'To Kill a Mockingbird' and the Art of Being a Father: The Book, the Film and Real Life
On the first day of filming Gregory Peck's scenes in To Kill A Mockingbird, author Harper Lee watched him walk down the street. Tears filled her eyes when the children ran to greet him as he came home from work.
After the scene was completed, Gregory Peck approached her. He'd noticed the tears and wondered why she was crying. Since she'd based the character of Atticus Finch on her own attorney father, she told him how much he reminded her of Amasa Lee. Even his little pot belly was just like the one her father had.
"That's not a pot belly, Harper," Gregory Peck said. "That's great acting."
A meaningful story and real life can sometimes become intertwined. Here are the threads that create the picture of one father, Atticus Finch. The completed tapestry reveals the ways fathers can make a lasting impression for good in the lives of their children:
First Thread in the Tapestry: Respect
Atticus Finch modeled respect for others by first showing it to his children, Scout and Jem. He took time to listen to them and to think through what he wanted to say:
Bit by bit I told him the day's misfortunes...
Atticus stood up and walked to the end of the porch. When he completed his examination of the wisteria vine he strolled back to me.
"First of all," he said, "if you can remember a simple trick, Scout, you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. 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."
When a child asks you something, answer him, for goodness sakes. But don't make a production of it. Children are children, but they can spot an evasion quicker than adults...
In the book, Atticus has many doubts about being a good father...
Sometimes I think I'm a total failure as a parent, but I'm all they've got. Before Jem looks at anyone else he looks at me, and I've tried to live so I can look squarely back at him.
...but a neighbor sums up his character this way:
Atticus Finch is the same in his house as he is on the public streets.
Second Thread in the Tapestry: "Gentle Guidance"
Mary Badham, who played Scout Finch in the movie, recalls that Gregory Peck became a second father to her, and that warm, comfortable relationship continued through the years.
"He was a man of books, a man of learning...a good listener," Mary said. "I lost my parents very early in life and Atticus (Gregory Peck) was always there...that same gentle guidance that you see on film he shared with me growing up."
Both Atticus Finch and Gregory Peck "believed in justice and honor. They believed in family and community and giving of yourself to your community to make it grow stronger."
Mary Badham always called Gregory Peck "Atticus" and he called her "Scout" for the next forty-one years, until he passed away in June 2003.
Third Thread in the Tapestry: "Always Present"
Cecilia Peck, the youngest child and only daughter of Gregory Peck, said, "He was an Atticus. He really was that kind of father to me and my brothers. I believe that he was always very much like Atticus, but I think that doing the film when we were very young made him become even more that way...I think as much as he put of himself into the role, Atticus became him, too."
Cecilia Peck remembers seeing the last page of her father's shooting script for To Kill a Mockingbird. He'd scrawled four words there:
Fairness, Courage, Stubbornness, Love
Those are the qualities she remembers about her father, and the fact that "he showed up for everything we did, no matter what the demands of his career...When he came home from the set, he'd be in our rooms doing our homework with us."
She recalled the days off when they went to the beach as a family, playing in the waves and building a bonfire before he carried them back to the car.
"He was always present..." she said.
Harper Lee's own father passed away during the filming of To Kill a Mockingbird. She presented his watch to Gregory Peck because his honor and decency reminded Harper Lee so much of her father.
Gregory Peck wore Amasa Lee's watch and chain when he accepted the Oscar for Best Actor at the Academy Awards in 1963.
From fiction that seems real, to actual life influenced by fiction, the qualities of being a father are part of the tapestry in To Kill a Mockingbird. The story gives a subtle word picture of how a father can be a hero to his own children.
Discover the fascinating story behind the creation of To Kill a Mockingbird:
Linda Borromeo's own father celebrated his 100th birthday at the time of this post. An avid reader and participant in outdoor adventures, he knew the name of almost every plant and flower—in Latin.
Linda is the author of Mystery Shores, a novel celebrating the animals, lighthouses and secrets of the Pacific Northwest coast.