Author Harper Lee Dead at 89

Posted on February 20, 2016

Harper Lee receives Presidential Medal

Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird has died at the age of 89. The reclusive author has been much in the news the past few years with the surprise publication of Go Set a Watchman, which was written before To Kill a Mockingbird. The book was published by HarperCollins amid a great deal of controversy as to whether Ms. Lee ever intended to publish the manuscript.

The Hollywood Reporter has an fascinating article about how Ms. Lee interacted with the screenwriter, the director and the actors during the filming of the Oscar winning film based on To Kill a Mockingbird. The film garnered three Oscars, including Best Adapted Screenplay for Horton Foot, and Best Actor for Gregory Peck, who played Atticus Finch.

Readers know Ms. Lee as a reclusive author who rarely gave interviews or spoke in public. But in 1962 she was more outgoing and was actually quite involved in the filming, which was pretty much unheard of at the time.

Ms. Lee took the set designer Henry Bunstead all around her little town, showing him all the sights, as he took photographs to recreate the town for the movie. She became very good friends with Gregory Peck, who she said was perfect for the role which she had based on her father. She was opposed to Universal's choice of Rock Hudson for the role -- she thought he was quite unsuited for the part. When Peck won his Oscar he had in his pocket a gold watch that Ms. Lee had given him. It had been her father's.

She and screenwriter Horton Foote got along like gangbusters. He said, "They felt she and I should meet. So they brought Harper out to Nyack, and we had an evening together and kind of fell in love." The director Robert Mulligan was shocked to discover Ms. Lee was on set every single day which he said made him very anxious, admitting later "She made a nervous wreck out of me, just waiting for her to be critical." But the criticisms never came.

In fact, Ms. Lee loved Hollywood and all the friendly people she met. As for the film itself, after she saw it she said, "I can only say that I am a happy author. I am very proud and very grateful."

Ms. Lee is pictured above receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007.

Photo: Eric Draper/White House

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