COLUMN NINETY-THREE, JUNE 15, 2003
(Copyright © 2003 The Blacklisted Journalist)
GREGORY PECK AND ME
Gregory Peck and I never
met, but there was something about me that bothered him. To me, as to most
Americans of the day, he was a movie hero, always playing roles on the side of
righteousness. I believed in what I thought he believed in. Offscreen, he seemed
to believe in the same things I believed in, too.
In those days, I was a
star feature writer on the New York Post, no big deal, considering that the
had a staff of mostly petty-minded putzes---me included. No, I wasn't too
brilliant in those days. Because one of the editors had a reason for wanting to
get me out of town, my bosses assigned me to only God remembers which of the
many feature stories that carried me to Hollywood. I sure don't remember
They were filming
To Kill a Mockingbird while I was in Hollywood and another thing I
don't remember is why my research brought me to the set. I certainly was
delighted to be able to be there.
Based on a semi-autobiographical Pulitzer Prize-winning account of Harper Lee's upbringing by her widowed father, attorney Amasa Lee, amid the
racial unrest of
small-town Southern life in Monroeville, Alabama, the film is about a small-town
Southern attorney who defends a black man unjustly accused of raping a white
plays Atticus Finch---the small-town attorney. The scene in which he addresses
the jurors in the hot, stuffy and packed Southern courtroom has since been
judged by at least one group of experts as the No. 1 dramatic scene in all of
filmdom. I certainly agree that it is an intensely riveting scene. And I was on
the set when they were filming it.
On the set, the
courtroom and the jurors were circled by microphones, lights, camera and
spellbound onlookers, one of whom was me. It is in this scene that Gregory Peck
tells the jurors:
gentlemen, in this country our courts are the great levelers, and in our courts
all men are created equal. I'm no idealist to believe firmly in the integrity of
our courts and of our jury system. That's no ideal to me. That is a living,
working reality. Now I am confident that you gentlemen will review without
passion the evidence that you have heard, come to a decision, and restore this
man to his family. In the name of God, do your duty. In the name of God, believe
Camera! Action! So Gregory begins
his speech. He gets into it a little and, while facing the circle of onlookers,
his gaze falls on me. And he stammers. Cut! He starts the scene again.
gentlemen, in this country our courts are the. . ."
I forget which is
the exact point in his speech that his gaze falls on me again. And again he stammers. Cut!
He begins a third
gentlemen, in this country our courts are. . ."
His face meets
mine and he stammers again! Cut!
He calls the
director over to him. He holds his chin in his hand as he speaks to the
director. Then, he points me out to the director. The director nods, returns to
his seat and speaks to one of his assistants. Soon, one of the crew approaches
me and asks if I'd mind viewing the proceedings from another vantage point. He
escorts me to the direct opposite of where I'd been in the circle of
They shoot the
scene again and Gregory Peck wins the Academy Award. ##
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