The part of the liberal Southern lawyer battling racial prejudice in the film of Harper Lee's novel might have been written specially for him.
But Peck's effortless ability to radiate nobility and integrity against the odds carried with it the inference that there might be imperfections in the American way of life.
In 1941 he joined the Cape Playhouse at Cape Cod in 1941, and the following season he played on Broadway opposite Jill Esmond (Laurence Olivier's first wife) in Emlyn Williams's Morning Star.But when Peck took a screen test in 1941 he did not impress.Gregory senior married a girl from St Louis, who was obliged to become Roman Catholic.But soon after Gregory junior was born, the drugstore went bankrupt, the marriage failed, and his mother took him back to St Louis.Peck himself was nominated five times for an Oscar, for his roles in The Keys of the Kingdom (1944), The Yearling (1946), Gentleman's Agreement (1947), Twelve O'Clock High (1949) and To Kill a Mockingbird (1962).
Only on the last occasion did he carry off the prize.His paternal grandmother Catherine Ashe had been born in Co Kerry in 1864, emigrated to America at the age of 16, and married Samuel Peck, of English descent.Though her husband died young, she subsequently made a considerable sum selling corsets, and was able to give her son Gregory (the film star's father) ,000 to set up a drugstore at La Jolla."He photographs like Abe Lincoln," commented David Selznick, "but if he has a great personality, I don't think it comes through in the tests." Peck decided that his future lay in the theatre.But a spinal injury kept him out of the Second World War, and in the absence of contemporaries who had been called up, he was employed to appear as a Russian partisan in Days of Glory (1944), opposite the Russian ballerina Tamara Toumanavia.Later he was returned to La Jolla, where he was brought up by his father and by grandparents.