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To Kill A Mockingbird

 




 
 
 




Remembering "To Kill A Mockingbird"

Saturday - March 12, 2005
Brown Center, Cowley College

Featuring Elmer Bernstein's Original Movie Score
With Narration by Brock Peters, Phillip Alford, Mary Badham

On April 29th, 2000, Mary Badham ("Scout"), Philip Alford ("Jem") and Brock Peters ("Tom Robinson"), along with the Winfield Regional Symphony combined to present Elmer Bernstein's score for "To Kill A Mockingbird" in the Orpheum Theatre in Wichita. Together, the music with the memories of the actors involved in the film provided a magical evening for audience and symphony alike.

The Film
The 1962 film, To Kill a Mockingbird, was faithfully based on Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prizewinning novel written in 1960. Set in 1930's impoverished, racially-biased Alabama, the plot revolves around widowed lawyer Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck), who agrees to defend Tom Robinson (Brock Peters), a black man who has been falsely accused of raping a white woman; however the story is more about Atticus' two children, Scout (Mary Badham) and Jem (Phillip Alford).

TKAM won the 1963 Oscars for Best Screenplay (Horton Foote), Best Actor (Gregory Peck), and Best Art Direction-Set Direction (Alexander Golitzen and Henry Bumstead). It was also nominated that year for Best Picture, Best Director (Robert Mulligan), Best Cinematography (Russell Harlan), Best Supporting Actress (Mary Badham), and Best Music Score (Elmer Bernstein).

Elmer Bernstein's score of TKAM has been described as "warm, lyrical, curious, buoyant, impressionistic, and occasionally nightmarish - all characteristic of a child's life" (Kevin Mulhall, "Scenes from Maycomb County"). Indeed, he succeeded in capturing the complex simplicity of the story as seen from a child's perspective. Of his work on TKAM, Bernstein reminisced:

It took me six weeks to even get off the ground with that score...What I realized was that its real function was to deal in the magic of a child's world...and it accounts for the use of the high registers of the piano and bells and harps, things which I associated with child magic in a definitely American ambiance.

Bernstein has scored over forty films from diverse genres: from Animal House and Airplane, Ghostbusters and Trading Places, to My Left Foot and The Age of Innocence. He has received four Academy Award nominations and received one Oscar for his work on Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967).

The book and film have touched generations of students, reminding them that, as Atticus teaches his children, "you never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view..until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."

Main Title
The first few moments of TKAM are so artfully presented that most anyone who has viewed the movie will vividly remember the opening credits upon hearing the Main Theme. The film uses ambient sound as well as it does music, and the credits begin with a child scribbling with a black crayon and faintly singing a haunting melody. The music begins at the precise moment when two marbles hit each other, and as the melody develops, the contents from Jem's treasure box are discovered. Eventually the children's theme (introduced on the solo flute) is woven into the same haunting melody on solo piano.

Roll in the Tire
Jem and Scout have made a new friend, Dill (John Megna) who is visiting his aunt for the summer. Dill has challenged Jem that he can't Roll the Tire all the way to the end of the block. The energy and exuberance of the children is heard in the music as Scout climbs into the tire and Jem gives her a mighty push. The tire rolls all the way to the forbidden Radley house, and the lighthearted game takes a turn to the daring as Jem creeps up on the porch, knocks on the door, and flees to the safety of home.

Creepy Caper/Peek-A-Boo
The reclusive Radley family lives at the end of the block in a ramshackle bungalow. Scout and Jem don't know much about them, but Jem says that Mr. Radley is the meanest man alive. They have also heard about the insane son, Boo, who supposedly never leaves the house except at night. These stories have fueled their imaginations, and one night they decide to creep up to the Radley house to peek in the window to catch a glimpse of Boo. The music is ominous and scary, keeping you on the edge of your seat as you, too become a little curious about Boo. As the gnarly shadow of a man's hand creeps up from behind Jem, the children make a mad dash and escape under the fence. We hear the children's theme in the piano, and Boo's theme is introduced in a phrase played by flute and piano.

