On this day in 1962, To Kill a Mockingbird, a film based on the 1960 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name by Harper Lee, opens in theaters. The Great Depression-era story of racial injustice and the loss of childhood innocence is told from the perspective of a young Alabama girl named Scout Finch, played in the film by Mary Badham, who lives with her older brother Jem (Phillip Alford) and their widowed attorney father Atticus (Peck). While Scout, Jem and their friend Dill (John Megna) become fascinated by the mysterious shut-in Boo Radley (Robert Duvall), Atticus goes to court to defend a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman. Directed by Robert Mulligan (Love with the Proper Stranger, Inside Daisy Clover, Summer of ‘42, The Man in the Moon), To Kill a Mockingbird was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and won three Oscars, including Best Actor (Peck). The American Film Institute has rated Atticus Finch as the greatest movie hero of the 20th century, and in 1995 the United States National Film Registry picked To Kill a Mockingbird for preservation in the Library of Congress as a “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” film.
Peck, born on April 5, 1916, in La Jolla, California, graduated from the University of California at Berkeley, where he became involved in theater. He debuted on Broadway in the early 1940s and made his big-screen debut in 1944’s Days of Glory. He went on to earn Academy Award nominations for 1946’s The Keys of the Kingdom, 1947’s The Yearling, 1948’s The Gentleman’s Agreement and 1950’s Twelve O’Clock High. The handsome, dark-haired actor also starred in such movies as Spellbound (1945), The Gunfighter (1950), Roman Holiday (1953)–which marked Audrey Hepburn’s silver screen debut, as well as her first Best Actress Oscar win–Moby Dick (1956), in which Peck played Captain Ahab, and The Guns of Navarone (1961). Among Peck’s other movie credits are The Omen (1976), The Boys from Brazil (1978) and Other People’s Money (1991). He also made an appearance in director Martin Scorsese’s 1991 remake of Cape Fear, starring Robert DeNiro, Nick Nolte and Jessica Lange. (Peck had starred in the original 1962 film.) He died at the age of 87 on June 12, 2003.
To Kill a Mockingbird was the only book that Harper Lee ever published. The author, who was born on April 28, 1926, and raised in Monroeville, Alabama, was a friend from childhood of the writer Truman Capote (Breakfast at Tiffany’s, In Cold Blood). In the 2005 biopic Capote, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, the actress Catherine Keener played Lee, while Sandra Bullock took on the role in 2006’s Infamous.