Gregory Peck’s Poetic Narration

by Ray Reese

Years ago, I was asked by the U.S. and China’s Cultural Affairs Departments, to write Gregory Peck’s poetic narration for ‘The Imperial Bells of China.’ It took 3 days of recording, and at the first session, when Mr. Peck completed the first short piece, the director from the booth told him it ‘was great, and they were moving on to the next piece.’ After a short silence, Mr. Peck raised his famous chiseled head and politely said: “Let me tell you how this is going to work.” There was a communal intake of breath, at the contemplation of another ‘actor,’ who was going to direct himself. Before the recording. Mr. Peck had asked me to stand as close to him as possible, just outside the glass door, and he now pointed out that this was not a script he was reading, and it was not text. It was poetry, ‘Wild Chinese horses wreathed in jasmine.’ He explained that he was going to read the words to the best of his ability. “And then I’m going to look at the poet, and if he smiles, and it was technically all right for all of you, we’ll move on. But, if the poet doesn’t smile, hopefully he can help me find what I’m missing, and I’ll do it better.” In 3 days of recording, only once was I called in to assist the reading. When I pointed out an unmarked pause that was needed to make it work, the incomparable Gregory Peck, (my Mother’s favorite actor,) broke into that bigger than life smile of his, and said: “Oh, of course.”