Harper Lee Hits Orinda’s Stage

Jamie Riley

On Saturday, Feb.13, fans of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird gathered to see the film at the Orinda Theater and meet actress Mary Badham.  This movie screening was part of the Orinda Film Festival, which puts on monthly classics and Q and A’s with the movies’ stars.

Badham, who played the protagonist Scout Finch, went into her audition for To Kill a Mockingbird with no acting experience, but director Robert Mulligan immediately knew she would be perfect for the part.

“He looked right at me and knew I would be Scout,” said Badham.

The movie’s success lies with the accurate depiction of the South, seen through the homes.

Henry Bumstead, the art director of the film, was responsible for this, and received an Academy Award in 1962.

“He spent months in the South and took hundreds of photographs for the set,” said Badham. “Even though it was really filmed at Universal Studios in California, he made you feel like it had been made in Alabama.”

Badham grew up in Alabama, where she lived a very similar life to the part she played.

“They were looking for children of the South to play the characters,” said Badham. “Most things hadn’t changed in the 60s since the 30s, which is when Lee’s classic took place.”

While the West had shed some of its racism and prejudice by the 1960s, the South maintained the same level of racism seen 30 years earlier.

“We still weren’t allowed to be friends with people of color, and the school and public utilities were still kept separate for the most part,” said Badham. While working on the film, she became close with actor Gregory Peck, who played her father Atticus Finch.

“I always called him Atticus,” said Badham. “What viewers see on the screen was really what our relationship was. He was a father figure and my Atticus.”

Badham feels blessed to have been part of the film, and of the depiction of Lee’s novel.

She believes her similarities to Scout led to her success in the part, and her nomination as Best Supporting Actress.

“I was not the soft, frilly little girl that my dad wanted me to be,” said Badham. “And that’s what Scout was like.”

On Saturday, March 13, the Orinda Film Festival will show West Side Story, welcoming special guest Rita Moreno, who played Anita in this classic.

Tickets are available online at www.events.sfgate.com.