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Gregory Peck Plans Quiet 70th Birthday Celebration

April 4, 1986

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Facing his 70th birthday on Saturday, Gregory Peck reflects: ″Even though it’s a biblical number, I don’t feel any different.″

At three score and 10, the Oscar-winning actor remains little changed. The figure is still Lincolnesque, the face as if carved in granite, voice mellow and reassuring.

He laughs at age: ″When Tony Quinn passed the 70 mark last year, I sent him a telegram saying the (biblical) age is now four score and 10. And I subscribe to that myself.″

Peck will celebrate the event in characteristic style: a quiet, family gathering at his Holmby Hills home. ″Yes, we’ll have a cake,″ he said, ″but we might need to have someone standing by with a fire extinguisher.″

Two favorite projects occupy Greg Peck these days. The first is a remake of ″Dodsworth,″ a 1936 Walter Huston film based on the Sinclair Lewis novel.

″I hesitate to mention it because people say, ’Are you still working on that?‴ he said. ″It’s true I have been trying to get it done for years, but I think we’re on the right track now.

″The Producers Circle Company of New York is having a screenplay written, and we’re putting the story back in the Roaring Twenties, which is how Sinclair Lewis wrote it. The Goldwyn movie placed the time in 1936 because it wasn’t that much distant from 1927. We’ll be able to have a livelier background of the Paris of Josephine Baker, Charles Lindbergh, the black bottom and the jazz clubs.

″You can’t do a carbon copy of the original. Audiences’ perceptions have changed, and we can be more candid. Films were much more conservative and puritanical in 1936.″

The other Peck project is audio cassettes of the New Testament.

″My son, Stephen, and I did it as a ‘cottage industry,’ entirely on spec,″ he said. ″It took 14 months to record - it’s a couple of million words, you know. Stephen, who is a documentary filmmaker, editor and sound expert, and I did it all in my log cabin, which was the original building back in the 1920s when it was a shooting lodge. The acoustics turned out to be marvelous.″

The 16-cassette set, based on the King James version, was first taken by the Schuller Ministry of Anaheim, Calif., then the Sears catalogue. Peck recently returned from a publicity tour to St. Louis, Dallas and Richmond, Va., for WaldenBooks, which is placing the set in 1,000 book stores.

″The response has been amazing,″ Peck said happily. ″Recently I was returning from Palm Springs in rather slow traffic. I found myself riding alongside one of those huge, stainless steel 18-wheelers. I was sitting on the passenger side, and I looked up about eight feet and saw the truck driver smiling at me.

″He yelled, ‘Hey, Greg, I’ve been listening to you read the New Testament all the way from Trenton 3/8’ He gave me the thumbs-up sign, and I told my wife Veronique, ’That’s the best review I’ve ever gotten.‴

He was born Eldred Gregory Peck in La Jolla, Calif., crewed at the University of California at Berkeley, then embarked on a stage career in New York. Coming to films during World War II, he immediately became a top leading man, his strong presence dominating the screen in any genre, from Westerns (″Duel in the Sun″) to dramas (″Spellbound″) to romantic comedies (″Roman Holiday″).

The Oscar came for ″To Kill a Mockingbird″ in 1962, and he has remained a stalwart figure in films as well as civic affairs. During his 1967-1970 presidency of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, he led a drive to modernize the stodgy organization.

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