One of the best things that can happen to a young actor just starting out is to receive genuine words of encouragement from someone that he/she really respects. If those words happen to come from a legend, such a gesture becomes that much more special.
I was freshly graduated from college and thinly armed with a degree in drama. I had no professional experience to speak of. I had recently moved to New York and while I had a lot of fool’s courage, there’s no doubt I was concerned if I had what it took. I was busy working one of the many jobs I would work to make ends meet – as a movie usher at Cinema One, located at the corner of 60thStreet and 3rd Avenue, across from Bloomingdales Department Store.
I forget the movie that was playing but it was afternoon and there were not many people there. I was in the process of making my rounds a few minutes before the coming attractions started, when I spotted a man sitting by himself in the upper section of the theater. He was the only one up in that section. As I walked down the aisle nearby, I instantly recognized Gregory Peck. I very respectfully said hello and told him that I was a fan and really enjoyed his work, especially in Guns of Navarone and To Kill A Mockingbird. I thought he would be polite, say “thanks” and that that would be the end of it. But he asked if I was an actor, too. I said I was, but that I was just starting out. “Nothing wrong with that. We all start somewhere”, he said.
He put me so at ease right away and, to my further surprise, decided to continue the conversation until the lights went down – maybe ten minutes or so. He asked if I was studying anywhere (I was), and if I was doing theater anywhere (I was). He made our conversation completely about me and I will never, ever forget his generosity of spirit. In the end, he said that it is our love of what we do that carries the day and that that part of our business cannot be taught. I have never forgotten those words to this day.
A few years later, I got my break when I was cast to co-star in Saturday Night Fever. I remember telling our director, John Badham, (brother of Mary Badham, Gregory Peck’s co-star from Mockingbird) about my encounter with Mr. Peck. “That was quite a gift he gave you,” he said. I couldn’t agree more.