YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

A good Scout returns -- for now

Mary Badham, who earned an Oscar nomination for 'To Kill a Mockingbird,' is back on the screen, 39 years after her last movie.

June 22, 2005|Susan King | Times Staff Writer

Mary Badham gave one of the greatest child performances as the tomboyish 6-year-old Scout in the classic 1962 adaptation of Harper Lee's novel "To Kill a Mockingbird."

It was one of those rare times when character and actor blended seamlessly together. Many film critics say her scenes with Oscar-winner Gregory Peck, who played her widowed father -- the principled, honorable attorney Atticus Finch -- are among the most tender ever put on screen.

Badham received an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress but lost to another juvenile performer, Patty Duke for "The Miracle Worker." Post-"Mockingbird," the Alabama-born Badham appeared in a 1964 episode of "The Twilight Zone" and two movies in 1966, "This Property Is Condemned" and "Let's Kill Uncle."

Not long after, she willingly retired from the spotlight. She later married, raised two children and had pretty much put the film business behind her -- that is until writer/director Cameron Watson managed to coax her out of retirement.

Badham has a cameo in Watson's new family film, "Our Very Own," which premieres today at the Los Angeles Film Festival. The nostalgic drama, which doesn't have a distributor yet, is set in Shelbyville, Tenn., in 1978 and revolves around five star-struck teenagers who set out to meet actress Sondra Locke. Badham's character has a pivotal encounter with Keith Carradine, who plays the troubled father of one of the teenagers (Jason Ritter).

Watson says it was always his dream to entice Badham to come out of retirement. "As a child 'To Kill a Mockingbird' was an important film to me and I always thought ... she gave the greatest childhood performance ever."

Watson's casting agent tracked Badham down in Monroeville, Ala., where she was invited to attend the final performance of a yearly staged version of "To Kill a Mockingbird." Badham initially thought the casting agent's call at the cast party was a joke.

"He was just the sweetest," she says. "He said, 'May I please send you the script? I don't want anyone else to do this.' It was just a sweet little script and I didn't find anything the least bit objectionable about it. And when he told me Keith Carradine was going to be in it I thought, 'OK.' It was a little lark."

Watson said the filming of Badham's scene was "one of those rare moments when everything just hit at the right time. She flew in and we shot it in one night. It was an unbelievable moment. We did a whole kind of makeover -- she has this wig on and crazy hat."

Married for 30 years, Badham is an art restorer and a college testing coordinator.

"To Kill a Mockingbird" is also still very much a part of her life. She remained close with "Atticus," as Badham refers to Peck, until his death two years ago. And she keeps in contact with Phillip Alford, who played her brother, Jem; and Brock Peters, who played Tom Robinson, an African American man unjustly accused of raping a white woman.

She also travels the world to talk about her experiences of making the film, as well as the book and movie's message of tolerance and compassion.

But acting, Badham said, "just wasn't my gig. It wasn't what I wanted to do with my life."

Plus, she adds, her parents were big on education. "They said, 'If you want to stay with [acting], it's fine, but it's a very up-and-down business. It would be good for you to get an education and have something to fall back on.' Thank God, they did that. It made sense to me. So I retired at the ripe old age of 13 only to be hauled out again here at 50-something years old."

Though she was nervous about acting again after nearly four decades, Badham reports she had a great time.

"Cam wanted to know what my take on it was and I told him and he said, 'That's it. I knew you would know what to do with it.' ... I think it went real well."

Word got out pretty fast in Shelbyville that "Scout" was coming to town, Watson said. "You don't even have to be a film buff to know the impact of that movie ... so many townspeople showed up."

She hasn't closed the door on future acting assignments.

"It just depends on the script and the crew," she said. "I am just letting things kind of go. I am not going to look at this other than it was fun and I had a good time. If nothing comes of it, it's just fine."

Los Angeles Times Articles