`Do you think you could get this letter off to him,' she said in the way that mothers do, assuming Gregory Peck's address would be common knowledge and Hollywood celebrities are just waiting for people like her to `pop in' on them.

It might have been better if my mum had heard of Melrose Place, the steamy Aaron Spelling soap which everyone here loves so much. At least it might have prepared her.

Not that there was much she could say when, sipping her afternoon tea, having just arrived for her first visit ever to America, the couple next door embarked on their Olympics-standard sexual routine that usually has the rest of the building plugging their ears with cotton wool.

"That's nice, dear," she muttered, as I explained that these apartments where I live were the inspiration for the soap opera. "Sounds a bit racier than Neighbours."

But what interested her far more was romance of a different kind. In her era, fantasies were delivered on a black-and-white screen in an altogether more imaginative way than anything they could muster up either next door or on TV. Never mind tawdry titillation a la Spelling Productions; Hollywood represented something far more magical for her. She wanted to meet Gregory Peck.

Now in his 80s, the star of To Kill a Mockingbird lives in Beverly Hills. And she'd written him a letter.

"Dear Mr Peck, Since my teens I saw every film in which you starred. Your photograph lay under my pillow and another in my prayer book, on which I gazed during boring sermons. I loved you desperately and passionately and hoped one day I would meet you. I am 60 years old now. Would it be a fearful cheek to ask if I might visit you, just to say hello?"

"Do you think you could get that off to him," she said in the way that mothers do, assuming his address would be common knowledge and Hollywood celebrities are just waiting for people like her to "pop in" on them.

I didn't hold out much hope. After four years living here, one quickly learns that celebrities rarely say "yes" to anything. But I faxed it to his agent anyway.

Less than 24 hours later, his personal assistant phoned to say that Mr Peck couldn't meet her that weekend, but he'd love to talk to her on the phone. Would she be in on Sunday?

And he rang. And they chatted for hours, about being grandparents, the weather, the movies... I couldn't get her off the phone.

It made her holiday the trip of a lifetime. As far as she is concerned, Hollywood is the land where dreams come true. Thank you, Mr Peck.

Comments