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The Waiting Game—Gregory Peck & Greta Kukkonen

According to Hollywood legend the typical actor’s wife is a spoiled, fatuous, self-centered zany who has little to do but waste her husband’s money on an ever-growing army of leeches—psychiatrists, interior decorators, and cloying perfume salesmen. She is the kind of grating chatterbox Billie Burke used to play so perfectly in the movies.

Admittedly, many motion picture stars have mates who still fall into this caricatured category, but lately Hollywood has produced a new kind of wife—brainy, tactful, understanding, and incredibly tolerant.

Mrs. Gary Cooper, Mrs. Ray Milland, Mrs. Jerry Lewis, Mrs. Mario Lanza, and Mrs. Gregory Peck are all cases in point.

It’s been a year now that Greta Peck has been separated from her wandering husband. In those twelve months she has been subjected to the most aggravating and constant questioning about her marriage.

Week after week, friends, well-intentioned acquaintances, and travelers from Europe have been urging her to divorce her tall, gaunt, Lincolnesque actor of a husband.

“How can you let him play around with all those European beauties,” somebody asked Greta, “and not do anything about it?”

“Pride, if nothing else,” they tell her, “should compel you to file for a divorce.”

“What point is there in perpetuating the fiction that in the end everything will work out?”

A few months ago, just before she left for Mexico with Valery and Donald Nelson for a much-needed vacation, Greta gave a small party for Audrey Hepburn with whom Greg had starred in Roman Holiday.

Following the party, one gossip turned to another’s receptive ear. “I wonder if Greta knows about all those dinners Audrey and Greg supposedly had in Sam Spiegle’s London apartment? I understand she and Greg took up in London from where they left off in Rome.”

Greta Peck has been accused of being dull, blind, skittish, naive, stubborn, foolish, fearful, and unknowing. Actually, she is the world’s number one authority on the loves, the trials, the thoughts, the moods, and the ways of Eldred Gregory Peck.

No one need tell her about Audrey Hepburn, Hildegarde Neff, Veronica Pasanie, Jane Griffiths, or any of the women with whom her husband has been linked. She knows about all of them. She knows which of the affairs were professional, which were innocent, and which were flirtatious. And she holds none of them against Greg.

Audrey Hepburn, she asserts, is as sweet and honorable as any young actress who has ever stepped in front of a camera. Audrey is, in fact, much closer to Greta than she is to Greg.

In Mrs. Peck’s own words, “She is one of the nicest persons I have ever met. My house and hospitality are hers whenever she cares to use them.

“As a matter of fact, I refuse to be disturbed one bit about Greg’s social life. We’ve been separated since last January. The separation was by mutual consent. There’s nothing legal about it. Neither of us has consulted a lawyer.”

“But what about all those stories,” Mrs. Peck was asked, “to the effect that you admitted that you and Greg had separated?”

“I think I did say that,” the Finnish-born Greta conceded, “but I didn’t mean that Greg and I had decided upon any legal separation, or that we were angry with each other.”

“But isn’t it true that last winter before you decided to take the three children back to the States you and Greg had a slam-bang fight in Paris? Isn’t it true that you blew your top because of his indiscretions and started throwing plates at him? Isn’t it true that when you left Europe you weren’t on speaking terms with him?”

Greta Peck laughed. “I’ve never thrown plates in my life. That’s for a Mack Sennett comedy. None of that is true.

“Here is what I know and most people don’t understand. Greg has never had a fling. He’s the child of divorced parents. As a boy he wasn’t very happy. He went to school on a scholarship, never had much money. He came up the hard way, and he’s always worked long and hard.

“In Europe he decided that he wanted his fling. I think he has a terrific right to it. He would never deliberately hurt anyone. Neither of us discussed anything pertaining to a divorce.

“I think he should have as much time as he wants to think things out. It’s not as if he were some foolish young playboy. I think his conduct abroad has been circumspect. He has been working, working, working. He has been going from one picture into another. I know it sounds very romantic here, but jumping from London to Berlin to Munich to India isn’t exactly a picnic.

“Wherever he has been, he has thought of his family. He writes frequently, and as you probably know, he’s an extremely generous man. When his agent, Lou Wasserman, flew over to Europe a few months ago, Greg loaded him down with all sorts of wonderful German toys for the boys.

“I think Greg is entitled to do whatever he feels he must do at this point. No matter what you hear or what you read, we’re perfectly good friends. Anything I can do for him, I certainly will do. He is still my husband, and I am still his wife.”

There is no rancor in Greta’s heart, no hate in her soul, no bitterness in her mind. Many people in Hollywood, petty and smug and venomous, cannot understand the fundamental goodness of this woman. They cannot abide her patience and understanding.

They say, “She just doesn’t know anything about men. She is letting Greg have his cake and eat it, too. Anything he wants is all right with her. Just imagine her sending the boy over to Paris to spend Christmas with Greg!”

They were referring to the flight of Jonathan Peck, age nine, across the Atlantic a few weeks ago to see his father.

Late in October, after he had finished Night People in German, Greg wrote to Greta, saying he was scheduled to make The Purple Plains in India early in 1954. He was wondering if Jonathan might spend the Christmas holidays with him in Europe before he pulled out for Asia.

