The movie actor’s career—and careerism—get generous scrutiny from a veteran pop biographer.
In Haney’s profile, Peck (1916–2003) is a fascinatingly ambiguous character. He had the looks and voice to make Hollywood fall to its knees, the author writes, but he also had a fragile ego and fell short in the talent department. Yet he was dedicated to his work and knew how to make and keep useful friends. After the married Peck’s fling with Ingrid Bergman on the set of Spellbound, notes Haney (Naked at the Feast, not reviewed, etc.), “the important thing for him was to preserve their friendship. On his way up, he needed to forge lasting bonds with his more successful colleagues. . . . From a career standpoint, it was a smart strategy. Domestically, it probably didn’t play so well.” When it came to HUAC’s interrogation of left-leaning Hollywood, the author concludes, Peck “never took a front position at the barricades; his was not one of the braver stance . . . committed political activism would have taken too much time away from his career.” Keeping that career afloat occupied so much of his attention that his first marriage crumbled, though the actor appears to have learned a lesson. In later life he displayed more of the gumption that fired his Oscar-winning performance as Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, pulling close to his second family, speaking out on abortion, gun control, and gay rights, and throwing a dart at Robert Bork’s nomination for the Supreme Court. Haney covers all Peck’s films, from storylines to activities on the set, probing as deeply into his acting qualities as she does into his politics and ambition. His work got better through the years, she writes, but concludes that he will not be remembered as a brilliant actor so much as a fine and human one.
A perspective-setting biography: gracious, but pulling no punches. (16 pp. b&w photos)