Mary Badham Shares Behind-the-Scenes Stories from Her Iconic Role in To Kill a Mockingbird
The original Scout takes a look back as the classic film a half a century later.
Sporting a page-boy hair-cut and denim overalls, Mary Badham at the age of ten, graced the silver screen for the first time as one of the most beloved characters in cinematic history. Badham's portrayal of Scout in 1962's film adaptation of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird is now woven into the fabric of American history. Fifty years later, she's speaking to Southern Living to reflect on this iconic role and film.
At the age of ten, Mary Badham left her home in Birmingham, Alabama for the bright lights of Hollywood, much to the dismay of her aspiring filmmaker big brother. "My brother was at Yale and he was studying philosophy and drama and in the worst kind of way, he wanted to be in the business. And then he gets a phone call from my mother, ‘guess what? Baby sister's gonna be in a movie.' WHAT? And then, ‘guess what, Baby Sister's been nominated for an Academy Award.' I think he's never forgiven me for that one," she recalled with a laugh. (Of course, John Badham did go onto achieve his dreams in the film industry.)
The now retired actress spends her days travelling across the country to speak to schools, groups, and at special events about the importance of the message behind the beloved film—and to visit her grandbabies. She recently spoke with us and shared a few behind the scenes stories. Referring to her castmates in the film, John Megna and Phillip Alford, she recalled the scene where she rolls to Boo Radley's house in a tire;
"They had had enough of me. We used to fight, evidently quite a lot and the movie people just let it go because it read better on film when we had scenes together. But that particular day, they had decided ok now we have our chance, we'll fix her. We'll just kill her," she said with a laugh.
"So, they took the tire, and what you don't see is off to the side there was a utility truck and they took that tire and rolled it right into the utility truck. Of course, too bad, so sad, I'm still here. So, but the studio saw that, and they were like ok, maybe we'd better call for a stunt double."
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Over the five months of filming, Badham formed what would become a lifelong friendship with her on screen father, Gregory Peck. She shared with us how she spent many weekends at the Peck home and that his children are, still to this day, like siblings to her. As she spoke about Peck, she only referred to him as "Atticus."
"Well what else was I gonna call him? Greg was not happening, and Mr. Peck was too formal. We were too close for that," she said.
Badham has many fond memories of her time spent with the Pecks and told us just how much that time impacted her life and widened her horizons—even her eating habits.
"In Alabama, you know food had been at that time, cooked to death. I didn't know that you could eat fresh vegetables until I got to California and one of the things that I was presented with at lunch, was an artichoke. Now presented with an artichoke on your plate, you go really? When you've never seen one before. So, Atticus had to show me how to eat the thing. And of course, it has become one of my favorite foods."
Badham, who grew up with all brothers, remains so close with Peck's daughter Cecilia that they two are hoping to put together a road show to share more stories of their childhood and of Gregory Peck, as she put it "the real daughter and the reel daughter." She refers to Cecilia as the sister she never had.
But for now, Badham wishes for everyone to take advantage of the rare return of To Kill a Mockingbird's rare return to theatres as a part of TCM Big Screen Classics series from Fathom Events.
Badham said that she didn't truly understand the weight of the story she was telling as a child because the wonderful group of adults that surrounded her and the other children on set—which included her mother as well as teachers, really kept the kids focused on their tasks, their roles. Because of the heavy nature of the storyline, the children weren't given full scripts. But she realizes now just what a major part of American history this story plays, and just how remarkable it is that it is so relevant even now, more than fifty years later. The film and the message have withstood the test of time.
"It's quite an honor. You know, and I just hope that I can in some way, help with people's understanding of heart and soul what we need to do to come together as human beings and make this a better world and a better place."
The book and film have been taught in schools for generations now but with this opportunity for audiences to see it on the big screen again, Badham is acutely aware of the lessons it could teach to so many.
"We have so much division right now and it comes down to education and understanding. And tolerance. That's the whole theme of the book and the film and the play and everything is to come together for common goal… Please come see the film again, enjoy it. It is so extremely important to see the relevance of this in this particular moment in our history."