To Kill A Mockingbird Actress Wants You To Give Watchman A Chance

Photo: © 2015 Nancy Crampton.
Mary Badham, who played Scout in the 1962 film version of To Kill A Mockingbird, stumbled a bit when she read the first chapter of Go Set A Watchman, for an audience at the 92nd Street Y on Tuesday night.

Badham, who also read a passage from the first book and emerged on stage to a roaring standing ovation, apologized when she sat down for the Q&A, explaining that she hadn’t read something of that length out loud in years. “I’m sorry if it wasn’t as smooth as it wanted to be,” she said. The same could be said of the release of the book, but this event, held on the day of Go Set A Watchman’s publication, was evidently not the time to harp on the negative press surrounding the debut of Harper Lee’s second novel.

There was no mention of the question of whether or not Lee truly wanted the book published, and the revelation that in this set of events the lionized hero, Atticus Finch, holds racist beliefs was only briefly mentioned in the following Q&A. Asked, elliptically, about Atticus’s character in this novel, Badham said, “You have to put your mindset in that time period, okay? And you have to understand what we lived through.” Badham, herself, is from Alabama. “I, being from Alabama, can testify to this about the way you presented at home and the way you may have to present in public.” She added, a bit later: “When you read the book, you’ll get it.” (Badham had previously told Katie Couric how she thinks the Atticus of the film, Gregory Peck would have reacted to Watchman's Atticus: "I think he would be understanding of the complexity of human beings. I can't answer for him, but he was so well-read and so knowledgeable about the human persona that he would be able to work through it, I think.")

As for encountering the adult Scout, Badham was effusive. “She is just fabulous,” Badham said. “She is still pushing buttons every time she gets a chance and very passionate about her beliefs. I think everybody’s going to really enjoy this book. I think everybody should read this book. I think it’s so timely for right now.” Later, moderator Mary McDonagh Murphy prodded Badham to talk about a moment in the new novel in which Scout got a “little drunk.” Badham reluctantly elaborated: “She hasn’t changed a whole lot, through the years. Usually when you have a personality you kind of hang on to it through the years. So you’re going to see Scout just in a more adult form.”

Much of the evening was also spent reminiscing about Badham’s time on set of the iconic movie, and how the role changed her own life. She discussed her close relationships with “her Atticus,” Peck, and Brock Peters, who played Tom Robinson, and described an instance in which she went to visit Lee.

Toward the end of the celebratory evening, Badham said she hopes that Go Set A Watchman gets taught in schools along with To Kill A Mockingbird. “Especially now with what we’ve got going on in this country,” she said. “In the last two weeks we’ve had major things come up on these issues of race and tolerance and bigotry and stuff and it all comes down to education.” Badham implored the audience to repeat after her, the way she does when she visits schools. “The root of all evil is ignorance,” she said to applause. After the audience joined her in repetition she added, “and education is the key to freedom.” The audience clapped again.

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