Mary Badham is not a name most moviegoers recognize – even many who have seen and adore To Kill a Mockingbird. But she was the 10-year-old girl who played ‘Scout’ and got a supporting actress Oscar nomination for it.
She actually had a bit of a career as a young actress after making the movie in 1962 – including This Property Was Condemned with Robert Redford and Natalie Wood, and even was in the last-ever episode of The Twilight Zone. But acting was never her driving interest, and she’s been largely retired for 56 years, other than a small cameo role in a small, reasonably-charming independent movie Our Very Own in 2005 (which I’ve seen) after the filmmakers actively pursued her, and (to my surprise) a TV movie thriller, Erasing His Past in 2019. But that’s it. And she’s never done theater.
And is it ever a theatrical debut.
Opening just the other day, she’s now appearing at the Kennedy Center in Aaron Sorkin’s stage adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird. As the expression goes – boy, howdy. That’s a stage debut.
Sorkin’s play opened on Broadway in late 2018 with Jeff Daniels starring as ‘Atticus Finch.’ It was a big success but had to shut down because of COVID, though he returned to the role when the play re-opened on Broadway. It also started a national tour with Richard Thomas in the lead.
Badham had seen the play on Broadway and loved it, but had no thought of actually being in it. However, the producer went all-out to get her involved. And finally she agreed, She’ll be playing the role of ‘Mrs. Dubose,’ who is the Finch family’s strong-willed, racist neighbor.
It’s not a major role, but an important one, most especially because of the character’s interactions with an often-confrontational ‘Scout.’ A Washington Post article on the production describes how “mind-bending” it is for actress Melanie Moore who plays ‘Scout’ in the play and shares scenes with Ms. Badham who originated the role 54 years earlier. (Unlike the 10-years-old that Badham was in the film, Moore plays the character over a range of ages and is 30.)
“In rehearsals, I would do things and make her laugh,” Moore says, “and she would come up to me and say, ‘Oh, that was so Scout when you did that.’ Moments like that brought me so much joy. I felt like I was really bringing something to the character that she felt like she recognized and also surprised her. But I can’t think too hard about yelling things at the original movie Scout as Scout myself.”
If you don’t remember the character of ‘Mrs. Dubose’ well, here’s a scene from the movie --
I haven’t seen any reviews yet of the production at the Kennedy Center, though have come across a couple of articles about her being in the show. This one here in the Washington Post is a pretty good, detailed one.
There’s also a long podcast interview with her by the entertainment reporter for local Washington, D.C. station, WTOP which I’ll link to below. But this is a brief, 40-second preview that’s highly-worth checking out because of a moment at the very end which will melt the hearts of fans of the movie. Presuming you have a heart
One of the things that stands out in her WTOP interview were her glowing words about Gregory Peck, who played her noble father ‘Atticus Finch’ in the film – but also of Brock Peters, who played ‘Tom Robinson,’ the man her father was defending.
“What you saw on screen is what we got at home,” Badham said. “I would go home with the Pecks on the weekend. We became very close and stayed friends right up until he passed. He was an Atticus. He really was. He was so kind, generous, intelligent, well-read and just a very good role model for me because I lost my parents very early in my life.”
In fact, since Badham lost her parents young, Peck became almost a real-life father figure to her.
“My mother died three weeks after I graduated high school and Daddy died two years after I got married,” Badham said. “He [Peck] would take the time to pick up the phone and call: ‘How are you doing, kiddo?’ … Whenever I was in Los Angeles, I’d go to their house. It was a very close relationship. He and Bernice picked up where Mother and Daddy left off.”
It turns out, too, that she stayed in touch with Brock Peters over the years and was sort of mentored by him.
“Brock and I did a symphony program together … in Kansas where they played some pieces of music [from the movie], then between the music we would tell little behind-the-scenes stories … things that happened off-camera,” Badham said. “I had my daddy, I had Gregory Peck and I had Brock Peters. Those three guys were my male role models.”
