The Story of Greta and Gregory Peck
Skrivet av Richard Koski   
2005-09-04 00:12

The Story of Greta and Gregory Peck

Contributed by Richard Koski [May 2001 FLF Newsletter]

Picture from 1946

Many of us have heard bits and pieces about Gregory Peck's connection to a Finnish family in Halsey Valley. With information contributed by some of our Finger Lakes Finns members, we can now learn more of this interesting story. The following newspaper article was contributed by Hemmo and Patty Huttunen from their archives of family and local history. It is from the Sayre, PA "The Evening Times" April 27, 1953.

Taking her first airplane ride from New York City to London, was only one of many thrills 74 year-old Mrs. Olli Piipari of Halsey Valley received when she spent the late summer and fall months in Europe with her son-in-law and daughter, Mr. and Mrs. Gregory Peck.

Mother-in-law of the famed movie star, Mrs. Piipari joined her daughter, Greta Peck, in London and both went to Helsinki, Finland, their "hometown" before coming to America, to see the XV Olympic games and visit their relatives.

The Olympic games, open from July 19 to August 8, were a fascinating spectacle to say the least, and Mrs. Piipari attended four of them, the opening, running event, swimming contest and the last game. Her daughter attended all of the games. Sixty-nine nations took part after the games were officially opened following the arrival of Paavo Nurmi with the Olympic torch which was carried to the top of the tower by another world-famous Finnish athlete of other days, Hannes Kolehmainen.

Erik von Frenckell, president of the Organizing committee, delivered the welcome and his expression of thanks in four different languages. The Olympic fanfare, the release of the pigeons and the salute preceded the biggest moment, seeing the Olympic torch brought through the Marathon gate.

Cheer upon cheer came from the crowd of 70,000 people who came to the event, which is held in hopes of bringing the world's peoples closer together in a "noble contest for the glory of sport and the honour of their country."

When Mrs. Piipari and Greta arrived in Helsinki, the studio for which Gregory Peck works sent them red roses and provided an automobile, and her twin brothers (sic) Elli and Hilja, sent them pink roses. They had spent the previous two nights in London and saw "Call Me Madam" and "The Deep Blue Sea" in the Duchess Theatre.

Spending many happy days with her family, Mrs. Piipari collected a number of souvenirs and pictures that are a delight to anyone who knows and talks with her about her trip. Since she has come home, her family has sent her a cleverly prepared "family tree" with a picture of every member. They also sent her detailed reports of the party Gregory gave for them when he was in Finland with his company in January. At one time he was given five tuupkol Finnish knives, which in itself shows how well he is liked, she said.

Greta flew back to Rome after the Olympics but Mrs. Piipari stayed with her relatives in Helsinki for another month. Then she took another plane trip, this time to Paris to be with the Pecks again. She sent a telegram to Greta telling her what time she would arrive, but forgot to tell her the number of the airplane. Greta sent messages to every airline to direct her mother to the George V Hotel where she would wait for her. Mrs. Piipari said that among all the people getting on and off planes, the messenger spotted her immediately and gave her the message. She still wonders how she had been described to be recognized so quickly.

While they spent a month in Paris she often took the children to school or met them to accompany them home. This was one of the ways she got to learn Paris pretty well, but if she got lost she took a taxi to the place she wanted to go.

Her last plane ride before coming home was with her daughter when they went from Paris to Rome to join Gregory, who had been working on his last picture. They lived at St. Margherita on the Italian Riviera before returning to Paris by automobile. This time Gregory was with them and took them on innumerable sight- seeing tours. They stopped at the Monte Carlo Playhouse and she recalls that Greg commented on those who were gambling, "They're supposed to be happy and look how sad they look." While in Paris they stayed at the L'Etang Va Ville, which Gregory rented.

Mrs. Piipari loves to talk about her famous son-in-law and is liberal in her praise of him as a husband, father and friend as well as his role as an actor. She is especially proud of the answer he gave a movie actress who, when he was in Stockholm, Sweden a few months ago, asked him what his idea of a perfect woman was. He told her, "My Finnish-born wife."

