On March 15th, Roanoke College welcomed actress Mary Badham to campus, co-sponsored by the 2012 Women’s Forum and the Turk Pre-Law Program.
Badham, a native of Birmingham, Alabama, achieved international recognition as Scout, the daughter of Atticus Finch, in the groundbreaking 1962 film “To Kill a Mockingbird”, was welcomed by an overflowing crowd in the Wortmann Ballroom in Colket Center, follow a film clip introduction featuring Badham in one of “Mockingbird’s” pivotal scenes.
Badham took the audience through her experiences with the film. She discussed director Robert Mulligan’s directorial style: actors were not introduced to new characters until filming had commenced for the particular scene. For example, the film clip shown earlier featured in the “unmasking” of Boo Radley to the audience. Badham, who was the first in the scene to address Booâ€”Robert Duvall, in his film debutâ€”had never met Duvall. Her reaction was genuine, captured for the moment.
The audience quickly picked up on something: throughout her entire speech and the question-and-answer session that followed, Badham referred to Gregory Peck by name only once. All other referrals to Peck were “Atticus”. Peck, considered one of film’s greatest actors, portrayed Atticus Finch, the hero of “To Kill a Mockingbird”, and won the Academy Award for Best Actor. Peck, Badham commented, seemed to fuse with the character. He served as a father figure for her. Like Finch, Peck was firm, but gentle, and very well-read. Peck kept in contact with Badham until his death in 2003; she is still close with his family.
Badham confessed to the audience that she didn’t read the book until her daughter was born, some fifteen years following the film. In defense of herself, Badham added that she didn’t want to distort the view and the poignancy the film had on herself. She confessed that she hadn’t realized the significance of the film itself until its Birmingham premiere, where the audience found themselves crying for the plight of Tom Robinson, the innocent black man who was killed because of the color of his skin.
Badham also talked about her own experiences with racism. Following Scout, her acting resume extended 4 additional credits: an episode of “Dr. Kildare”, the final broadcast episode of “The Twilight Zone” (a show she admittedly disliked), “Let’s Kill Uncle”, a 1966 horror film, and “This Property is Condemned”, a 1966 drama film. After retiring from acting, Badham returned to Birmingham from California. After an incident where she offered a black grocery delivery boy something to drink, her parents put her back into her Birmingham shoes. Lines were tightly drawn. And with that, Badham left. She returned to California, where she finished her schooling.
Despite her place in film history, Badham commented that she didn’t always lead the most privileged life; at one point, she added, she had to work 5 jobs at once to stay afloat. Her brother, on the other hand, found his place as a film director, particularly following the massive success of his 1977 film “Saturday Night Fever”.
In the end, Badham stated that “To Kill a Mockingbird” still has something to say about today, particularly the film’s emphasis on family values, and that “Ignorance is the root of all evil”.