By the way, if one does know the name “Badham” in relation to movies, it’s more likely her older brother, John Badham. He became a director and a very successful one, making such movies as Saturday Night Fever, WarGames, and Blue Thunder. In fact, he’s still directing, mostly TV these days. She tells a funny story on the podcast about his reacting to her making To Kill a Mockingbird.
“All he ever wanted to do was be in film and theater, that was his goal, he studied at Yale, working hard, beating his brains out to make it,” she said. “He gets a call from my mother, ‘Baby sister is going to be in a movie.’ He’s like, ‘What?’ Fast forward, ‘Baby sister has been nominated for an Academy Award,’ and I don’t think he’s ever forgiven me!”
As a bit of a sidenote, I was intrigued for an odd personal reason by Mary Badham talking on the podcast about the film’s famous Halloween ham costume.
“It was made out of chicken wire and paper machete,” she said. “Our set manager made it [and] wanted to try it on me to make sure it would fit OK. When he did, it went right down and I couldn’t see out of the eye port, so he had to rig up a harness in there. It was so wide, it was a little difficult to maneuver around in it very easily, but we managed.”
Why this stood out for me is that many years ago, I was a tourguide at Universal Studios. And on Halloween, the tourguides were all encouraged to wear costumes. Now, one of the tour controllers, who sent out guides when a tram was ready, was a young woman named Spanky, and everyone there knew that her very favorite movie in the entire world was To Kill a Mockingbird, which was a Universal movie. (We guides would always point out the Boo Radley house when the tram passed by – Boo Radley played by a young Robert Duvall). And as it happened and fate intervened, Spanky herself was very small, less than five-feet. So, what several tourguides did was go to the studio’s massive property warehouse where props from Universal movies over the decades were still stored. And they asked if by any remote chance the warehouse still had the ham costume?? And…it did! The guides explained why they wanted to borrow it for a few hours – and the warehouse manager had a heart and love of movies, and actually gave permission. So, they sneaked the ham costume up to the tour center, and in a joyous ceremony presented it to Spanky to wear on Halloween. She not only was overcome with bowled-over emotion – but even better, she fit in it! And for the rest of the day, this overjoyed young woman went around for Halloween wearing Scout’s real ham costume.
But this is all about Mary Badham, who wore the ham costume for the first time when she was 10 years old. And is now making her stage debut at age 69 in the stage version of To Kill a Mockingbird at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. What a stage debut.
No word yet if she’ll continue on the national tour with the show. But if she is when it comes to Los Angeles in October, I will do everything I can to make the show my second to attend during the pandemic.
Here's the full podcast interview with her for Jason Fraley of WTOP.
There were a few shows that I hoped did well in the Tony Awards last night, but only one that I actually cared about, and that was The Lehman Trilogy. I just dearly love the play on several levels. And it went five-for-five! Best Play, Best Director, Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Scenic Design and Best Lighting Design.
(Okay, for sticklers, to be accurate it went five-for-seven, because it actually got seven nominations - since all three actors, the entire cast, were nominated for Best Actor. Though, of course, it could only win one of those.)
I've seen The Lehman Trilogy twice, which is saying a lot because it's about 3-1/2 hours long. The first time was when it streamed a live production from London as part of the National Theatre Live series, with the original cast. It was spectacular - a look at the history of the Lehman Brothers who came to America as immigrants not speaking English, and following the family over the intervening 200 years through to the growth of the Lehman Brothers investment firm today and its ultimate collapse. It's a visceral production with three actors as essentially the entire cast - playing about 150 roles, men, women, children, adults and aged grandparents. Yes, really. (Again, to be accurate, in one scene at the very end there a half-dozen actors in non-speaking roles in the background, portraying the modern Lehman Brothers firm.) Most notable for me was Simon Russell Beale, who was one of my dad's three favorite British actors from my folks regular trips to London. (Seven years ago, I posted this video with him and others singing Stephen Sondheim's "Everybody Ought to Have a Maid" at the London Proms. It's a lot of fun and worth pausing here to check or -- or come back when you're done.)
