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Suraiya’s meeting with Gregory Peck (1954)

How did Gregory Peck, famous Hollywood star, handsome heart-throb and dream-boy of a million maidens up and down and round and about the world, come to visit our own little singing star of the Indian screen, Suraiya, and have a midnight tete-a-tete with her in her Bombay flat on Tuesday, January 5th 1954?

Not many, in fact, not a soul besides a couple of newspapermen at Santa Cruz airport, knew even that Peck was in Bombay, Suraiya, who has been dreaming of him ever since she sent him her autographed photograph with Frank Capra after the International Film Festival two years ago, least of all.

Capra carried back a message from Suraiya to Gregory that he was her favorite star and that she was longing to meet him.

Nothing was further from her mind than that she would—right here, too, in Bombay and in her own flat at that. It happened like a fairy tale. There was a knock on the door at a little past eleven of Tuesday night, January 5th, and there, when it opened, was Mr. Peck himself asking Suraiya’s very astonished mother with a bow: “Where is Suraiya, Madam?” Just like that.

Mama Malika couldn’t believe her eyes. But having practically lived with Mr. Peck’s handsome features in films starring him and in the stills and photographs of him which have littered the house ever since Capra flew away with Suraiya’s picture and message, she just couldn’t help knowing the favorite of the household.

While she still hesitated, along came Suraiya from her bed, wide-eyed with wonder, to welcome her favorite star who stepped in and stayed chatting informally till well past midnight, when he left to catch the Colombo plane which had stopped here on account of an unexpected turn of the weather in Ceylon.

Peck was on his way there to star in location scenes for Mr. Arthur Rank’s current production “The Purple Plain,” Harry Bates’s brilliant novel. When he found he would be here for the afternoon and evening,he decided to take a peek at Bombay, of which he had been hearing incessantly from Capra.

Staying at the Taj, he spent the afternoon getting his first look of India’s First City. Later he was dining at the Ambassador (Mr. Faletti can answer the obvious question) when some of his fans — Peck would be astonished how many he has here and it is just as well they didn’t know of his presence in Bombay — spotted him.

Doubtful at first — how on earth could he be here unheralded, they wondered — with true Indian caution they got his autograph. Sure then, they telephoned Suraiya’s residence, but Mama Malika pooh-poohed the big news, thinking it just another of the silly tricks Suraiya’s fans are forever playing on her.

Hearing from the fans that Suraiya was just around the corner from the Ambassador and remembering her messages through Capra, Peck with characteristic courtesy stepped around to pay his call.

It was a bit late. But Hollywood is around the corner. For Suraiya, it was a dream come true, she said. “It was the luckiest thing for me,” she declared enthusiastically, “and a great honor, too. Gregory stayed nearly an hour with me and we talked of everything under the sun. He told me he found my photograph which I sent him through Mr. Capra so beautiful that he had it on the wall of his bedroom! He did, and he actually asked me to act with him in a picture.”

“Is he handsome?” echoed Suraiya. “I’ll say he is and a lot more. I just have no words to describe how very handsome and dashing he is. He has dark hair, the loveliest dark eyes and a skin so terrifically tanned it did things to me.” Suraiya was clearly very excited by the recollection.

Playing the lead opposite beautiful Helga Johnson in “The Purple Plain,” Peck hopes to stay a little longer in Bombay on his return trip some weeks hence. Whether he does or not, Suraiya says she will visit him in Ceylon.

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