Note: This story was written in 2015, before Harper Lee passed away.
Alabama is proud of our native Alabama lady, Miss Harper Lee who wrote, To Kill a Mockingbird over fifty years ago. Harper Lee grew up in Monroeville, Alabama and attended the University of Alabama intending to become a lawyer like her father. She changed her mind and began writing.
Harper Lee smiles before receiving the 2007 Presidential Medal of Freedom at the White House in Washington, D.C.
Harper Lee, wrote the novel which was published in 1960. The book won a Pulitzer Prize in 1961. This is the only book she had published until 2015.
Made into a movie
The novel was made into a movie in 1962. “To Kill Mockingbird” stared Gregory Peck for which he won an academy award for his portrayal of Atticus Finch. Birmingham’s own Mary Badham and Pillip Alford played Scout and Jem. It was thought that Harper Lee used Monroeville as her model for the southern town of Maycomb in the 1930’s. The storyline was about racial prejudices in the south and the search for justice.
Attended a play in Monroeville
I had the opportunity of attending the play of “To Kill a Mockingbird” in Monroeville. We went on a bus trip with Hoover’s New Horizons. We left Birmingham at 1:00 PM for a drive of over 3 hours down I-65, turning off to the right into southwest Alabama. While in route, we watched the movie, “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Our leader even had a number of trivia questions for us.
The stop for dinner was at Radley’s Fountain Grille (was it named after Boo Radley’s charcter?) The young man who did cleanup at the restaurant after dinner told me his step-dad played Atticus Finch but was not performing this night.
Sat outside on a spring night
It was a beautiful warm spring night. We arrived at the courthouse and were seated outside in comfortable redwood chairs on the lawn adjacent to the courthouse. The crowd was about 250 people. The stage setting for the first three acts was outside the court house with fronts of three houses. After a fifteen minute intermission the call came for twelve men to act as the jury and they were the first to enter the court house.
Local actors performed
This play is put on by volunteer amateur actors from the surrounding small towns. There are two actors for each character in the play. They started practicing in February and the play is presented in April and May. The program told us what each actor did in their “real life”. Atticus was a banker, Boo was a policeman, Bob Elwell was the DA for Escambia County, Mr. Cunningham was a Veterinarian and etc. The three children were students in the local schools.
Movie was not filmed in the Courthouse
The movie was not filmed in the Monroe County Courthouse but the court room was modeled after it. The last acts were held inside the Monroe County Courthouse and Heritage Museum. I was fortunate to have a front seat behind the banisters near Atticus and Tom. The court scenes were funny and sad.
Old Monroe County Courthouse
Talked with actors
After the play ended the audience was invited by the director to come on the stage and make pictures and talk with the actors.
This production, “To Kill a Mockingbird” has traveled and preformed at The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, Chicago, Israel, and England, Mississippi and even to small town such as Fayette and Pell City.
Harper Lee signing a copy of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD at the
Eufaula History and Heritage Festival March, 1983 (Alabama State Archives)
Novel inspired many
We were told that Harper Lee still lives in Monroeville and was often seen in town. There were no autographed books by Harper Lee in the gift shop.
If we were fortunate enough to have seen Harper Lee and spoken to her we would say, “thank you for a wonderful written novel that inspires us to be better citizens and neighbors.”
Read more of Jean Butterworth’s stories in Chinaberries and Other Memories of Alabama