Greg has always been close to his three sons. They used to take long hikes together, go on beach parties, and attend ball games. Apparently, none of the children has any idea that there is any strain between their mother and father.

Had Greta Peck been a vengeful, predatory sort of woman she could have said to Greg when she received his letter. “If you want to see Jonathan, you can catch the first plane home. You’ve got some nerve asking that a nine-year-old boy fly the Atlantic both ways alone!”

But Greta Peck answered, “Jonathan would love to go.”

And then she began to make the arrangements. Her first-born who looks very much like his father, took off from the Los Angeles International airport on December 6. He was met in New York by Greta’s sister, Ann Whalen and a TWA representative. A little while later, thrilled and excited he was winging across the ocean, bound for Paris.

Greg was waiting for his son at Orly Airport and took him to his apartment, a fashionable flat in a fashionable building on the Avenue d’Iena which he had sublet from an English friend, Rodney Soher.

As for Greg, you can imagine what the sight of his son did to him! You can imagine how he felt as Jonathan told him tales of his other sons; of Steve, six, and Carey, four, and of how they missed him, especially on Saturdays and Sundays when they all used to go down to the beach.

Gregory Peck is a complex introvert and a man of conscience. Words don’t form rapidly on his tongue. He launches them one by one, and when he is asked such questions as: “What, exactly, is the status of your marriage?” he thinks for a moment, starts to answer, and then, as he answered in Berlin recently, he says, “I’d rather not talk about it. Any word on the subject should come from Mrs. Peck.”

When pressed, he does answer. Of Hildegarde Neff: “You can take my word for it. That’s all nonsense, just nonsense. The only time I met her was in London, before the Christmas of 1952. We met at the premiere of Snows Of Kilimanjaro. I haven’t seen her since.”

Of Audrey Hepburn: “I haven’t seen She’s been in the States and I’ve been in Europe. We played together in Roman Holiday. She’s a wonderful girl and a talented actress and a friend of the whole family.”

Of Veronica Pasanie: “Well, sure I know her. I’ve seen her in Paris a couple of times. But there’s nothing to it.”

“Nothing to it,” Gregory Peck says—but how about a few months ago at the Villa Sunshine in Sardinaux on the French Riviera? How about a few months ago at Cannes? How about last year in Italy? He was always with Veronica Pasanie.

When he had to fly back to London, who drove him to the airport from St. Tropaz? Who met him the last time he arrived in Paris? Who flew into a rage at photographers who took her picture?

It was twenty-one-year-old Veronica the half-Italian, half-Russian journaliste, who knows how to slip into a resort unobtrusively, who has no fame, arouses no attention, and lives seemingly only for Gregory Peck.

One of Veronica’s friends who lives not far from her on the Avenue Franklin Roosevelt in Paris, says, “Veronica is one of those European girls who has lived more in a few years than most American women live in a lifetime. She speaks half a dozen languages, and her eyes have seen many sights, some good, some terrible. She hopes that Gregory Peck will marry her.

“But she is too smart to broach the subject of marriage. She is content to do whatever Greg says. If he says, ‘Meet me at Cannes,’ she will meet him at Cannes. If he says, ‘I think I’ll go to St. Moritz’, she will turn up at St. Moritz.

“In France, except for Paris, there are no such creatures as career women. That’s true of most European countries. In America, they say at least 20% of all married women work. In Europe, wifehood is a girl’s career. If Veronica can ever marry Gregory Peck, that is all she wants.

“Why does Peck like Veronica so much? She is not nearly so attractive as Mrs. Peck. She is younger, maybe more knowledgeable in a way. She never talks of marriage, and she wants only to please him. It is flattering.

“I have seen him and I have talked to him. He is a prudent man, and I don’t think he will ever marry her. But he is tremendously fond of her, all the same. She never nags, never complains that he does not want to go to night clubs or prominent hotels, or that he won’t have her around while he is working.

“When he was in Berlin and Munich with all those people from. Hollywood, the 20th Century crowd, Veronica was back in Paris.

“Maybe she will show up in India when he goes. The chances are good. But I don’t think she will win him from Mrs. Peck. This Mrs. Peck is a smart woman. I guess it is because she has a European background. She was born in Finland, you know, and in Finland, too, they teach young girls that marriage is not one eternal glow of sunshine.

“If Mrs. Peck were the typical Hollywood wife, shouting and screaming and threatening to ruin her husband, the contrast between her and Veronica would be so great that Greg wouldn’t have so much to think out. But she is not only the mother of his three sons. She is behaving like the Christian lady she is. No temper tantrums, no outraged interviews; only impenetrable calm.

“He wants to see his son; so she sends his son. He wants to come back to Europe after Purple Plains to do Moby Dick with John Huston, so she says, ‘Fine. Do whatever you think best.’ There is no traditional American high-pressure.

“I know Veronica Pasanie and I have seen her operate. She is very smart, but not the smartest young chick can triumph over a tolerant wife. The wife who finds inconstancy intolerable usually loses.

“Greta Peck is not such a wife. She knows what all European women know, that transgression is a factor in most marriages, and that it must be handled with tact, forbearance, and forgiveness.

“Greta knows that fundamentally her husband is a good man, a kind man—and such men are hard to find.

“I predict that some time this year Greta will have her husband back, and Veronica will have her memories.”





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