Friday, February 15, 2013

Will the real Scout please stand?

An actress remembers her lines

Wednesday I drove from Lubbock to Canyon to hear a lecture at West Texas A&M University given by Mary Badham, who braved the snowy weather to appear before a packed lecture hall that holds 700 people.

Mary Badham put the screen face on Harper Lee's unforgettable character, Jean Louise Finch, aka. Scout. Harper Lee won the Pulitzer for her first and only novel, a story that transgressed social boundaries by bringing to the fore racism, prejudice and bigotry as seen through the eyes of children. Mary Badham was nominated as Best Supporting Actress for her role as Scout in the 1961 film.

"A child's point of view made it easier for people to grapple with the subject [of racism]," said Badham.

"Mockingbird has taken me around the world," she said, noting that she was 9-years-old when filming the movie To Kill a Mockingbird began and 10 when the movie premiered. Now, Mary––wife, mother, grandmother and working woman––lives in Virginia.

One of her regrets is that she has worked constantly––she considers herself a workaholic––and she missed time with her children, something her children remind her of often. She thinks people should learn to live on less in order to have time with their children.

Meet Scout

Instead of standing to talk, Mary sat in a chair on the stage at a table set for 2, her moderator more a prop than a prompter. A microphone set up in the audience permitted people to line up and ask questions.

Lifted by her dad to speak, this little girl said, "Hello. My name is Scout." The audience applauded.

Here, a smiling Scout poses for a picture.

Mary had already responded to someone who said their dog's name is Scout. "More dogs and cats and fish and animals are named Scout because of Mockingbird."

And I had to grin because my female black schnauzer is named Scout. When I introduce my dog, I say her full name is "Scout Harper Lee," so that maybe people will not think she's a boy, and if whomever has read the literary classic, they get it.

Buckshot instead of a bullet

Mary covered topics from family life to politics to her travels to education and "the freedoms we step on every day." Once she wound up, while conceding that there are some good teachers, she said she is appalled at the ignorance of students and teachers she meets in her travels to speak at high schools, colleges and universities. "It's unconscionable to live in a country and not be able to speak our language."

She and I have more in common than I thought, maybe because we are about the same age. A recent 60 Minutes interview with David McCullough highlighted some of these same concerns about American's ignorance of history. History and literature.

She had the audience repeat with her "Ignorance is the root of all evil," and "Education is the key to freedom." Someone asked her when then is ignorance bliss? Her answer implied, only when you are spared something evil.

Mary Badham dispensed motherly advice saying, "You are in charge of you. Who you surround yourself with determines who you become. Your choices make you," adding "Decide early to separate yourself from bad influences." Most of her opinions sounded like something I would say, but I came expecting to hear, or at least hopeful of seeing a polished speaker deliver a pointed talk.

A Brief Comment about Truman Copote

Here, Mary Badham speaks about Nell's (Harper Lee) relationship to Truman Capote, how their friendship dissolved after Nell won a Pulitzer and he did not win a Pulitzer for In Cold Blood. Truman had been Nell's friend since childhood and she had based the character Dill on him.


Signing Autographs

I didn't see the movie Scout in Mary until I saw her up close, her eyes.  Fair complexion, freckled, she has blue eyes.

My Personal Thoughts

When Mary said during her introduction that she would need to charge $20 for each autograph, I have to admit that this put me off, set me on edge for how I listened to what she had to say.

Instead of thinking about the movie To Kill a Mockingbird, I thought of a line from Jerry Maguire. Instead of "You had me at 'hello'," I thought You had me until you said I need to charge $20 to sign a copy of the book, the movie or a picture because "I have a kid in college, and some of you know what that's like." So another line from the movie Jerry Maguire came to mind. "Show me the money!"

And I thought, Good grief! You didn't write the book. You said you didn't even read the book until after your daughter was born, and then only because someone who had asked you to speak insisted that you read it. So I passed on the signature, but no matter, plenty of others lined up to get her John Hancock.

Maybe it was just the manner in which she made this comment that struck me the wrong way. In America, a celebrity is a celebrity is a celebrity, whether greater or lesser lights.

Watch this video clip from the 1961 movie

One of the best scenes in the movie occurs when Scout says, "Hey, Boo," tying a thread stitched early in the story. If you haven't seen the movie, you should. Mary said that To Kill a Mockingbird is taught in schools in Russia.

"Racism and bigotry hasn't gone anywhere. It's just changed his clothes," Mary said.

And I say that To Kill a Mockingbird––both the book and the movie––remains a timeless historical and artistic artifact worthy of the attention it receives whenever and wherever people stop and think about it. 

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