Gregory Peck is arguably one of the most iconic stars in Hollywood history. Even years after his death, the star’s rugged good looks and understated style are remembered as much as his acting prowess. And when Gregory’s grandson Ethan Peck followed in his footsteps to become an actor, it became clear that those particular skills weren’t the only thing that ran in the family.
We’ll learn more about Ethan’s other attributes a little later, but first let’s explore the life of his legendary grandfather. Thanks to his clear acting talents and handsome good looks, Gregory became one of the top leading men of the movie industry throughout the 1940s and ‘50s. But despite him being a film natural, the actor hadn’t always planned on having a career in front of the camera.
Born Eldred Gregory Peck in La Jolla, California, in April 1916, the talent was brought up with his maternal grandmother, as his mom and dad’s relationship was rocky. His parents Gregory Pearl Peck and Bernice “Bunny” Mae had separated when he was just three and went on to divorce some years later.
At the age of ten Gregory enrolled in Los Angeles’ St. John’s Catholic Military Academy. However, he would later relocate in order to live with his father. During this time, the future star attended San Diego High School and after graduating he took up a place on the pre-med program at the University of California in Berkeley in the hopes of becoming a doctor.
But it was during his time in Berkeley that Gregory’s career took another direction. During his college days, he became interested in acting and took part in a number of the school’s productions. By the time that Gregory came to graduate in 1939, he no longer wanted to become a doctor, but an actor instead.
Gregory then moved to New York City in order to pursue his new career path. He was accepted onto a scholarship at the Neighborhood Playhouse, where he studied under the guidance of the well-renowned instructor Sanford Meisner. In the meantime, Gregory took on various odd jobs to pay his way in the Big Apple, before making his Broadway debut in 1943’s The Morning Star.
While the The Morning Star wasn’t a hit with audiences, Gregory’s performance in the production won him critical acclaim. Not only that, but the role also kickstarted his acting career. Gregory’s first Hollywood role came in the 1944 movie Days of Glory and by now, his fame was firmly established.
But while Days of Glory boosted Gregory’s profile, it was his second movie that year – The Keys of the Kingdom – which earned him his first Academy Award nomination. More Oscar nods followed, first for his performance in the 1946 Civil War hit The Yearling and then two years later for his part in the Elia Kazan movie Gentleman’s Agreement.
Firmly cementing his status as one of Hollywood’s top leading men, Gregory built upon his success during the remainder of the 1940s and ‘50s. Some of his most memorable movies from this time included the Alfred Hitchcock movie Spellbound and Roman Holiday, in which he starred alongside the movie newcomer Audrey Hepburn.
However, Gregory is perhaps best remembered for his role in the 1962 film To Kill a Mockingbird. In the adaptation of the Harper Lee book of the same name, the actor starred as Atticus Finch. And it was down to his iconic portrayal of the empathetic lawyer that he finally bagged his first Oscar.
For the remainder of his career, Gregory continued to flex his acting talents across a range of genres. Some of his most famous roles during this era were in films such as Cape Fear, The Boys from Brazil and Other People’s Money. In the latter part of his career, Gregory also took on TV work – starring in miniseries like Moby Dick and The Blue and the Gray.
Outside of acting, Gregory was involved in a number of charitable, civic, and political endeavors, too. Among his roles, he was the chairman of the American Cancer Society, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and a board trustee for the American Film Institute. And as early as 1969 Gregory was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Lyndon Johnson for his humanitarian work.
In his personal life, Gregory was married twice and had five children. His union with his first wife Greta Kukkonen produced three sons: Jonathan, Stephen and Carey. Gregory and Greta divorced in 1955, and a day after their split was finalized, he married Veronique Passani. They then went on to have two children together named Anthony and Cecilia.
Gregory died of bronchopneumonia while sleeping at his home in Los Angeles in June 2003. He was survived by his wife Veronique, and most of his children, apart from his eldest son, Jonathan, who had died in 1975 at the age of 30 after committing suicide. But while Gregory was no more, his legacy continued.
In fact, Gregory is still considered a legend of the silver screen. Fans often cite his rugged charm, laid-back style and handsome good looks as part of the actor’s enduring image. It’s through this – as well as his screen presence – that Gregory continues to be remembered. But that’s not the only way the star’s legacy lives on.
A number of Gregory’s children have gone into show business themselves over the years. These include the actor’s second son Stephen, who served in the Vietnam War before going on to become a documentary filmmaker. And his latter choice of career had been inspired by his father.
Stephen, for his part, attended Northwestern University in Illinois in order to study film. But he was drafted following his sophomore year. As such, while his peers were making plans for after college, he took up a place in the U.S. Marine Corps officer training program. Stephen then spent 11 months serving in an infantry unit.
Stephen then pursued a career as a documentary filmmaker after returning from Vietnam. Inspired by his time in the military, his best-known work focused on the struggles facing his fellow veterans. He subsequently studied a master’s degree in social work and dedicated his working life to helping vets.
But while Stephen moved away from show business for an honorable cause, his son Ethan was also drawn to the bright lights of Hollywood – just as his grandfather Gregory had been before him. But as we’ll soon discover, it seems that a talent for acting wasn’t the only thing that Ethan seemingly inherited from his famous relative.
Ethan was born in Los Angeles in March 1986 to dad Stephen and abstract artist mother Francine Matarazzo. He showed a passion for acting from an early age, landing his first role in the crime drama series Charlie Grace in 1995 at the age of nine. But being a child star from a famous family came with some preconceptions.