Atticus has agreed to defend a black man, Tom Robinson, against false charges of raping a white woman. The woman's father, Robert Ewell (James Anderson), becomes an outspoken rival of Atticus. Childhood innocence is shattered as Scout and Jem learn about hate and prejudice first hand.

Jem's Discovery
One late night, Jem discovers something shiny in a hole in the tree in front of the Radley's house. Approaching it carefully, he withdraws a medal on a faded ribbon. Boo's theme creeps into the melody as the scene segues to daylight and we find Scout brawling with a boy on the playground. The children's melody is heard in the piano.

Tree Treasure
After discovering gifts in the tree, Mr. Radley cements the tree hole shut. The agitated music echoes the widening rift between the two families. Boo's theme and the Children's melody that were beginning to work together in the last movement also dissolves. At home Jem shows Scout his box full of the treasures he has found in the tree. She takes them out one by one and we see they are the treasures from the opening credits.

Guilty Verdict
A beautiful and poignant scene follows the trial during which no music is played. The Jury has found Tom Robinson guilty, and Atticus is packing up his attaché'. The courtroom is empty, save for the "colored seating" in the balcony. The music begins as the Rev. Sykes prompts Scout, "Jean Louise, Jean Louise, stand up. Your father's passing." The entire balcony rises in a silent show of gratitude and respect to Atticus Finch.

Tom Robinson is shot and killed while trying to escape from custody after the trial. Summer is over and Fall is nigh, bringing the annual harvet festival. On the way home from the school program, Jem and Scout make their way through a woodsy path - Scout still in her ham costume.

Assault in the Shadows
Jem and Scout are attacked by an unidentified man. Jem is badly beaten and Scout is knocked down, unable to get up because of her costume. A second unidentified man enters the clearing and defends the children. Scout finally gets up and sees that Jem has been carried off towards home by the second man. She crawls out of her costume and runs home.

Boo Who?
Back at home, Jem is being attended to by the doctor when Sheriff Tate appears and announces that their attacker was Bob Ewell and that he has been stabbed to death. Scout is mystified. Who was it that saved Jem's life? Atticus pulls back the bedroom door and a pale visage is seen in the shadows. A slow smile of recognition creeps across Scout's face as she says, "Hey, Boo." For the first time we see the legendary Arthur "Boo" Radley (Robert Duvall). She takes his hand and accepts him into her childhood. Together they stand over Jem's bedside and we hear Boo's theme and the children's melody finally blending together fully. Out on the porch Atticus learns that Boo stabbed Ewell, and that Sheriff Tate believes they should "let the dead bury their dead." Boo will not be indicated as a murderer nor a hero, for as Scout claims, "it would be sort of like a shooting a mockingbird, wouldn't it?"

End Theme
Scout and her new friend walk back to the Radley house, hand in hand. Scout pauses on the rickety Radley porch to put herself in Boo's place. Boo's theme is heard again, this time on the piano, melding together with the children's melody. Throughout the film, Bernstein's music has followed the children as they approach the horizon of maturity. When Scout offers her recollections of childhood from the perspective of adulthood, the composer's poetic music gives resonance to her words. The score concludes with a final statement of the children's theme, luring the listeners to their own memories of innocence and youth (Mulhall).

The Artists

Mary Badham
won the roll of "Scout" at the age of ten, with no prior acting experience. For her performance, she won an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress, the youngest person ever to do so. After TKAM she appeared in two other films, This Property is Condemned with Robert Redford and Natalie Wood, and Let's Kill Uncle, and had appearances on TV episodes of Dr. Kildare and Twilight Zone before retiring from the screen as a teenager.

Over the years she has remained close to "Atticus" Gregory Peck, and occasionally accompanies him on his one-man-show lecture tours and award ceremonies. Mary is active in lecturing to audiences nationally about the film and novel. She is particularly interested in lecturing to students and teachers about the film's message of social justice and ensuring that each generation of students can experience the film's impact.

Mary had the vision to reunite the cast and creative team from the film for an April, 1997 national satellite broadcast to US schools and a supporting Web site at www.pwnetwork.pwcs.edu.

