Remembering Gregory Peck

5 Apr 2018

 

Just over a hundred years ago, on 5 April 1916 Eldred Peck was born in San Diego, California. After graduating from Berkeley with a BA degree in English, Peck dropped the name "Eldred" in favour of his middle name Gregory and headed to New York to embark on a stage career. Here I recall my favourite of his films....

 

Roman Holiday (1953)

 

Cast: Gregory Peck (Joe Bradley), Audrey Hepburn (Princess Ann, aka Anya Smith), Eddie Albert (Irving Radovich), Hartley Power (Mr Hennessy), Paola Carlini (Mario Delani), Harcourt Williams (Ambassador).

 

Crew: Director: William Wyler. Producer: William Wyler. Written by Dalton Trumbo [but credited to Ian McLellan Hunter]. Cinematographer: Franz F Planer and Henri Alekan. Filmed in Rome. US. 118 minutes.

 

 

Story: Princess Ann (Audrey Hepburn) is on a goodwill tour of Europe. Everything is going well until she reaches Rome. There, overtired and overworked and bored with all the "wholesome" activities she has to endure, she escapes from her palace bedroom window and heads for the bright lights of Rome's café life.

 

Through another window we stumble across two American journalists, Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck) and Irving Radovich (Eddie Albert), successfully losing all their money in a game of cards. Joe leaves with only a few lira left, and like a knight in shining armour comes across our sleeping princess.

 

Believing her to be drunk he tries to get her home in a taxi but when she tells him to take her to the palace he believes her so far gone that he takes her back to his place. The next morning they both oversleep and both miss an important engagement: Princess Ann’s press conference. Joe visits his editor and tries to bluff his way, but is caught short when his editor shows him a rival's paper stating that Princess Ann is unwell. He takes one look at the photo of Her Royal Highness and dashes home with a commission that for an exclusive interview he'll get $250, for her views on clothes $1,000 and $5,000 ‘for the works’.

 

 

Ann is his ticket home and with the aid of Irving's cigarette lighter camera they concoct a plan to tail the princess and later join her for her 24-hour "Roman holiday".

 

New shoes, ice cream, a hair-cut, her first cigarette, getting chased by the police, being arrested, a date with a barber, visiting the Mouth of Truth, going dancing and becoming embroiled in fight are all squashed into a day's fun and frolics, secretly captured on film by Irving. However, as the day progresses Joe becomes rapidly reluctant to ‘Kiss and Sell’ as he and Ann begin to fall in love.

 

Background: Frank Capra had been seeking finance for this film for four years. With no sources imminent he sold the project to William Wyler. Had Capra found the cash it would have been Roman Holiday starring Cary Grant and Elizabeth Taylor.

 

 With Wyler on-board, he sent the script to Gregory Peck, his first choice for the role of Joe. Meanwhile, the studio wanted Cary Grant and sent him a script. Having turned it down, they agreed to allow Wyler to pursue Peck for the role. Peck, after having read the script, also turned it down, saying that the film belonged to the princess not the reporter. Wyler, craftily appealing to Peck's renowned lack of egotism said 'You surprise me … If you didn't like the story, okay, but because somebody else's part is a little better than yours … that's no reason to turn down a film. I didn't think you were the kind of actor who measures the size of the roles.' His tactic worked, with a marquee name on-board, Wyler was free to choose an unknown actress for the Princess. His first choice was Jean Simmons, but Simmons, under contract to Howard Hughes, was unavailable and too expensive. Wyler, in London en route to Rome, was introduced to several young actresses, one of whom was Audrey. Screen tests followed, parts offered and problems reared their heads. Audrey was already contracted to appear in Gigi on Broadway. Wyler, assuming that Gigi would only run a month, signed her anyway for a salary of $12,500. Paramount was placated. If she did well in New York, they'd have a Broadway star in the film. If she didn’t do well, what had they lost? One month turned into six, as Audrey became the toast of Broadway.

 

Shooting was postponed, and eventually when the cast and crew were assembled in Rome in June 1952 shooting began. It was a long and demanding schedule which was not completed until October. It was early on in the shoot that Gregory Peck made an important call to Hollywood, one that not many stars of his stature would make. He phoned his agent to demand that his lone above-the-title credit be amended to a shared billing with Audrey Hepburn. His reason? Audrey was stealing the show, and he would look mighty foolish come Oscar day when she wins Best Actress in a film where her credit was 'And Introducing Audrey Hepburn'. With the credits changed, the film opened at the Radio City Music Hall in August 1953 to resounding critical and commercial success. Audrey Hepburn was regarded as an overnight sensation and Peck as wonderful leading man in a comedy. As for Peck's prediction that Audrey would be an Oscar winner, well he was correct. The following year she was nominated for her first of five nominations. By the March she was clutching her first Oscar to sit alongside her The New York Film Critics Award and her Tony Award for Best Actress in her Broadway success, Gigi. She had arrived.

 

Trivia

 

The release of Roman Holiday saw Japan's immediate love affair with Audrey Hepburn. The Japanese film poster had a huge portrait shot of Audrey and a tiny image of Gregory Peck. Throughout her life, Audrey only appeared in one television campaign and that was in 1971 for a Tokyo wig manufacturer. This is ironic, as it was Audrey's gamine haircut that swept across the hair salons of Japan in 1953.

 

This was Audrey's first ‘Hollywood’ film yet she had never seen the studios for whom she was under contract nor even been to Hollywood.

 

It was at the film's London premiere that Audrey met Mel Ferrer.

 

At the time is was assumed that Princess Ann’s adventures were based on those of Princess Margaret.

The film’s screenwriter, Dalton Trumbo, was on the infamous Hollywood blacklist by the time the film was made and so the screenplay was credited to Ian McLellan Hunter.

 

The Verdict

 

Probably one of the most exquisitely stunning romantic comedies of all time. As a debut American film, Audrey could not have asked for a more a perfect role, co-star or director. The dialogue witty and the cinematography, for the most part on location in Rome, looks impressive and adds a certain charm and sunlight that could not have been captured on a back-lot in Hollywood.

 

It is a bitter-sweet fairy tale as Princess Ann tells her 'prince' they have to part otherwise she will "Turn back into a pumpkin and ride away in my glass slipper". In the film's final frames Joe turns back to look where Ann had been ushered out. He is waiting for the happy ending. We are waiting for the happy ending - the one where Princess Ann runs across the palace reception hall and falls into Joe's arms - but it doesn't come. The moral? Life is not a fairy tale.

 

 

 

Extract taken from Pocket Essential: Audrey Hepburn which can buy for 1p on Amazon!

 

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