The couple has three sons, who get the best of care and warm attention from their father. At present they are in the United States with their mother who came here in January to put the two older boys in school. "He is so friendly with everybody," Mrs. Piipari says of Greg, and when she was with him while in Europe, she felt the return of his friendship from the many who constantly thronged him. Before she left for Europe, he sent her a number of letters and cards explaining in detail everything she would need to know to make her trip a comfortable and enjoyable one.

At the present time he's studying two different films to decide which one he will take part in. He works extremely hard, Mrs. Piipari feels, and studies his part from every possible angle in order to portray a given character properly. Busy as he is however, she says his interests in his family and friends is always keen. He has just completed his work on "Roman Holiday," which was filmed in Italy.

Since Mrs. Piipari has come home from the European trip she has undergone a major operation at the Robert Packer hospital and is on the road to full recovery. She says her remarkably good health is due to what Dr. Donald Guthrie called the healthy Finnish blood, when he talked with her in the hospital. Careful and tidy housekeeper that she is it was difficult for her to obey the doctor's advice for her not to do much housework for a few months. And when they advised her to do some kind of hand work such as crocheting or knitting, two of her favorite pastimes, she said "What will my husband think when I say I can't sweep the floor, but it's all right for me to knit." Her husband, however, is proving to be an apt housekeeper, too, and happily sweeps the floor. At present, she is finishing a light rose wool suit she is knitting for Greta.

Her home is a veritable shrine for anyone who loves any type of stitching art because the 20 pairs of curtains at her windows were all crocheted by herself, needlework pictures of Finnish scenes are on the walls, gorgeous tableclothes and doilies compliment the tables and stands and bureau drawers are filled with things she has made for herself or to give as gifts.

Needlework isn't her only forte either; she speaks four languages, Finnish, Swedish, Russian and English, fluently and has studied German. She taught her children to speak Finnish as well as English, too. In 1941, Mr. and Mrs. Piipari moved from Jersey City to a 127 acre farm in Halsey Valley and since then have moved to the home of the former Halsey family, for which the little village was named. The house is over 100 years old and Mrs. Piipari has in her guest book the autographs of some of the relatives of the family who called on her to visit the old homestead.

From Jean Lindblad, I discovered that one can find out about Greta on the internet by typing in "Gregory Peck's first wife." Here you can find out that Greta and Gregory were married in 1942, they separated in 1954 and were divorced in 1955. Gregory immediately married French actress Veronique Passani and is still married to her.

Greta's full name was Greta Konen (shortened by her family from the original Finnish *Konanen) Rice (from her first marriage to American businessman Charles Rice) Peck. She and Gregory met when he was touring with a theatre group for which she was hairdresser to the star Katherine Cornell.

Helvi Vaananen wrote from Florida to say that her parents were good friends of Emily Piipari and her first husband (Greta's father) in Jersey City, NJ around 1920. Helvi and her parents moved to Finland in 1923 and after 25-30 years she came to Halsey Valley with her family from Long Island. To her surprise, the Piiparis were living next door to their new home. By this time Emily was married to Olli Piipari. Greta was not living in Halsey Valley but when she would come to visit, she would go next door to use Helvi's phone to call Gregory and the boys.

Waino Salmi also wrote from Florida and said that his farm was next to the Piipari Farm where Greta used to come and visit. According to Waino, Gregory never came to Halsey Valley to visit. Emily Piipari died in 1955 and Olli died in 1962. They are buried in the Halsey Valley Cemetery. Waino said that Greta had a brother named Valo Konen who lives in Geneva, N.Y.

Looking in the Geneva phone book, the only Konen listed was for Konen Office Products. I gave a call and the manager said that Val Konen had passed away a year ago. He also said that Greta is now living in Connecticut. She would be about 86 years old today.

  * The name Konanen cited on the Internet information is wrong, the Finnish name was Kukonen. 

Senast uppdaterad 2005-10-13 07:48
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