Nearly 50 years after appearing as “Scout” in the 1962 film To Kill A Mockingbird, Mary Badham continues to bring the movie’s messages about equality, compassion and tolerance around the world.
Badham shared her memories of making the movie, her own background, and how she became an advocate for Harper Lee’s famous 1960 novel in “Looking Back with Scout,” Nov. 7th & 8th at Drew University in Madison, NJ. The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, who had produced the play for six weeks this fall, invited her.
Chosen to play Scout at age 10, with no prior acting experience, Badham grew up in a town similar to the book’s fictitious Maycomb, Alabama. Very little had changed between the book’s 1936 setting and her childhood in the 1950’s. Her British mother served as her father’s driver during World War II. Badham remembers her mother, a lover of literature and film, reading a book while standing before the stove, cooking. Her mother acted in a local theater company and hearing that the directors were seeking a young girl, she brought Mary.
Like Scout, Badham says she was a tomboy, growing up in a houseful of boys. Her only brother, 13 years older, married and had several sons. She remembers playing outside all the time, until after dark, making up games. She watched very little of the family’s television, a small static-ridden black and white set, and never went to the movies. She attended church with the family’s black maid, just as Jem and Scout do with Calpurnia, the Finches’ housekeeper, in the story.
Badham left Alabama to complete high school in Arizona. She credits her English teacher for “saving her life” by encouraging her to attend college, and convincing her father to send her.
After her parents died, Gregory Peck, who played the lawyer Atticus Finch, became a surrogate father figure, calling her often to ask about her homework and arranging for her to visit him if he was on the east coast. She refers to Peck as Atticus, calling him what she did in the film. “I was his Scout; he was my Atticus,” Badham said. She remained close to Peck until his death in 2003.
Harper Lee visited the movie set a few times during the five- month filming. Living a quiet, almost reclusive life since the 1970’s, Lee shuns interviews and publicity. Badham, however, is welcomed in Lee’s home every year when she returns to Monroeville, for the annual play production of To Kill A Mockingbird set in the original courthouse.
Badham acknowledged that while many areas of Alabama have progressed, “pockets of the old social structure, racism and bigotry” remain. In her visits to Alabama schools, she encourages students, black and white, to take advantage of their educations, not to make excuses for themselves, and to “move up and forward.”
As she travels worldwide promoting To Kill a Mockingbird and its inherent values, Badham invokes Atticus as the embodiment of personal courage because he stood up for what he believed. She enjoys seeing productions of the play, meeting young people taking on the role she originated.
The more the book is read, the more the movie is seen, the more the play is performed, the better chance to eradicate the statement that “ignorance is the route of all evil,” she said.
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