Screen test-- 'Scout' reflects on role in 'Mockingbird' film

By Kurt Anthony Krug

Legal News

Long after their work on 1962's "To Kill a Mockingbird," Mary Badham kept in touch with her on-screen father Gregory Peck up until his death and always called him "Atticus."

"(Peck) loved to laugh," Badham said of the legendary Hollywood star who died in 2003. "He had a marvelous sense of humor. He loved to read. He was just amazing--very well-educated, very open and kind. He was everything you see up on the screen... Just a wonderful, kind human being."

The two starred in the adaptation of Harper Lee's 1960 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name, which remains a beloved film to this day, a half-century after it first graced the silver screen. In 1995, "Mockingbird" was listed in the National Film Registry. It also ranks 25th on the American Film Institute's list of the greatest American movies of all time.

Prior to Peck's death in 2003, the AFI named his character Atticus Finch--Peck's most well-known role--the greatest movie hero of the 20th century. Atticus was ranked No. 13 on Premiere Magazine's "100 Greatest Movie Characters of All Time" list. Peck received the Academy Award for Best Actor and Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture Actor for his portrayal of Finch.

"Peck was great. He was such a classic actor in a classic role--one of those perfect matches," said Michigan native Allison Leotta, a former sex crimes prosecutor who now writes legal thrillers.

Badham, who had no acting experience prior to "Mockingbird," was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. She was one of the youngest ever to be nominated.

"It was a lot of fun. I didn't know anything about movies or movie stars... For me, it was playtime, just having a good time," recalled Badham, who currently lives in Virginia with her husband.

"Mockingbird" takes place over a course of three years during the 1930s in Alabama and is told through the perspective of Jean Louise Finch, alias Scout (Badham), daughter of Atticus Finch (Peck), a widower and an attorney. Atticus--who allows Scout and her older brother Jem (Phillip Alford) to call him by his first name--possesses many noble qualities: he adamantly believes all people are to be treated fairly and equally, regardless of race, creed, or color; and he believes in standing up for what's right.

Atticus represents Tom Robinson (Peters), a black man accused of raping a white woman named Mayella Ewell (Collin Wilcox). Even though the evidence is in the defendant's favor, he is nonetheless found guilty because of the town's racist nature. Later, Robinson tries to escape and is shot and killed. The townspeople vilify Finch for defending a black man as Scout, Jem, and their friend Dill Harris (John Megna) quickly realize how racism and ignorance are prevalent throughout their town.

At the end, Bob Ewell (James K. Anderson), the town drunk and father of Mayella, as well as her rapist, attacks Scout and Jem to get back at Finch, breaking Jem's arm in the process. However, Ewell is overpowered and subsequently killed by Arthur "Boo" Radley (Robert Duvall in his first film role), who saves the children.

"The movie was more entertaining, much better-structured (than the novel), and probably Gregory Peck's best performance... In 1962, it was clearly one element in the popular media environment that helped to make the civil rights movement more legitimate for the majority of Americans," said Jay Korinek, a retired telecommunication professor at Henry Ford Community College in Dearborn.

Steve Shaviro, a film professor at Wayne State University, added: "Both the book and film have remained famous because they offer a hard-hitting--especially for the time--and yet very accessible treatment of racism."

Today, Badham travels around the world, preaching the movie's messages of tolerance and compassion.

"I think it speaks to so many issues that today we're still dealing with. Ignorance, bigotry, and racism haven't gone anywhere - they've just changed their clothes. Be tolerant of one another -no two people have done the same thing, led the same lives, even kids in the same household are different," said the 59-year-old Badham "People have forgotten how to have a discussion or debate without having a screaming match--that's really sad. It's important we do talk about (our nation's history) and open things up for discussion or else history will repeat itself. We have to talk it out and have very open discussions so kids can understand the pain and hardship that was involved back then, so we do not do it again."

Published: Mon, Jul 9, 2012

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