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Behind the Camera
Remind Me
To Kill a Mockingbird,To Kill a Mockingbird


Sunday May, 19 2019 at 08:00 PM

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Behind the Camera on TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

Regardless of Harper Lee's high opinion of Gregory Peck, the actor was not Universal Studio's first choice for the role. The part was allegedly offered to Rock Hudson. He was set to do it until the start of production was delayed, entering what today's Hollywood executives would call "development hell." The film project remained there until it attracted the attention of producer Alan J. Pakula and director Robert Mulligan. They became heavily enamored with the project, but not with the idea of Rock Hudson as Atticus Finch. They sent Gregory Peck a copy of Harper Lee's novel, and Peck was soon on board.

Both nine-year-old Mary Badham and thirteen-year-old Phillip Alford were newcomers to the silver screen, as well as Birmingham, Alabama natives. In fact, Badham was picked for the part at an audition in Birmingham. Despite universal praise for the novice film actors, neither Badham nor Alford chose to capitalize on their stunning film debuts. Badham retired from acting and married a schoolteacher. She now lives near Richmond, Virginia, and spends most of her time raising her two children. Alford later became a successful businessman in Birmingham.

John Megna, playing the neighborhood friend Dill, also made his film debut in To Kill a Mockingbird, although he had some stage experience in the Broadway production of All the Way Home. Megna's unique character in the film is based on author Truman Capote, a childhood friend of Harper Lee's. Megna later co-starred with Burt Lancaster in Go Tell the Spartans (1978) and other movies before succumbing to AIDS in September 1995.

Up until the release of To Kill a Mockingbird, African-American actor Brock Peters was typecast as villains. Peters told a reporter in 1964, "Producers didn't want to see me. They had liked my performances but couldn't see me as anything but a heavy." That all changed when Robert Mulligan and Alan J. Pakula cast him as Tom Robinson, a Southern black man who stands accused of raping a white woman. Peters's performance shattered his typecast and deeply impressed a number of critics. In Film Reviews, Henry Hart wrote: "..Mr. Peters redeems the plot cliches nd makes us remember that the history of the black man in the U.S. does include cases like the one on which To Kill a Mockingbird is based." Peters never achieved leading man status in American films, although he continues to work to this day. Among his film credits are Carmen Jones (1954), Porgy and Bess (1959), The Pawnbroker (1965), Soylent Green (1973), and he appeared as Admiral Cartwright in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991). He also had a recurring role in the television series, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, as the character Joseph Sisko from 1995-1998.

When it came time to cast the part of Boo Radley, Horton Foote recalled a young actor's shattering performance in his drama The Midnight Caller at the Neighborhood Playhouse. That actor was Robert Duvall and Foote's recommendation helped the actor secure the role of Boo in To Kill a Mockingbird. The movie marked Duvall's screen debut and was the beginning of a stellar film career for Duvall, that included a Best Actor Oscar for his performance in Tender Mercies, another film written by Horton Foote. In preparation for the pivotal role of Boo Radley, Duvall stayed out of the sunlight for six weeks and died his hair blonde in order to achieve the look of someone who had spent most of their life locked in a cellar.

When Gregory Peck was first approached by producer Alan J. Pakula and director Robert Mulligan for the role of Atticus, the actor had already seen their first collaboration - Fear Strikes Out (1957) - and was suitably impressed. So, Peck agreed to read Harper Lee's novel. In The Films of Gregory Peck by John Griggs, the actor recalled, "I got started on it and of course I sat up all night and read straight through it. I understood that they wanted me to play Atticus and I called them at about eight o'clock in the morning and said, 'If you want me to play Atticus, when do I start? I'd love to play it.' I thought the novel was a fine piece of writing and of course I turned out to be right about that, because it won the Pulitzer Prize and it's still being read in high-school literature classes and the paperback goes on selling. But more than that I felt it was something I could identify with without any stress or strain... And I felt that I knew those two children...So I fell into that very readily, both as the father and with an understanding of the children."

Peck journeyed to Monroeville, Alabama with Mulligan and Pakula to meet Harper Lee's ailing father. True to the story, Amasa Lee really had been a widower who raised his children single handed, a man who at the same time was always ready to defend a black man falsely accused of crimes he did not commit. That experience of meeting the actual man aided Gregory Peck's performance immeasurably. He looked and sounded like the real man, and no one realized this more than Harper Lee herself. When she first spotted Peck in character, she burst into tears, and said, "He's got a little pot belly, just like my daddy." Peck replied, "That's no pot belly, Harper, that's great acting."

By the time filming was over, Amasa Lee had died. Harper Lee showed her immense appreciation for the actor's performance by presenting to Peck her father's gold pocket watch, the one he had carried with him to court for 40 years. The priceless timepiece was in Peck's pocket when he collected his Academy Award® for Best Actor on April 8, 1963.

Universal spared nothing in order to recreate the authentic atmosphere depicted so lovingly in Lee's novel and they did it entirely on the studio lot. Location scouts looked over the Los Angeles area until they found a community of clapboard houses that had just the right deteriorating look they wanted. Universal found the houses just in time as they were about to be bulldozed to make way for a freeway extension. The houses were carefully dismantled and rebuilt on the studio lot.

The courtroom is a recreation of the interior of the Monroe County Courthouse in Monroeville, Alabama, Harper Lee's hometown. Prior to filming, the production designers traveled to Monroeville, took photographs and measurements, and recreated a duplicate version on Universal's studio lot.

by Scott McGee, Kerryn Sherrod & Jeff Stafford