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Gregory Peck Stamp Delivers 'Mockingbird' Memories


Amid all the royal wedding hoopla this week, a ceremony for another kind of royalty - Hollywood royalty. NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates reports on a special honor for one of Hollywood's most beloved actors.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES: He was charming, a supposed tour guide in "Roman Holiday."

(Soundbite of movie, "Roman Holiday")

Mr. GREGORY PECK (Actor): (As Joe Bradley) The Mouth of Truth: legend is that if you're given to lying and you put your hand in there, it'll be bitten off.

BATES: And a writer who pretended to be Jewish in order to unmask anti-Semitism in "Gentlemen's Agreement."

(Soundbite of movie, "Gentleman's Agreement")

Mr. PECK: (As Philip Schuyler Green) I'm just going to let everyone know that I'm Jewish, that's all.

Ms. DOROTHY MCGUIRE (Actor): (As Kathy Lacy) Jewish? But you're not, are you? Not that it would make any difference to me.

BATES: In fact, Gregory Peck was the moral compass of most of his movies. But he was at his most moral, his most admirable as Atticus Finch, the hero of Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel "To Kill A Mockingbird."

(Soundbite of music)

Peck often said his portrayal of a small-town lawyer in Depression-era Alabama was his very favorite role. In it, he defends a black man wrongly accused of rape.

(Soundbite of movie, "To Kill A Mockingbird")

Mr. PECK: (As Atticus Finch): And so, a quiet, humble, respectable Negro, who has had the unmitigated temerity to feel sorry for a white woman, has had to put his word against two white people's.

BATES: So when the U.S. Postal Service released the latest stamp in its Legend of Hollywood series, depicting Peck in his role as Atticus, a lot of his admirers turned out for the unveiling. Morgan Freeman was there. So was Sharon Stone. And Sidney Poitier. And family friend Laura Dern spoke of Peck's willingness to spend his personal capital on unpopular causes.

Ms. LAURA DERN (Actress): Everybody adores Gregory Peck. And yet, he made films about post-traumatic stress disorder and racial injustice and anti-Semitism when no one was talking about it. That's an incredible thing to do, and still remain this grace-filled icon.

BATES: Peck's widow, Veronique, believes her late husband would have been gratified by the recognition.

Ms. VERONIQUE PASSANI: It's been 50 years - next year will be the 50th anniversary - and this film is still being appreciated and admired, so I think he'd be very pleased.

BATES: His daughter Cecilia thinks it's especially appropriate that Peck be honored by the post office.

Ms. CECILIA PECK VOLL: He was a great letter writer and great communicator.

BATES: And, as many of his admirers noted, so much like Atticus Finch that sometimes it was hard to know where Atticus left off and Gregory Peck began. Cecilia Peck Voll is delighted so many people still care.

Ms. VOLL: It's very, very moving to all of us to feel how much he's still remembered.

BATES: And will continue to be - Peck is the first actor to be placed on a Forever stamp.

Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

WERTHEIMER: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.