Gregory Peck died today, and, so far as I"m concerned, the last vestiges of all that was good and worthwhile about American culture died with him.
Ignore for a minute that Greg was a talented actor, blessed with great screen presence. Ignore that in his younger days, he was one of the most beautiful human beings to walk the planet. Ignore just how damn good so many of his movies were. Right now I'm interested in Gregory Peck as a symbol. On screen he could be the living embodiment of virtues like honor, truthfulness, and dignity. And it never rang false. Greg Peck really was a genuine Good Guy. In the hate-mongering gossip cauldron that is Hollywood, no one found anything bad to say about Greg Peck. In the old "Bloom County" strips, aliens came to earth and when searching for our leader, asked for Gregory Peck by name. I found that notion eminently believable, and often wished it were true.
He was also, to me, a living symbol and reminder of a time before the slobs, the breeders, the ignorant, and lowest-common-denominator thinking took over the country. A time when movies were GOOD, classy, and written for adults. When men wore suits and hats, people addressed each other as "Mr." and "Miss", you knew your neighbors, when America still believed in Democracy, and every bartender knew how to make a decent gimlet. A time when the adult world and the world of children were distinct, and both groups were better off for it. Maybe I'm exaggerating and my mind is clouded by false nostalgia. Maybe those days weren't so great; certainly they had their faults. But when I watch Greg's movies, and compare them to the world I inhabit, I BELIEVE in that place, and ache for it in my heart.
Greg isn't the only actor from the Golden Age of Hollywood to have this effect on me, but he was the last; the rest have long since gone. He also was the most evocative, because of his native decency and goodness. His sonorous voice was like a comforting blanket; if Greg was in a scene, everything would be alright.
Now Greg is out of the movie altogether. Even though he hadn't been in the public eye much these last decades, just knowing he was still in the world made it seem as if civilization, though teetering, hadn't entirely toppled into ruin. But now he's gone, and as far as I'm concerned, we can shut out the lights and close up shop on modern America. The barbarians have won, let them have the run of the place forever. Rome has officially fallen as of today.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go pour myself a glass of wine, watch Cape Fear and To Kill a Mockingbird, and sob my fucking heart out.
I love you, Mr. Peck. Thank you for everything.
C. Greer 6/12/03
When Gary Cooper died in 1961, a German newspaper has this to say:
"He is dead now. What a miracle that he ever existed."
That was certainly true about Coop, and I think it goes doubly for Greg as well.
My friend GB had this to say about Greg's passing:
"He was one of the last remnants of a time when men in the movies were
*men* - not testosterone-steroid freaks or 23-yr-old boys trying to act like
grownups, but a real man, with all the faults and frailties and heroism and
striving that goes with it."
"In art there is compassion, in compassion there is humanity, and in humanity there is generosity and love. Gregory Peck gave us these attributes in full measure." -Brock Peters, from Greg's eulogy