Mary Badham the Scout of "To Kill a Mockingbird"
By Larry Edens
In the minds of many people, the word “scout” conjures up routine images of exploration, observation, and organized youth troops. But to the die-hard movie fan - particularly those can’t-get-enough-of-them film aficionados who grew up in The Sixties - that word “scout” calls to mind primarily one thing: the critically-acclaimed film To Kill a Mockingbird and its then ten-year-old star, Mary Badham, who played the role of Jean Louise “Scout” Finch.
Scene from the 1962 film "To Kill a Mockingbird/"
When she auditioned for the part of Scout, Badham was living in Birmingham, Alabama. She was too young then to appreciate the blatant racism of her deeply segregated home town and that of Maycomb, Alabama, the fictional setting of TKAM.
But a few years after returning home from filming in the more progressive state California, she experienced firsthand the harsh reality of what it was like to be black in a prejudiced white society.
She discovered then that even her own parents were not immune to the racial template created in Birmingham when they forbid her to befriend a young, black delivery boy who had come to their home. With her parents’ words you-are-not-in-California-anymore echoing in her brain, she left Birmingham for Arizona to live with her aunt and finish high school.
Today, in the year of the film’s 50th anniversary, Badham travels the country and around the world speaking to audiences about the book and film’s message of racial prejudice and social injustice, neither of which she believes has completely gone away.
“Ignorance and bigotry and racism haven’t gone anywhere. They’ve just changed their clothes,” she said. “If you want to talk about the Mexicans, Muslims, or any ethnic group, it’s all the same. We really haven’t learned a whole lot.”
Badham’s primary target audience is high school and college students. She believes in the importance of the film’s messages and is trying to help young people better relate to them. But going one step further, she also encourages them to read Lee’s book, something she herself refused to do for years.
“I was perfectly happy in my little world of black-and-white,” said Badham. “But when I read the book, it totally changed my opinion about the whole thing. There are so many things in that book that are life lessons. You could basically use that book as a blueprint for life.”
What she does miss, however, is the TKAM family, most of which has passed on, including Brock Peters (Tom Robinson), Collin Wilcox (Mayella Violet Ewell) and Peck, who became a surrogate father to her after she lost both of her parents when she was in her early 20s.
“We all have to be tempered in our lives and if everything was sunshine and roses, you wouldn’t appreciate life as much,” said Badham. “We grow from those experiences.”
Larry Edens has been a freelance writer for 15 years and interviewed many well-known personalities from the world of sports, entertainment, and politics. He has covered Virginia Tech football and the spring and fall NASCAR races in Bristol, TN as a beat writer for a newspaper in Bluefield, WVA. His email address is: [email protected]
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