Rina Pertusi's
Gregory Peck Encounter

Gregory Peck

Last Updated on July 04, 1998

     I have been a huge fan of Gregory Peck's for twenty years since I saw "To Kill A Mockingbird". To me Gregory Peck WAS Atticus Finch, and even though I can rationally say that he is an actor who once played this fictional character, it is still hard for me to divorce the two. I had seen a few other movies that he was in, but I own "To Kill A Mockingbird" and I don't collect movies. In fact, the movie moves me so much that I become catatonic after watching it ...totally blown away, and I need time to recover. Over the years I have read about Mr. Peck, his beautiful wife Veronique, and seen him accept awards and such. His movements and demeanor seemed to me to be consistent with the gentle, intellgent man he played so well in my favorite movie.

     I got the opportunity of a lifetime last Saturday night when I actually met my hero. I accompanied my husband and parents to the play "The Beauty Queen of Leaanne" in New York City and had seats in the fifth row center. As the lights were dimming, I looked down my row and thought I was hallucinating when I spotted Mr. Peck. I asked my father, who was three seats closer than me to confirm that it was, in fact, him. After all, that very day walking around the city I had thought I had seen someone famous and my husband had said well it's not Gregory Peck!

     Well, indeed it was Gregory there in the theatre. I almost had a nervous breakdown trying to figure out if I would have the chance to speak to him..and what I could posssibly say in so little time. I was totally distracted from the show as me heart beat faster and faster as I carefully planned my words.

     When at last the curtain fell for the intermission, I sprang out of my seat, and not caring whose knee-caps I'd be breaking, practically charged over to Mr. Peck. There had been a vacant seat to his left (his wife wasn't there) and he was standing to let other people pass. I said "Mr. Peck, may I say a few words to you?" and he told me I could and invited me to sit beside him.

     The fact that I actually managed to say anything that I had planned is still amazing to me...and yet I did. I told him that the movie had a huge impact in my lfe...that I wanted to choose a husband who would have the characteristics that Atticus had in how he treated his children. I told him that I had dreamed for twenty years for the chance to actually tell him in person how wonderful an actor he is.

     Gregory Peck not only listened to what I had to say but thanked me warmly and told me how much what I had said had meant to him. We spoke all about the movie..the amazing relevance of it today, and that it is still used in high schools eveywhere. He said that he still speaks to Harper Lee and that he had seen the film again about three years ago when it was digitally remastered.

     He introduced me to his daughter Cecelia who sat on his other side, and they both asked to meet the man I did choose to marry...modeled after Atticus! I had a camera in my purse, and when I asked permission to take a picture, he requested that it not be in the theatre, but maybe later, outside. When I realized that there was a line of people standing to speak to him, I stood up and went back to my chair, amazed by the beautiful encounter. After the show ended, I watched him make his way outside, shaking hands with people every few feet. I had the chance to chase him for the picture, but as he walked a few steps further away, I decided not to take advantage of him, and enjoyed the moment of my final few glances. His daughter's guest hailed a yellow taxi, closed the door for him after he got in the back, and off they sped in the night. I could kill myself for not getting the picture.

     The encounter filled me with tremendous emotion and I shocked myself by actually crying for six hours the next day. It is hard to put into words what exactly I felt other than this: I had the chance to briefly be with greatness...a chance to look into the beautiful eyes of a man who is as smart, funny, gentle and nice and I always had hoped he would be. There were no bodyguards to push me away, just a mortal man who invited me to sit down and talk. For me, he defined class, and charm and grace, all the componenets missing from the movie stars of today. He is a mega-star and just a fine human being at the same time.

     I realized later that I had, of course, not said anything to Mr. Peck that he hadn't heard a zillion times before, and yet he made me feel like I was his first fan. Cecelia Peck is not only very beautiful, but has her fathers remarkable poise and grace herself. Instead of resenting me for storming her time with dad, she actually beamed as I told her father what he had meant to me.

     Of course, I thought of so many things that I wish I had said. He is a jewel and I hope he is happy and finishes out his amazing life knowing what a mark he has made on so many lives. He encouraged me to watch the film with my six and seven year old girl and boy (nicknamed Scout and Gem)...that it's OK if they get a little scared. And so I will watch it with them soon, and tell them that mommy once met this great man and he was everything I could have hoped he would be.

Rina Pertusi