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ENCOUNTERS WITH GREGORY PECK

The report that actor Gregory Peck will field questions from the audience at the University at Buffalo Center for the Arts on April 30 stirred memories of the two times we met and of a letter he sent to me.

In 1970 a friend at NBC-TV named Alan Baker told a publicist at 20th Century Fox: "You people should invite a guy named Curran down for the opening night of 'Patton.' He's a columnist in Buffalo who was decorated by Patton, and you don't find that combination around too much."

The suggestion was taken, and the results had me, in the parlance of Manhattan publicists, "dining out" (eating at the trough) for a while. In Western New York I did that by imitating the general at various banquets.

Most people are surprised by my imitation, which relies heavily on the way Patton spoke. I used to say, "His voice was 10 octaves above Andy Devine's," but stopped doing that after someone who is not a young old-timer asked, "Who is Andy Devine?"

Another reaction, heavily tinged with disbelief, is, "I didn't know Patton talked like that." Well, he did, despite the legend that George C. Scott, who portrayed Patton in the movie, is the real general.

Anyway, there were many festivities that weekend in 1971, including a chance to invite new Manhattanite and former Buffalonian Liz "Dialing for Dollars" Dribben to opening night. And seeing the New York West Point Society awarding a sword to Peck.

Gen. Omar Bradley, played by Karl Malden in the film, had a small reception the afternoon after the premiere. After a while I braced Frank McCarthy, the producer of the film, and asked, "Do you know how Patton really talked?"

McCarthy smiled and answered in a put-on shrill voice: "Yes, Bob, I do know, and wouldn't you expect the same reaction to the real Patton talking? The public would laugh us out of every movie house in America."

After that first talk, we became friendly and McCarthy invited me to a screening of the movie "MacArthur." Yes, he did, despite my protest that "I never served under Gen. MacArthur and wasn't even in his theater."

The star of what I would assume was a bomb was Gregory Peck, whom I had met briefly in 1968 when he was in London plugging a film and I was a faceless member of the press.

The second time we met was at West Point, where he was answering questions from the media. I had seen the movie "MacArthur" the night before and thought it was a casting mistake to put the liberal Peck into that illiberal role.

I had heard about "Dugout Doug," though I didn't understand why an elderly general was expected to be on the front lines, where he would get in the way. And yes, I knew that George "Blood and Guts" Patton had a better publicist than MacArthur.

The years passed, and one day I did a story on celebrities linked to Western New York. In it I mentioned that although Gregory Peck's father was from Buffalo, the star had not been here.

That produced the Peck letter. In it Peck said that his father often referred to him as "the filum star."

At the moment I read the words I could almost hear my late father's brogue. He, too, always said "filum."

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