Phillip Alford
appeared in three productions with Birmingham's Town and Gown Civic Theater before trying for the part of "Jem" in TKAM. After TKAM, Alford was featured in several films, but he returned to Birmingham at the age of 20 to enroll in college and later married.

Alford now owns a family construction business in Birmingham, but keeps in touch with Harper Lee, Gregory Peck, as well as other members of the cast.

Brock Peters
Brock was born in New York City and set his sights on a show business career at age ten. A product of NYC's famed Music and Arts High School, Peters worked his way up from Harlem poverty through many odd jobs. Before landing the role of Tom Robinson in TKAM, Peters had appeared in the Broadway production of "Porgy and Bess" and his film debut had been in 1954's "Carmen Jones."

He has been a busy actor since TKAM, appearing in 50 films including "The L Shaped Room" and two of the "Star Trek" motion pictures.

Peters has appeared in over 20 television performances including regular appearances in "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" as Joseph Sisko.

Peters also performed the voice of Darth Vader in PBS radio's production of the Star Wars trilogy. Peters received a Tony nomination for his starring stint in Broadway's "Lost in the Stars" and in 1991 he was honored with the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award.

Gary Gackstatter
Gary is presently the director for the Cowley County Community College Band and Jazz Ensemble, the Winfield Regional Symphony, and the Arkansas City Community Band. He is the arranger for singer-songwriter John McCutcheon and Tom Chapin, and the rock groups Kansas and Three Dog Night, all of whom have been featured with the Winfield Regional Symphony. He has also premiered two new symphonies for the Paul Winter Consort.

Gackstatter has been chosen as a winner in the Walnut Valley Songwriter's Showcase for several years, was an exhibited artist at the Festival in '96 and a performer in '97. His recordings include "The Missing You Waltz" (1997), "Renters from #%*@" (1998), "The Best Things in Life are for Rent" (1999), and "Under This Kansas Sky, Moon, and Stars" (2002). Gackstatter's artwork won the "People's Choice" award at the 1998 PrairieFest festival.

Mr. Gackstatter holds a BME from Southwestern Oklahoma State University and a Master's in Music Performance from Wichita State University.

Long Beach, CA Celebrates "To Kill A Mockingbird"

February 25-27th, 2003, I was invited to take part in the Long Beach, CA, week-long celebration of "To Kill A Mockingbird", which was their "Long Beach Reads One Book" program. The week included a wide variety of activities in the community and schools, touching an estimated 20,000 people during the week with discussions, re-enactments, and guest lectures.

The Poly High School Orchestra, which is one of the top in the nation, played a concert of four pieces of music written by Elmer Bernstein for the movie. The concert was modelled after our program (see below) and it was my pleasure and honor to assist these talented young people and their director. With Bernstein in attendance giving insight into each piece of music, it was a wonderful performance. Bernstein is now in his 80's, but spoke and moved with the enthusiasm of someone half his age, and gave a wonderful 'thank you' to the Poly High players that I will never forget. Following the concert, there was a panel discussion with Mary Badham ("Scout"), Brock Peters ("Tom Robinson"), Steve Peck (son of Gregory) and Claudia Dirst-Johnson who has authored two books on TKAM in addition to knowing author Harper Lee. A question and answer period followed.

One of the highlights of an evening that was nothing but highlights to me, was when Steve Peck read a letter that Gregory Peck had written to his (Gregory's) father explaining his choice of acting as a career and defending it as an honorable path, even predicting the year in which his father would, "see his name in lights". Steve, who has been a successful documentary director himself, now works full-time in support of homeless veterans, a path he chose after spending time in the military in Vietnam. A very interesting person.

Following the concert/panel discussion we all went to the Queen Mary (yes, the ship!) and had a great time. Many thanks to Barbara Egyud whose tireless efforts and unique vision for literacy is something to behold. She and her staff organized, fund-raised, publicized and promoted this incredible celebration.

Pictures: 1. Panel: L to R: Elmer Bernstein, Mary Badham, Steve Peck, Brock Peters, Claudia Dirst-Johnson 2. The Poly High Youth Symphony, directed by Andrew Osman 3. Brock, Mary and me looking at a TKAM score Elmer had signed 4. Elmer Bernstein