Gregory Peck and Rod Stewart’s sweet friendship as pair ‘cut hole in hedge’ for easy chats

Designing Woman (1957) – Gregory Peck – Lauren Bacall

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Today Peck is among a stunning A-lister cast of actors for the epic How the West Was Won. Airing on BBC Two from 1.30pm, Peck joins the likes of John Wayne, Debbie Reynolds and Henry Fonda, for the 1962 classic film. The story follows a family as they move west in the 1830s, to a promised new land, but encounter a series of difficulties as they go about their journey.

It claimed eight Academy Award nominations, winning three, and is often considered to be one of the great Hollywood western films, according to the American Film Institute (AFI).

Peck himself was already a household name, clinching an Oscar that same year for Best Actor thanks to his exploits in How To Kill A Mockingbird.

He was nominated a further four times, and in 1999 was selected by the AFI as the 12th Greatest Male Star of Classic Hollywood Cinema.

While plenty is known about Peck’s displays in front of the camera, what is often not so commonly shared is his ardent friendship with British icon Stewart.

The pair were neighbours during the mid-Sixties, and both avid tennis fans and players, so would often frequent each other’s homes for a match.

According to Stewart’s guitarist Jim Cregan, who joined the vocalist’s band in 1976, Peck invented an easier route through to his garden for the crooner.

Cregan discussed the pair’s relationship in 2020, on the Stars Cars Guitars podcast, alongside Spandau Ballet pin-up Tony Hadley, and radio host Alex Dyke.

He described Peck as a “great neighbour”, who would welcome his friends next door round for a set.

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But the pair spent so much time knocking on the door of Peck’s home, that the star, who passed away in 2003, eventually decided to cut a hole in his hedge.

Cregan said: “Gregory Peck was such a great neighbour to Rod.

“Gregory Peck had a tennis court and we would go round and buzz on the gate and say it was Rod and me and that we’d like to play tennis.”

He added: “Gregory said, ‘I tell you what… instead of you coming round and knocking on the door, I’m going to cut a hole in the hedge and you can just come through and use the tennis court any time you like’.

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“So he had a hole cut in the hedge.”

Peck was married twice, including to his second wife Veronique, who was by his side when he passed away from bronchopneumonia at the age of 87 at his home in Los Angeles.

To mark his legacy, Brock Peters, who starred opposite Peck in his Academy Award-winning role, read his eulogy to those who attended his funeral, which included the likes of Lauren Bacall, Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, Harrison Ford and Michael Jackson.

While a career as an actor was eventually where Peck ended up, he once claimed he could have ended up entering the priesthood.

A devout Roman Catholic, Peck noted how in his later life he considered a career change.

He said: “I am a Roman Catholic. Not a fanatic, but I practice enough to keep the franchise.

“I don’t always agree with the Pope… There are issues that concern me, like abortion, contraception, the ordination of women… and others.”

Peck was honoured by then-US President Lyndon B Johnson in 1969, with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Two years after his death, in November 2005, his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame was stolen, but has since been replaced.

How the West Was Won airs today on BBC Two from 1.30pm.

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