'This Is Work, Not Play'

My first director was Charles Lamont, and he and his producer came to the dancing school where I was tap-dancing. They were looking for children for "baby burlesques." I didn't like either one of their faces, and I particularly didn't like the producer, so I hid under the piano. And I was picked. You know how dogs and cats and children can sense things--I sensed they were not nice, and I didn't like them. But it worked out OK for about a year. I loved to work and I learned the work ethic. All of us in these little films were between 3 and 5 years of age, and when you have a gaggle of little children together they tend to want to play or act up. Lamont would admonish us with, "This is work, not play" and "time is money." We got the feeling, the message, that we were to do our work and not to fool around. And there was retribution if you didn't behave. In the old days they had a sound box, which was a big wooden box on wheels with all the sound equipment in it so the person who sat inside would mix sound. They had two of these boxes, and one didn't have any sound equipment in it. It had a block of ice, and the box was completely black. If we misbehaved, we were sent one by one into the sound box to think about how not to fool around. There was no place to sit down except on the ice. I did it rather willingly. I knew if I was naughty, that's where I would go. It wasn't as scary as it sounds. I'm not afraid of the dark, and I still like ice.

The night I won my Academy Award was kind of boring. Back in 1935 the Academy had a big dinner because there was no TV. It was a long dinner for me, and I spent the time breaking up rolls and looking at what everyone was wearing. Finally they called my name, which was a surprise, and I was presented with a very small Oscar. It was a Special Oscar. Because I was little, they made it little. But it never felt like a real one, and I wanted one the same size as everyone else's. I turned to my mother and said, can we go home now? On our way home I asked her if I got the award because I did the best work. She said, "No, because you made the most films in 1934." I finally did get a big one--in 1987.

TALKING PICTURES: When he was a boy in boarding school in Los Angeles, Gregory Peck would frequently go with his friends to watch the early sound movies.

We would take the trolley car downtown on Sundays and try to hit two, maybe three, talkies. Everybody was mad for the talkies. I remember "The Jazz Singer," when Al Jolson just burst into song, and there was a little bit of dialogue. And when he came out with "Mammy," and went down on his knees to his Mammy, it was just dynamite.