MJ-Studies Today XXVI

Abstract: In this column Kerry discusses the friendship of Gregory Peck and Michael Jackson, their love for art and how ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ plays a significant role in their relationship.


Column by Kerry Hennigan, editor of the monthly newsletter, A Candle for Michael, and administrator of the widely-subscribed Facebook group, Michael Jackson’s Short Film ‘Ghosts.


REFERENCE AS:

Hennigan, Kerry. “MJ Studies Today XXVI (14-02-2018).” The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies 5, no. 2 (2018). http://michaeljacksonstudies.org/mj-studies-today-xxvi/.


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“One of the nicest people in the world” – Michael Jackson, Gregory Peck and “To Kill a Mockingbird” By Kerry Hennigan


On June 17, 2003 in reporting on the memorial service for actor Gregory Peck, the Los Angeles Times noted:

“Singer Michael Jackson, who wore a red velvet jacket, arrived just before the gospel reading and was escorted up the far left aisle to the front. According to family spokesman Monroe Friedman, Jackson and Peck had been friends for years, visiting each other at their homes.” [1]

It was later revealed that Jackson had helped Peck’s widow, Veronique, to plan the service.

The friendship between Michael Jackson and Gregory Peck is interesting to consider in the light of what we know about them as individuals and through their work. Peck was a respected elder statesman in the entertainment industry long before Jackson met him. Did he also become another “father figure” in Michael Jackson’s life?

 

The Pecks owned a ranch in the same county as Neverland, and in his two-hour TV special “Michael Jackson – Private Home Movies” (aired April 2003), Jackson included footage of the Pecks (and their dog Blanket) visiting Neverland and even going on the rides. Michael described Gregory as a dear, dear friend, and “one of the nicest people in the world.” [2]

 

Following criticism leveled at Michael after he held his youngest son, Prince Michael II (“Blanket”), over the hotel balcony to show him to the fans in Berlin in November 2002, the Pecks wrote him a letter of support.

“January 4, 2003 

Dear Michael,

 You are recognized as a great artist all over the world, but very few know you as a father. We have been close friends and have known you over twenty-five years. We have spent many times together with you, Prince, Paris and Prince Michael, who all played happily with our own grandchildren. We, and our children, who are of your generation, have always admired you as a loving and caring father. Your children could not have had a better father. They love and respect you. You raised them with gentleness, kindness and genuine concern for their well-being. Their joy and love are a reflection of your attention and love as a parent. Those who criticize and judge you should do well to look into their own family life. We have seen you countless times as an attentive and devoted father and we join your many friends who stand beside you and your family now.

 With love,

 Veronique

and Greg” [3]

Gregory Peck died at home in his sleep aged 87 on June 12, 2003. Five days later, at the memorial service in Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral where Peck was interred, the eulogy was given by actor Brock Peters, who had co-starred with Peck in the 1962 film of Harper Lee’s book “To Kill a Mockingbird”. [4]

Peck’s performance as lawyer Atticus Finch, who defends a Negro man accused of raping a white woman in a small Southern town during the Depression, not only won him an Oscar but more-or-less defined his character from that time on.

According to Peck’s daughter Cecilia, her father “was an Atticus…He really was that kind of father to me and my brothers. I believe that he was always very much like Atticus but I think that doing the film when we were very young made him become even more that way and I think as much as he put of himself into the role, Atticus became him, too.” [5]

The story goes that Michael Jackson had memorized every word of dialogue from “To Kill a Mockingbird” and, on first meeting Peck, had asked him questions about the film. These weren’t the questions of a star-struck fan, but of someone who had obviously studied the work.

In 2005, when Jackson was on trial in Santa Maria, California, filmmaker Bryan Michael Stoller (“Miss Castaway and the Island Girls”) told his friend: “’You’re living ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ right now – it was all about a black man who was on trial. And you’re innocent.’ Stoller told MTV News that Jackson owned a 35-millimetre print of the movie. “It was just really weird that was his favourite film even before these allegations happened” he said. [6]

In addition to the character of Tom Robinson, perhaps Michael also identified with the reclusive and misunderstood Arthur “Boo” Radley, another of the innocent “mockingbirds” alluded to in the title, and described by SparkNotes as a man who had been “An intelligent child emotionally damaged by his cruel father”. Boo is “a good person injured by the evil of mankind.” [7]

The closer we look at “To Kill a Mockingbird” – the book or the film – the more reasons we can find for it to have resonated so deeply with Michael Jackson.

In both versions, Atticus tells his daughter Scout that: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb inside his skin and walk around in it.” [8] This saying is based on a Native American proverb which was also used by Michael, who once begged of the media: “do not judge a man until you’ve walked 2 moons in his moccasins.” [9]

On the 50th anniversary of the “To Kill a Mockingbird” movie, Cecilia Peck noted that her father was “so much like his characters in his films. I am so fortunate that he was just that kind of person. He had great integrity, he had great dignity, and he was a true humanitarian.” [10]

My hypothesis is that while Gregory Peck’s role in Michael Jackson’s favourite film could have precipitated their friendship, it was surely cemented by their mutual respect and the passion they shared for their art, fatherhood and philanthropy; their love for the community in which they owned property and, particularly, their qualities as exceptional human beings.

Kerry Hennigan

February 2018

Sources:

 

[1] LA Times on Gregory Peck memorial service http://articles.latimes.com/2003/jun/17/local/me-peck17

[2] Clip from “Michael Jackson’s Home Movies” TV special https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_3Oqwv4McXs

[3] Letter from the Pecks to Michael, January 2003 http://michaeljacksonchosenvoices.com/tag/letter-from-gregory-peck-to-michael-jackson/

[4] LA Times on Gregory Peck memorial service

[5] Cecilia Peck on Gregory Peck on the 50th Anniversary of “To Kill a Mockingbird” movie. http://edition.cnn.com/2012/02/03/showbiz/to-kill-a-mockingbird-50/

[6] Bryan Michael Stoller to MTV News http://www.contactmusic.com/michael-jackson/news/jackson-comforted-by-to-kill-a-mockingbird-movie

[7] SparkNotes: To Kill a Mockingbird http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/mocking/characters/

[8] Developing empathy http://www.planetofsuccess.com/blog/2011/developing-empathy-walk-a-mile-in-someone%E2%80%99s-shoes/

[9] Jel D. Lewis Jones, Michael Jackson, the King of Pop: The Big Picture: the Music! the Man! the Legend! the Interviews: an Anthology, Amber Books Publishing, 2005

[10] Cecilia Peck on Gregory Peck on the 50th Anniversary of “To Kill a Mockingbird” movie

Special thanks to the blog: https://clearmjsname.wordpress.com/to-kill-a-mockingbird/

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