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Hollywood remembers an actor and a gentleman
(Top) Cecilia and Anthony, Gregory Peck’s daughter and son, at the memorial mass. Altar boys light candles before the memorial service as the late actor’s face appears on a big screen monitor at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles. (AP/Reuters)

Los Angeles, June 17 (Reuters): Movie stars rubbed shoulders with ordinary film fans on Monday as they paid final tribute to Gregory Peck, remembering him as one of the last heroes of Hollywood’s golden era and a man symbolising integrity on and off screen.

Close to 3,000 people turned out for an afternoon memorial service led by Roman Catholic Cardinal Roger Mahony at the newly built Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels in downtown Los Angeles.

Peck, who was 87, died peacefully at his Los Angeles home last Thursday with his French-born wife of 48 years, Veronique, at his side.

“Gregory Peck did not have to act at being an extraordinary human being,” Mahony said during his homily, recalling the actor’s support for literacy programmes and many other social causes.“Gregory Peck was a man of unique authenticity... of deep personal integrity.”

The eulogy was delivered by actor Brock Peters, a longtime friend and co-star of Peck in his most famous movie, To Kill a Mockingbird. Peters, now 75, played the unjustly accused black man Peck defended in his Oscar-winning signature performance as the idealistic Southern white lawyer Atticus Finch in the 1962 film about racial intolerance.

Peters recalled with affection being awakened by a phone call from Peck one Sunday morning welcoming him to the cast of the movie before the two had ever met.

“I was surprised and stunned,” Peters recounted. “This was an idol of mine, both as an actor and person.... I’d only just been cast to play the role of Tom Robinson and suddenly found myself ear to ear... voice to voice with Gregory Peck — and I dropped the telephone.”

Peters said the phone call spoke volumes about Peck’s inner graciousness. “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,” Peters told the congregation.

Earlier in the day, Peck’s remains were laid to rest during a private interment attended by close relatives in the mausoleum beneath the cathedral.

Stars and members of the public later filed past the polished limestone crypt, engraved with the actor’s name, a cross and the dates of his birth and death.

Among the celebrities attending the service were Lauren Bacall, Harrison Ford, Calista Flockhart, Harry Belafonte, Michael Jackson, Anjelica Huston, television producer Norman Lear and actor Jimmy Smits, who co-starred with Peck in one of his last films, 1989’s Old Gringo.

Peck’s children — Stephen, Anthony, Cecilia and Carey — spoke briefly during the service, consisting of prayers, hymns and a special video salute to the actor known for his gentlemanly, upright demeanour, quiet dignity and compassion for the underdog.

In one clip from a question-and-answer session late in life, Peck was asked how he most wanted to be remembered.

“I would like be remembered as a good husband and father,” he said at first. “As a professional, I’d like to be thought of as a storyteller.”

The tall, square-jawed actor with a deep, sonorous voice made more than 50 films in a career spanning six decades, his most memorable, including Roman Holiday with Audrey Hepburn, Gentleman’s Agreement, The Guns of Navarone and a rare turn as the villain in The Boys from Brazil.

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