In fairness to his brilliant performance, which won him the Tony for Best Actor tonight, all three actors in the show have equal parts, which he acknowledged in his acceptance speech. In fact, when the play premiered in London, the three actors were all nominated as Best Actor - as they were here at the Tonys - but with one huge difference: because it was near-impossible to separate their intertwining performances, the three were nominated together as one "person."
In fact, I raved about it here, three years ago, for those interested in more detail about the play.
The second time I saw The Lehman Trilogy was just a few months ago when the original cast brought the play to Los Angeles. (Well, two of the three - Simon Russell Beale and Adam Godley, who those who watch the streaming series The Great on Hulu about Catherine the Great will recognize as the Archbishop.) I dearly, dearly wanted to see it live and most-especially with Simon Russell Beale, but it was during COVID. And I hadn't yet cross the threshold where I was ready to go to the theater. But I kept checking the seating chart for the Ahmanson, and found a seat in the last row of the mezzanine where there was no one around me for five rows. So, I felt comfortable enough with that. And it was the first - and still only - theater production I've seen since the pandemic. That's how much I love the play and wanted to see it.
And I'm serious about the five rows. Here's the seating chart when I bought my tickets a few days before the performance. All the darkened dots are unsold seats. My seat is the purple dot in the last row at the bottom.
I obviously didn't have a great view of the stage, though they had a video screen and I brought binocular, so I divided my time between "live," binoculars and video. But above all, seeing it live with that cast (and, of course, Simon Russell Beale) was tremendous. And seeing the physicality of the almost-always turning set and actors moving props around to change settings added to it. And there was also a physical dimension and depth to the production (including with almost-impressionist video as a moving background) that didn't come across in the streaming version, which was deeply impressive.
I also had a sort of personally-memorable moment that overlaps the play. About three years ago, the Writers Guild screened the movie 1917, directed by Sam Mendes - who had also directed The Lehman Trilogy - and since he cowrote the film's screenplay, he was going to be present afterwards with his cowriters for a Q&A. I very much wanted to see the movie (which was great), but I was also considering getting called on during the Q&A to mention The Lehman Trilogy, having nothing of course to do with the movie, but it was that great. And given that I feel awkward asking questions at Q&As, it was even more of a leap. But I wanted to do so in part because it was indeed great, but also because the production was not well-known in the U.S. at that point, so I thought he'd like to know of an American awareness and admiration of it. As the post-screening questions about the movie went on, combined with my awkwardness, I ultimately felt it was not the venue to say anything there. But…hmmm, maybe I could go down to the stage after to say something. However, he and his reps immediately left through the side door. And so, I made a quick and weird decision. I raced out the theater, turned the corner and ran to the side door where were the waiting limos. The group was just exiting, but much as I wanted to say something, even more I didn't want to intrude. So…what to do??? I quickly had an idea. As they headed to the limo, I slowly and calmly timed my walk, so that as I passed the car as Mendes was getting in…all I said was, "I loved The Lehman Trilogy." And kept walking. That's it. I only paused to look back to see if he might have heard. And he not only did - he got out of the limo and walked to me. With a big smile on his face. So, I walked back. And said that, yes, I loved tonight's movie, but I most-especially loved The Lehman Trilogy and had seen it on National Theatre Live. He expressed his appreciation, we nodded, and he left. The thing is - as much as I went through that because I wanted to express my admiration for the work, even more I truly thought that because of what the production is (which anyone who's seen it can understand) he - and indeed anyone who worked on it - would be glad to hear appreciation of the monumental work. And it turned out, I was right about that. So, I'm glad that I made that silly effort.
