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Pharmacist’s son and Hollywood great

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Callie JonesSome time ago (PJ, 6 June 2009, p683), I wrote about the Hollywood actor John Wayne, whose father was a pharmacist. I recently learnt that a greater Hollywood star, Gregory Peck, was also the son of a pharmacist.

Eldred Gregory Peck was born on 5 April 1916 to Gregory (“Doc”) and Bernice (“Bunny”) Peck in La Jolla, a seaside suburb of San Diego, California. Doc was La Jolla’s only community pharmacist, but soon after his son’s birth he lost his business — possibly ruined by a dishonest bookkeeper — and was forced to sell the family home.

Doc accepted a job as a night-shift pharmacist for a San Diego company, Ferris & Ferris, which provided the only 24-hour pharmacy service in the area. He was to remain with this company until retiring, aged 65, in 1951.

But the change of circumstances put a strain on Doc’s marriage. He and Bunny separated when their son was only two, and they divorced four years later. Bunny won custody of the young Greg, but it seems she was not cut out for parenthood since she went off to Los Angeles, leaving the boy with her mother in La Jolla and rarely returning to see him. Doc’s work pattern prevented him from raising the boy himself, but at least once a week he visited his son and mother-in-law.

At the age of 10, Greg was sent to a military academy in Los Angeles for four years before returning to San Diego to live with his father. Because Doc wanted him to become a doctor, Greg’s high school studies concentrated on science subjects, but by the time he entered university at Berkeley he had settled on English, intending to become a journalist.

However, he was bitten by the acting bug after being asked to try out for a campus play. Later stage success in New York led him back to California, where his many Hollywood roles included his superb, Oscar-winning portrayal of the lawyer Atticus Finch in the 1962 movie adaptation of Harper Lee’s ‘To kill a mockingbird’.

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