Volume II, Issue II Summer 2003

Meeting Gregory Peck

The summer of 1997, when I was a mere La Jolla Playhouse public relations intern, I had the amazing opportunity to meet Mr. Gregory Peck.

Gregory Peck and Jessica Padilla It started off innocently enough. San Diego Magazine honored the Playhouse with a beautiful full-cover story in the May 1997 issue celebrating the Playhouse's 15/50 Anniversary, the celebration of its 15th season since its rebirth in 1983 and the 50th year since its founding by Gregory Peck, Dorothy McGuire and Mel Ferrer. The beautiful full-color cover featured photos of various Playhouse leaders, including a young, handsome Gregory Peck.

The Playhouse had the cover blown up to poster size and framed and wanted to hand-deliver it to Mr. Peck. I am not sure how the task came to me, but everyone knew I was down for the summer from my home in Los Angeles and was planning a weekend trip to visit my family. Sidney Baker, the Playhouse's director of development, asked if I would deliver the poster to Mr. Peck. She warned me that I would most likely just be dropping it off at his home, but that she would ask Mr. Peck's assistant if he would come out to meet me, if his schedule permitted.

Having no expectations, I set off for L.A., the poster carefully wedged in my car. I held the directions to Mr. Peck's house very gingerly (and still, to this very day, have them stashed in a folder reserved for "special and sentimental documents"). After a little thought, I chose a partner in crime for operation poster delivery. Suppose I did get to meet Mr. Peck and I was a nervous mess? I chose one of my most glamorous and charming friends to accompany me, the lovely Erica Miller. Armed with our copies of "To Kill A Mockingbird" (mine years old, hers brand new) and a camera in my purse, we set off for the Peck residence.

Once we arrived at the gate, I spoke into the microphone, "Jessica Padilla here from La Jolla Playhouse with the gift for Mr. Peck." His assistant buzzed us in. We parked in the massive driveway and walked to the front door. We still had no idea if we'd get to meet Mr. Peck or not. His kind assistant let us in and said, "I'll let you give that (the poster) to Mr. Peck yourself. He'll be right with you." And with that, she led us into the living room (one of the living rooms?).

Erica and I secretly high-fived and sat down in cozy, brown chairs to patiently wait. We quickly scoped the place out, noticed the comfortably worn furniture and numerous happy family photos. Mr. Peck entered accompanied by two little white dogs. We were immediately put at ease by the arrival of these fluffy companions. He shook our hands and told us the names of his dogs and we all sat down. He was tall and very handsome, with the deep booming voice that we recognized. He admired the poster and thanked us for delivering it. Everyone at the Playhouse who had met Gregory Peck told me that he would be very kind and gracious if we got to meet him, and indeed he was.)

We were feeling so comfortable that I gave Erica the signal and, being the braver one, she asked if he'd sign our copies of "To Kill a Mockingbird." He kindly agreed and I whipped mine out first (hey, who got us this gig in this first place?). Mr. Peck commented on how weathered my copy was (only about 10 year old, but read many times) and I felt very proud. And not only did he sign his name, but he wrote, "To Jessica Love, Gregory Peck." (I still occasionally open my book and stare at this kind greeting.)

Once he'd returned our books, we'd gained enough courage to ask if he would take photos with us. He acted as if he was in no hurry at all, and very graciously agreed. He led us out onto the deck leading down to the gorgeous pool and back yard. I was first with Erica manning the camera. Then we changed places. I was beaming so hard that my cheeks hurt (when I get my photos developed, I was almost too embarrassed to show them to anyone because I'm grinning like I'm about to burst with excitement). Mr. Peck then kindly said, "Would you like to take more photos down by the pool?" Unable to believe our good luck, we nodded and down the stairs we went. He told us a bit about his back yard and mentioned one of his grandchildren who clearly he was crazy about.

As I was feeling a bit more at ease, I told Mr. Peck that I just loved "Roman Holiday" and that when it was over, I had to rewind it and watch it all over again because I loved it so much. "Ah yes," he said, very solemnly. "It was very sad. She had to go back to being a princess and I had to go back to my work." I thought to myself, "Could this visit get any better?"

After more photos, we headed back up the stairs and into the foyer where Mr. Peck bid us good-bye. Erica and I were thrilled and could barely believe our good fortune. When I returned to the office and proudly (and with only slight embarrassment) showed off my photos, everyone cheered me on, equally happy for this intern's good fortune.

And I know we all feel proud to work for the Playhouse, founded by this amazing man who has proven himself to be kind, gracious and talented on many, many occasions.

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