And I'm glad that the play won five Tony Awards out of five, including Best Play, Best Director and Best Actor for Simon Russell Beale.
No trailer will do it justice, but it will give some sense of the tone and staging. That's Simon Russell Beale who starts the narration.
And as a bonus, here's one minute of a scene --
“How dare you! You think we don’t have hearts?”
-- Louie Gohmert (R-TX)
I may owe Mr. Gohmert an apology for ridiculing him on social media about saying this yesterday. My initial reaction was that everyone has a heart, even Al Capone and Stalin, and that what's important is how one uses it. And so it came across like faux-tears whining from someone who enabled Trump's hate-filled actions for four years against Mexicans, Asians, children in cages, judges, the press and more that put lives at risk
However, it has since occurred to me that Gohmert may not have been foolishly whining at all. Rather, it is very possible he was just rehearsing for an upcoming Capitol Hill production as Shylock in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, and simply got the speech slightly wrong.
"If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die?"
What threw me is that the words were close, but just a wee bit off. That, and also I couldn't see Louie Gohmert playing a Jew.
But I should have figured it if only from the last line. "And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?" I guess what threw me is that Shylock was actually wronged.
Now, if Shakespeare had written, "And if we are treated fairly and most properly, but we think we hath been wronged for that things didst not turn out the way we wanted, shall we not revenge?" -- then I probably would have gotten it right away.
Before going back to Nichols & May together, we're going to stick with Elaine May alone. And while this isn't very long, or overly funny, it is surprising and wonderful.
Elaine May was famous for her comedy work Mike Nichols, and then on her own for things like directing The Heartbreak Kid (which starred Charles Grodin and her daughter Jeannie Berlin) and writing The Birdcage, that reteamed her with Nichols who directed. She did star in the 1971 movie A New Leaf opposite Walter Matthau, which she also wrote and directed (which isn't a shabby trifecta), but she did very little "ensemble" acting. A very few small things here and there over 50 years. The only notable work was when she wonderfully starred in 2016 as Woody Allen's wife in his 6-episode series for Amazon Prime, Crisis in Six Scenes. (It was just fair, but the scenes between the two of them made it all worth it.)
But then, in 2019, starred on Broadway in The Waverly Collection by acclaimed playwright Kenneth Loneregan, who won an Oscar for writing Manchester by the Sea. And...she won the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play.
This is her acceptance speech. It is SO gracious, short and sweetly funny.
For a couple of years, I've wanted to see a streaming special, but it was on Hulu, which I didn't subscribe to. I knew I could sign up for a month and then cancel, but there were other things I was in the midst of watching and I also wanted to wait until there were a few others things on Hulu that I wanted to watch.
I finally had a few shows on my list and was caught up on other, so I signed up for Hulu for the month -- it turns out that they offer 30 days for a free trial, which is all the better.
I watched the special a couple nights ago, and it was excellent. Since one can get a month free, to try the service out (or you might already subscribe), I think it's worth checking out, and probably doesn't have a title most have heard of. It’s a videotaped production of a one-man off-Broadway show called Derek Delgaudio’s In and Of Itself.
I heard of it when Stephen Colbert was raving about the production on his show a while back and had Derek Delgaudio on, along with Frank Oz who directed the video version. Colbert said he and his wife were so blown away by having seen it on stage that they wanted to help get it made as a film, and are executive producers. I actually turned off the interview, though, because from the way all of them set the show up, saying how near-impossible it was to describe without giving anything away, I didn’t want to know anything more. (But that’s just me being me. I don’t read reviews beforehand because I don’t want to know anything.)
Whether the show is to everyone’s taste, I don’t know, it's pretty different, but I think it would be for most people. It’s really good. If you’re interested, I'm embedding the trailer below. It sets the tone well, but doesn’t give much of anything away. If (like me) don’t want to know anything at all, though, then avoid it. Otherwise, it’s fine. The show runs about 90 minutes.
