Veronique Passani Peck, the widow of actor Gregory Peck and longtime arts patron, died Friday of heart failure at her Los Angeles home. She was 80. Born in Paris, the French journalist met the actor when she interviewed him for the newspaper France Soir. She moved to the U.S. at 23 and married the movie star. Their marriage lasted 48 years until his death in 2003. Veronique Peck helped create the Inner City Cultural Center in South Los Angeles, was a founder of the Los Angeles Music Center, and a longtime fundraiser for the Los Angeles Public Library.
“What are the chances that this day in Florida George Zimmerman would be arrested? What are the chances that we sit in Beverly Hills on this day to see To Kill A Mockingbird, and these kinds of tensions still exist in our country?” asked host Tavis Smiley during his introductory remarks Wednesday evening at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences 50th anniversary screening and L.A. premiere of Universal’s flawless digital restoration of its 1962 classic Oscar winner. As Academy members, press, industryites and the public gathered (Academy events guru Ellen Harrington who also conducted the post-screening Q&A said it sold out within two days of their announcement), the Trayvon Martin murder case was heating up in a scenario eerily reminiscent in some ways of Harper Lee’s iconic 1960 novel To Kill A Mockingbird and its film version directed by Robert Mulligan.
Although the story deals with heroic lawyer Atticus Finch, as played by Gregory Peck in his Oscar winning performance, defending an innocent black man (Brock Peters) against the inflammatory accusations of a young white woman in the Jim Crow south of the 1930s , it also a movie about many other things including the love of a father and is one of the best, if not the best, film about childhood ever committed to celluloid. Mary Badham who was 10 years old at the time she played Scout was in attendance and received a standing ovation when she was introduced after the film for a Q&A along with civil rights attorney Connie Rice …
The 50th Anniversary celebration of the Academy Award winning 1962 classic, To Kill A Mockingbird just got a very high profile addition with the American Film Institute’s announcement today that the film will be screened tomorrow night, April 5, at the White House Family Theatre with an introduction from President Obama. The date also coincidentally marks the 96th birthday of the film’s star, Gregory Peck who served as Founding Chair of the AFI Board of Trustees from 1967 to 1969. It is also significant for the AFI since the Institute was created in the White House Rose Garden in 1965 in a ceremony presided over by President Lyndon Johnson.
Among those attending will be the film’s Oscar nominated co-star Mary Badham, Peck’s family including wife Veronique, AFI Chair Sir Howard Stringer , Universal President and COO Ron Meyer, U’s Chairman Adam Fogelson, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and AFI President and CEO Bob Gazzale. Also in attendance will be a group of students from DC area schools.
With yesterday’s announcement that the President will also introduce the film for the USA Network’s broadcast of the digital restoration on April 7th, the film is getting a strong boost for its half-century milestone. The AFI previously named Atticus Finch as the greatest hero in the history of American Film.