Cinema: Leading Man

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Three or four nights a week, he has an odd, recurring dream. He is an athlete in a jampacked, outsized stadium. He takes off for an efficient, unspectacular broad jump. But he suddenly soars past the pit and over the heads of the officials, zooms right on over the stadium wall in a long, majestic arc, and wakes before he lands.

Except for his good looks, which are considerably above average, Gregory Peck is an average young man who has made a fairly fast and dizzying jump to movie stardom. Since his arrival in Hollywood four years ago, he has carried a large part of the burden of an aggregate Hollywood investment of some $23 million, and has been instrumental in grossing a total of at least $50 million. With his ninth—and newest—picture, The Paradine Case (see below), he is in such demand that he has had to turn down starring roles in some 30 other pictures, most of them major productions.

During 1947, cinemaddicts watched him as a gentle back-country father in The Yearling, as a lady-killing hunter in The Macomber Affair, as Lascivious Lewt in Duel in the Sun, and as the crusading journalist in Gentleman's Agreement—performances which established him as an actor of solidity and range.

Peck, at 31, has moved up into a secure place on the list of the nation's top ten box-office draws. He can count on 5,000 fan letters a week. He has been respectfully mentioned four times as a candidate for the Academy Award; his performance in Gentleman's Agreement makes him a red-hot contender for the 1947 Oscar.

Like the average man that he is, Peck is nobody's fool. He knows that his talents, though real, are not extraordinary. He is acutely aware of the wide gap between his natural abilities and his smashing success. He knows pretty well how much of his spectacular rise he can credit to himself, how much to pure luck, how much to the peculiarities of the flying-trapeze world he works in. He fully expects to wake up one of these days and find himself in San Diego again, driving a truck.

Up in fhe Air. Peck's boyhood, like his current dreams, was up in the air. His parents were divorced when he was a small child, and he was split up and parceled out among relatives, as he was later to be divided among the studios. He felt something like security only with his father, a charming, easygoing ex-basketball star who had failed in business as a druggist and hoped his son might become a doctor. Although Gregory was a handsome boy, he tended to stand back and watch while the cheerleaders and backfield men made off with the only girls who interested him. When at last he got a girl of his own, he fell as much in love with her secure family life as with her. Hoping to get married, he threw over medicine and took a job driving an oil truck. He lost direction again when he lost the girl; and, with nothing better to do, began putting himself through the University of California by waiting on table.

He pulled an A in Elizabethan literature, but he wasn't much of a student. One thing he did enjoy was rowing. His crew was good enough to row at Poughkeepsie; but his career as an oarsman ended abruptly when he hurt his spine.

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