To Kill a Mockingbird was published in 1960, it won the Pulitzer Prize, and was immediately and American Classic. The story is about the trial of an African American man who had allegedly taken advantage of a young white woman in southern Alabama, though it was astonishingly clear that the young girl’s, Mayella, father was responsible. Atticus Finch the assigned lawyer to the defense was ridiculed and harassed for defending the African American, Tom Robinson.
My father likes to tell me that the trial of Tom Robinson was based on two trials that took place when Harper Lee was a child, one of which involved one of my own relatives—a relative, a lawyer, whom was, apparently, defending whomever in a similar situation, I don't really know. But, apparently, “Our blood is between the pages.” I haven’t looked into the validity of that to a great extent, still the thought is cool, and I have felt a close connection to the novel, always. The same is true of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland—but I’ll get to that later.
The movie, To Kill a Mockingbird, staring Gregory Peck is a longtime favorite of mine, though the film took some of the focus off of the trial, and made it more about what it was like to live in southern Alabama during the late 1930’s, which for all intents and purposes is fine, I still enjoy it for the cinematic masterpiece that it is. ‘Boo’ Radley plays a major role in the film, though he’s only actually on screen for, maybe, ten minutes and never speaks. His presence is one of my favorite trivia questions because he was played by a longtime acting genius, it was the first role, at age 19, for a young Robert Duvall, and watching it, and seeing him at that age, playing that role, always gives me chills, it just so freakin' cool! The soundtrack to the movie, and the narration by Scout as an adult woman surrounded the film with a certain ambiance that you only see in those classic epic films like The Wizard of Oz and Meet Me in St. Louis. I love it.
Harper Lee’s first novel, Go Set a Watchmen, tells the story of Scout as a woman, and Lee’s publisher enjoyed the character, and the snippets of backstory so much that her publisher asked Lee to write the story of Scout as a young woman, instead. Go Set a Watchmen would not see publication until 2015, not even a year before Harper Lee died in Alabama. It’s rumored that Harper Lee’s sister, who cared for her in Lee’s later years, refused to release Go Set a Watchman for fear that the publishers would take advantage of Lee’s state. Alice Lee, Harpers sister, died in November 17, 2014. Go Set a Watchman was published 8 months later.
Dill, the young character who lives next door to Jem and Scout during the summers, in To Kill a Mockingbird, is based off of Harper Lee’s childhood neighbor in Alabama, the author of Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood, Truman Capote. Harper Lee and Truman Capote remained very close friends until after Capote released In Cold Blood in 1966. Capote based his character Idabel form Other Voices, Other Rooms on Harper Lee. Lee joined Capote in Kansas when he went to research the killings, and interview the murderers for a manuscript that would become In Cold Blood; an experience that would, ultimately, be the catalyst for the end of Capote’s life, which occurred almost twenty years later of alcoholism. In Cold Blood was the last novel that Capote would see the publication of. Truman Capote, while interviewing Perry Smith, one of the two suspects being tried for the murders in Kansas, is said to have fallen in love with Smith, and though Capote did have the means to-, and even offered to help Perry Smith and his accomplice during the trial, the effect of which would, likely, have gotten the pair off for the murders, he chose, instead, to continue to lie about-, and do nothing for the sake of his nonfiction-novel, In Cold Blood. An unfinished novel, Answered Prayers, was released two years after his death in 1986. And the novel, titled Summer Crossing, which remained in Capote’s possession, and that Capote had claimed to have destroyed, was found and published in 2006.
If you haven’t seen the fantastic film Capote starring Philip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote (for which Hoffman won the Oscar) and Catherine Keener as Harper Lee you should, because it’s amazing. It portrays Capote’s life just before-, and during his time spent in Kansas researching, and writing In Cold Blood. The movie also portrays the disintegration of Harper Lee and Truman Capote’s friendship which began when Lee won the Pulitzer for To Kill a Mockingbird in 1960. Around the same time as the release of Capote the movie Infamous was also released, and it’s, essentially, the same movie starring Toby Jones as Truman Capote. It wasn’t spectacular. The best thing about it was Sandra Bullock’s portrayal of Harper Lee.
I have first editions of both To Kill a Mockingbird (Go Set a Watchman, but that had such a massive first printing that it doesn’t matter) and In Cold Blood, I find that they are two of the most fascinating American novels ever written both because of their content, the story, the way they were written, and because of who wrote them, and what was going on in their lives, and the lives that they led, just in general. I like the crossover between their two life stories, and how much one affected the other.
I love how novels, and movies, can affect us in ways that we cannot understanding, and may never understand, there is simply an air around them that finds us, and it latches on to us, never full letting us go. I’ve discovered a number of these connections between novels and films and myself, and I look forward to sharing them with you throughout this blog.
I am a freelance author, writer, critic, artist, and entrepreneur living in the Heart of the Texas Hill Country.