I feel that a majority of Americans feel that Joseph Robinette Biden is a good person, a decent human, especially after that time a lying, cheating, adulterous, racist, homophobic, misogynistic, traitorous television reality show host became an authoritarian POTUS (can you believe that happened?). I also have an inkling that good guys are going to be a thing. Gregory Peck (1916 – 2003) is the sort of gentleman I think would make a good role model for our COVID-age.
Starting out his career around the same time as tough guys Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster, Peck is lumped with those beacons of decency Gary Cooper and James Stewart. Academy Award-nominated for playing a priest in his second feature, The Keys Of The Kingdom (1944), Peck has the earnest intensity that appealed to postwar audiences and more Oscar nominations came for playing a postbellum farmer in The Yearling (1946), a journalist investigating anti-Semitism in Gentleman’s Agreement (1947) and an authoritarian air force officer in Twelve O’Clock High (1949).
He worked a lot, but he struggled to diversify and was rarely allowed to explore his darker side, especially after he won the Oscar as principled lawyer Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird (1963). Eventually, Peck was nominated for MacArthur (1977) and for The Boys From Brazil (1978), where he plays nasty Nazi, Josef Mengele. But he was always much finer actor than the Hollywood studio system allowed him to be.
Peck was a lifelong liberal, a progressive and a supporter of the Democratic party. In 1947, along with Melvin Douglas (who shares a birthday with Peck), he was investigated by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) investigation of alleged communists in the film industry. Peck signed a letter deploring the committee’s actions. President Richard Nixon placed Peck and Douglas on his enemies list due to their liberal activism. They both considered the inclusion to be a badge of honor. Peck:
“I hold no brief for Communists, but I believe in and will defend their right to act independently within the law. I question whether members of the committee are interested in defending our form of government or whether they are attempting to suppress political opinion at odds with their own.“
Peck was urged to run as the Democratic candidate against Ronald Reagan for California Governor in 1970.
Peck was outspoken against the Vietnam War, while remaining supportive of his son, Stephen Peck, who fought there. In 1972, Peck produced the film version of Daniel Berrigan‘s play The Trial of the Catonsville Nine (1970) about the prosecution of a group of Vietnam War protesters.
In 1987, Peck did the voice-overs for television commercials opposing President Ronald Reagan‘s Supreme Court nomination of the nasty conservative Robert Bork. Bork’s nomination was defeated.
Peck was also a vocal supporter of a worldwide ban of nuclear weapons, and as a board member of Handgun Control Inc., along with Martin Sheen, Peck was criticized for his friendship with Charlton Heston, who served as President of the National Rifle Association (NRA) from 1998 to 2003. When anti-gun activist James Brady, who’d been wounded during the assassination attempt by John Hinkley on his boss Ronald Reagan, asked him why, Peck replied:
“We’re colleagues rather than friends. We’re civil to each other when we meet. I, of course, disagree vehemently with him on gun control.“
In 1999, he publicly scolded Congress for failing to pass legislation preventing teenagers from buying guns, following the Columbine High School shooting.
Despite standing up for Gay Rights, Civil Rights, Gun Control and against the Vietnam War, Gregory Peck said of receiving his Presidential Medal of Freedom:
“I’m not a do-gooder. It embarrassed me to be classified as a humanitarian. I simply take part in activities that I believe in.“
In 1997, as a presenter at the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) Awards ceremony, he said:
“It just seems silly to me that something so right and simple has to be fought at all.“