rolling with laughter, as he told of sitting in the very same Academy theater, seeing Peck walk up the aisle and jumping from his seat to stop him dead in his tracks as Freeman dropped to knees in front of him and mumbled something about the honor of being in presence of Captain Ahab. “Get up,” were Peck’s first words to him and Freeman wondered allowed about the career path that had taken him to a place where he could be back in the theater 30 years later telling the story.

Senator Chris Dodd, the new chairman of the MPAA who still likes to be called Senator, made his debut appearance on the Academy stage, but seemed quite at home in his new surroundings. The hour-plus ceremony ended with Sharon Stone reading a poem written by Peck’s nine-year-old granddaughter and a clip from Cecilia Peck’s documentary on her father, A Conversation with Gregory Peck. She told of showing him a rough cut and her fear that he would want the more personal sections cut, but instead he not only approved it all, but asked that portions of his speech in favor of gun control be included. In a clip, he discusses how he would like to be remembered: he speaks of being a good father and husband, story teller and the hope that he did “some work that spend the test of time.” Well, he certainly did that and more.

As the first day issue stamp was being sold in the Academy lobby, 100 close friends and guests gathered in the fourth floor gallery for a champagne brunch, where more Peck stories were told. The stamp is the first in the Hollywood Legends series to be a “forever” stamp: when the price goes up, the Peck stamp will continue to be good for first class mail. The image of Peck as a very stern Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird was personally chosen by the Peck Family. The homage to Peck will continue on Friday at the Turner Classic Film Festival when Veronique, Anthony and Cecilia will do a Q & A before the 4 pm screening at Grauman’s Chinises of To Kill a Mockingbird. Mary Badham, who played Scout in the movie, also attended the stamp ceremony and will be a guest at the TCM screening as well.

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