By the way, now that I’ve seen the film, I tracked down Colbert’s interview with Derek Delgaudio and Frank Oz, and an earlier one with Delgaudio alone They all talked about how difficult it was to promote the show without talking about almost anything about it, including simply what it was. At one point, Colbert asks Oz how he describes the show when not being able to say much about it, to which Oz replies, “The problem with answering that is that for me to tell you my opinion of what the show is…goes against what the show is.” Colbert laughed and said, “Exactly!! That’s perfect. Well, that’s it for tonight, goodnight, folks!”
So, here's the trailer. (You'll see a couple familiar faces in the small audience, there are a few more in the full film, as well.) If you're intrigued by it, just know that you're intrigued without knowing pretty much anything about it. That's a tough thing to pull off...
Every year around this time, there are articles about which recorded version of A Christmas Carol is "the best." Usually it comes down to the films that starred either Alistair Sim or Reginald Owen.
But for me, it's this one. It's not a movie, though, or a TV production. It's, of all things, an audio version that was done in 1960 for, I believe, the BBC. It's quite wonderful and as good an adaptation of the story as I've come across. It stars Sir Ralph Richardson as Scrooge, and Oscar-winner Paul Scofield as Dickens, the narrator. Casts don't get much better than that.
I first heard this on radio station WFMT in Chicago which has been playing this every Christmas Eve for many decades. Eventually, I found it on audio tape. I've listened to it annually since I was a kidling. Some years I think I won't listen to it this year, but put it on for a few minutes for tradition's sake -- but after the first sentence it sucks me in.
There are four reasons why, for me, this is far and away the best version. But one reason leaps out.
First, the acting is as good as it gets. Scofield is crisp and emphatic as the narrator, and almost every creak of his voice draws you in to the world, and Richardson as Scrooge is a Christmas pudding joy. Second, being radio, you aren't limited by budgets to create the Dickensian world. Your imagination fills in every lush and poverty-stricken, nook and cranny -- and ghostly spirit, aided by moody sound effects and violins. Third, the adaptation sticks closely to the Dickens tale, and Scrooge comes across more a realistic, rounded-person than as a Mythic Icon.
And fourth, and most of all by far, unlike any of the other version, this includes...Dickens. While the story of A Christmas Carol is beloved, it's Dickens' writing that makes it even more vibrant than the story alone is. And that's all lost in the movie versions, even down even to the legendary opening line, "Marley was dead, to begin with." Or any of the other classic narrative lines. (Like my favorite, when Scrooge first comes in contact with a ghost and was "as close to it as I am now to you, and I am standing in the spirit at your elbow.") Or the richness of Dickens setting the mood and tone and description of the gritty and ephemeral and emotional world. All that's gone in movies, good as the productions may be. But all of that is here in this radio adaptation, and Scofield's reading of it is joyously wonderful and memorable. For many, this will be A Christmas Carol unlike any other you're aware of, giving it a meaning and richness you didn't realize was there. The ending of the tale is so much more moving and joyful here, as we listen to Dickens' own words, that begin with "Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more," and it soars from there, to perhaps my favorite extended passage about the new Scrooge and how good he is in the "good old world. Or any other good old world."
If you have the time or inclination, do give it a listen. If only for five minutes to at least get the flavor. You might find yourself sticking around. Let it play in the background, if you have other things to do. It runs about 55 minutes.
(Side note: speaking of Dickens, if you know the original cast album of Oliver!, the actor here who plays the Ghost of Christmas Present, Willoughby Goddard, was Mr. Bumble on Broadway and also in the original London production.)
Normally I would post this later in the evening -- but given the various time zones across the country, I thought that I'd get it embedded earlier to give as many listeners as possible the chance to hear it on Christmas Eve.
This might not play immediately, since it's a large file and may have to buffer first. But be patient, it's worth it.
Ralph Richardson, left. Paul Scofield, right.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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