Remembering "To Kill A Mockingbird"
Saturday - March 12, 2005
Original Movie Score
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.
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."
Roll in the Tire
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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