You can still see young Scout Finch in Mary Badham’s face despite Mary’s matured age and perfectly coifed, thick hair. Shedding her tomboy girlhood, Mary wore a red silky blouse overlaid with black lace, trim black pants, and four-inch killer spike heels. My husband and I listened to her tell the stories of the making of the film To Kill a Mockingbird in between performances of score selections by the Meramec Symphonic Band. Conductor Gary Gackstatter, with exuberant body language, easily coaxed the band to brillliantly play pieces that were alternately childlike and sweet and ferociously frightening. He had traveled the world with Mary to share the music and stories of this iconic film before he settled in St. Louis.
Mary said many studios rejected the screenplay because there was no romance or onscreen violence, only a quiet lawyer with two kids. But producer Alan Pakula loved the book and wanted to honor it onscreen. Mary and Phillip, who played Jem, lived four blocks away from each other in Birmingham, Alabama, but because of their age difference didn’t know each other. Neither had any previous acting experience, but the director thought they were lively and real. Mary said she was quite the tomboy, and the boys who played Jem and Dill became like her brothers, the three of them arguing and fighting like family, too. The actor who played Bob Ewell was scary—being a method actor, he was in character during the entire time he was on set. Off set, Director Richard Mulligan kept the children separate from the main actors, outside of Gregory Peck who became like a second father to Mary. Looking back, Mary thought Mulligan brilliant, preventing them from seeing the actors as the real people they were in order to maintain the character relationships.
Mary continues to travel to share her memories of the film-making and promote the message of the book. One school theater in Virginia she was to appear at was huge and well-appointed, so she suggested sharing the event with other schools in the area. She helped arrange for a reunion of the remaining cast and crew, knowing it was now or never as many were deceased or up in age and she wanted their stories to be told.
In this day of celebrity memoirs, it’s a wonder that no one has produced one to include the making of To Kill a Mockingbird. The book has surpassed the Bible as the number one most-read book in the world. Unfortunately, as we passed by Mary signing glossy film photographs afterwards, I forgot to whisper to her to write the stories down.
“Cherry Blossoms in Twilight”