In 2016 Ethan told the U.K.’s Evening Standard, “Some people assume I’m a spoilt trust fund kid who’s never had to work for anything, while others think the best of me because of the good experience they had with my grandfather. It’s difficult to digest the fact that they may never see me for who I am. I certainly strive to be a good, honest man and hopefully someday my qualities will be seen as my own.”
While Ethan’s connection to Gregory was a big deal to some, for him it was second nature. In 2015 he told GQ magazine, “Growing up, he was grandpa. He was old, you know? As silly as that sounds, I knew him as just this wonderful man who had a great humility about him – which I think is what he was known for, being this classic gentleman.”
And as it turned out, having a famous relative did have its perks. Ethan told the Evening Standard, “I remember meeting Roger Moore at my grandfather’s house as a young boy and being impressed because I was such a big fan of 007. But I was young and I didn’t have a perception of what celebrity was, or who my grandfather was… I still don’t really.”
Growing up in L.A., Ethan attended the top private schools Campbell Hall and Harvard-Westlake, where he “saw a lot of excess.” The actor explained, “There were some destructive drug and alcohol habits. When there’s so much freedom – financially and otherwise – smart kids get themselves into trouble.”
And while the heady mix of privilege and opulence could have also led Ethan down the wrong path, he managed to keep his feet firmly on the ground. For that, the actor credits his mom and dad. He told the Evening Standard, “My parents did a good job of sheltering me from the negative aspects of wealth and success.”
One of Ethan’s first major roles was in the Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen film Passport to Paris. The movie was released on video in 1999 when Ethan was barely a teen. And in the film, he starred as Mary-Kate’s French love interest.
In Passport to Paris Ethan’s character rides around The City of Light on a scooter with Mary-Kate on the back. The scene is reminiscent of Gregory’s role in Roman Holiday, which saw him and his co-star Hepburn explore the Italian capital in a similar style.
Despite clear parallels between him and Gregory, it seems that Ethan was determined to carve his own path in showbusiness. He later attended the Tisch School of the Arts in New York City. And as he progressed through his career, Ethan enjoyed stints in shows like That ‘70s Show, 10 Things I Hate About You , and Gossip Girl along the way.
However, it was in 2018 that Ethan bagged what was arguably his biggest role thus far. It was then that he was cast in the iconic role as Spock in the CBS series Star Trek: Discovery. And while Ethan felt honored to take on the part, he knew that he had big shoes to fill.
Spock is among the most iconic characters of the Star Trek franchise. And the half-vulcan, half-human scientist was memorably played by Leonard Nimoy between 1966 and 2013. Elsewhere, Zachary Quinto has embodied the role in J.J. Abram’s take on the sci-fi classic since 2009. And nine years later Ethan was about to put his own spin on the character.
Ethan took to Instagram to respond to news of his casting in Star Trek: Discovery in 2018. He wrote, “It is with great honor and a sense of immense responsibility that I take on the iconic role that Leonard gave to us and that Zachary did brilliant justice to.” He also thanked the Star Trek family for “making me feel worthy, as I embrace and take into my heart the half-alien we know as Mr. Spock.”
Of course, Leonard and Zachary may have been tough acts to follow as Spock. But Star Trek: Discovery showrunner Alex Kurtzman felt that Ethan was easily up to the task. In a statement obtained by the U.K. newspaper The Telegraph in 2018, he was reportedly “thrilled to welcome [Ethan] to the [Star Trek] family.”
Alex added, “The great Leonard Nimoy, then the brilliant Zachary Quinto, brought incomparable humanity to a character forever torn between logic and emotion. We searched for months for an actor who would, like them, bring his own interpretation to the role. An actor who would, like them, effortlessly embody Spock’s greatest qualities, beyond obvious logic: empathy, intuition, compassion, confusion and yearning.”
According to Alex, “Ethan Peck walked into the room inhabiting all of these qualities. [He was] aware of his daunting responsibility to Leonard, Zack and the fans, and ready to confront the challenge in the service of protecting and expanding on Spock’s legacy.” But while Ethan had big shoes to fill, it was comparisons to another icon that he couldn’t escape.
As Ethan’s profile increased, people couldn’t help but notice how much of a resemblance he bore to his famous grandfather Gregory. Fans pointed out that he looked like the Hollywood great, sharing his relative’s handsome looks – the same ones which had seen Ethan model for the likes of Ferragamo and Louis Vuitton in the past.
Ethan appeared to have inherited Gregory’s deep brown eyes, arched brows and strong jawline. But while many would welcome comparisons to such a screen icon, Ethan admitted that it hadn’t always been easy to walk in his grandfather’s shadow. In 2016 he told Entertainment Tonight, “When I was a little bit younger it felt a little more burdensome.”
But it seems that Ethan had come to embrace the comparisons between him and Gregory. He admitted, “I’m really honored… I just feel like, how lucky to be born into this body and this city and this life, do you know what I mean? Like, the circumstances could be very different. I didn’t sign up for this, but if I could re-up I would.”
But while Ethan had come to appreciate the comparisons to his grandfather, he downplayed the influence that Gregory had on his career choice. As he explained to Entertainment Tonight, “It feels very, kind of, my own thing. And I feel that I discover more about him through myself.”
While Ethan admitted to GQ that he gets compared to Gregory “50 percent of the time,” he added, “I don’t feel like I’m in the shadow of him.” Explaining what he meant by that, Ethan told the magazine, “I can’t control how people perceive me, but at the same time I feel very lucky to be born into this legacy. It’s a total situational thing.”
So while one of Gregory’s stand out roles saw him embody the principled Atticus in the screen adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird Ethan had his sights set on becoming another kind of hero. When asked by Entertainment Tonight where we would find him in the next five years, he quipped, “Just trying to play Batman.”