August 24, 2005

'Mockingbird' Actor Brock Peters Dies

LOS ANGELES - Brock Peters may be best remembered for his heartbreaking performance in "To Kill a Mockingbird," but his distinctive bass voice also played a vital role in his career.

Peters, who sang background vocals on Harry Belafonte's hits "Banana Boat (Day-O)" and "Mama Look At Bubu," died Tuesday at his home after battling pancreatic cancer. He was 78.

Peters was diagnosed with the disease in January and had been receiving chemotherapy treatment, according to Marilyn Darby, his longtime companion. His condition became worse in recent weeks and he died peacefully in bed, surrounded by family, she said.

Peters was born George Fisher on July 2, 1927, in New York. His long film career began in the 1950s with the landmark productions of "Carmen Jones" in 1954 and "Porgy and Bess" in 1959.

In recent years, he played Admiral Cartwright in two of the "Star Trek" feature films and also appeared in numerous TV shows. Peters was often used for animated characters, including Jomo in 2002's "The Wild Thornberrys Movie."

But he was perhaps best known for portraying accused rapist Tom Robinson, defended by Gregory Peck's Atticus Finch in the 1962 film "To Kill a Mockingbird."

"He was such a dear friend and one of the most lovely human beings I knew in my life," said Mary Badham, who played Jean Louise "Scout" Finch in the film.

Peters paid tribute to Peck after he died in 2003.

"In art there is compassion, in compassion there is humanity, with humanity there is generosity and love," Peters said. "Gregory Peck gave us these attributes in full measure."

Peters recounted how shortly before he was to start filming, he was awakened early on a Sunday morning by a phone call from Peck to welcome him to the production. He was so surprised, he recalled, that he dropped the telephone.

"I worked over the years in many, many productions, but no one ever again called me to welcome me aboard, except perhaps the director and the producer, but not my fellow actor-to-be."

In May, Peters was on hand as Harper Lee, the reclusive author of "To Kill a Mockingbird," made a rare step into the limelight to be honored by the Los Angeles Public Library.

In "Carmen Jones," Peters worked with Dorothy Dandridge and Belafonte. Otto Preminger's production of "Porgy" starred Sidney Poitier and Dandridge, and featured Sammy Davis Jr., Pearl Bailey and Diahann Carroll as well as Peters.

Among Peters' other films were "Soylent Green," "The L-Shaped Room" and "The Pawnbroker."

His accolades include a National Film Society Award, a Life Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild, and a Tony Award nomination for his performance on Broadway in "Lost in the Stars."

In a 1985 story by The Associated Press on blacks in the movies, Peters said there had been a string of recent hits involving blacks, but "I have been here a long time, and I have seen this cycle happen before. I'll wait awhile and see if this flurry of activity leads to anything permanent."

Peters was a widower and has one daughter, Lise Jo Peters.

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