In August 1977, Oscar winner Gregory Peck appeared in Little Rock for the premiere of the film MacARTHUR. He played the general who had been born in Little Rock but who spent most of his life downplaying (or even denying) that fact.
MacArthur was brought to the screen by Universal Pictures. It was their attempt to capitalize on the success of the movie Patton, including sharing some of the same members of the production team.
Told entirely in flashback, it starred Peck as the fabled World War II general who was born in Little Rock. It focuses primarily on events in 1942 during the war, his dismissal by Truman in 1952, and his famous address to West Point in 1962.
Peck initially did not care for the subject or the script, but eventually stated that he grew to admire the challenges MacArthur faced. Peck later called it one of his favorites roles, if not one of his favorite movies.
Producer Frank McCarthy, who worked on both Patton and MacArthur once said of Patton and MacArthur: “Both were complex men but General MacArthur was complex on a much broader scale. Patton had no ambition except to be a soldier and to command a field army. He was strictly command.”
Most of the film was shot on the backlot at the movie studio, which impacted the quality of the film. The production budget simply would not allow for overseas location filming.
The premiere was a fundraiser for the Museum of Science and History (now the Museum of Discovery). At the time it was located in the Arsenal Building, in which MacArthur had been born. Since 1999, that has been home to the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History. Since MacArthur only spent a few hours in Little Rock as an adult, it is possible that Peck spent more time in the building than the General did.
The evening of August 5, 1977, started with an exclusive reception for 100 people with Gregory and Veronique Peck. The movie itself was shown at the Cinema 150, where its general run would start on Saturday, August 6. Following the film, a reception and silent auction brought people back to the museum. Tickets ran $250 a person for all events, $100 a person for the film and post-show reception, and $25 for the movie. It sold out.
Governor and Mrs. David Pryor escorted the Pecks into the theatre. Former Governor (and World War II hero) Sid McMath introduced Mr. Peck to the crowd. He extolled the virtues of Peck and MacArthur. (It is interesting that he should admire MacArthur so much, since the General and President Truman had a well-publicized tiff, and McMath and Truman had enjoyed a warm relationship.) Little Rock City Director Jim Dailey presented Peck with a Key to the City.
MacArthur did not lead to an Oscar nomination for Peck (though he did earn a Golden Globe nomination for the role). But the actor had enjoyed four nominations prior to his win for To Kill a Mockingbird. He also received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award from the Academy. He served as president of the Academy for several years.