At the very end of my favorite movie, the narrator says “I was to think of these days many times. Of Jem and Dill and Boo Radley and Tom Robinson…and Atticus. He would be in Jem’s room all night, and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning.”
This was, of course, a part of the adult Scout’s soliloquy, a character in Harper Lee’s “To Kill A Mockingbird”, and was a poignant climactic tribute to her father, Atticus, and the other players in her Southern childhood. Every time I watch the movie, I can be found mouthing the words right along with the narrator herself, and every time I take the journey the poignancy of the words drip like tears onto my face like clockwork.
I watched the movie that Monday for the umpteenth time, but it was the first time since the death of Gregory Peck, the man who brought Atticus Finch so permanently to life. But I watched it specifically in memory and honor of a wonderful man, a man without whom those of us who adore the movie and/or the novel would not have known the depths of its meaningfulness.
When I heard that Gregory Peck had died, I was at work. I heard only part of a conversation on the radio, was having an adrenalin rush and literally within a minute received an email from a friend. How surreal.
I had to quickly contain myself before I lost it in front of my co-workers, but I think they would have understood because they know me. They’ve seen my Mockingbird memory wall at home. One co-worker had just finished reading the book because of my ravings.
The first person I thought of was Harper Lee, the author, and the “kids” that played Scout and Jem in the movie. Since the book was loosely based on Harper Lee’s real father, and knowing that the Mockingbird kids call Gregory Peck “Atticus” to this day, I knew that they had all, in a way, just lost another “Daddy.”
Everyone that knows me well knows how much I love the Mockingbird saga, but saying that is an understatement. This has been going on since before I was 10 years old. In a way, I feel that I have lost another Daddy myself, and I know that I am not alone. I actually received a sympathy card that week from a couple that realized the depth of my admiration and respect for the actor Gregory Peck and the profoundness of the message in the book, and friends have been giving verbal and email condolences ever since.
The loss is especially great for me because in 1995 I was able to meet Gregory Peck in person when he appeared at Hancher Auditorium in Iowa City. I heard that he would be appearing at Hancher, showing movie clips, telling stories about filming and taking questions from the audience. This put my wheels into gear and I proceeded to take on the project of doing Scout’s soliloquy from the movie in calligraphy, in hopes of having Gregory Peck sign my artwork. I contacted Hancher auditorium, and while they confirmed that he wouldn’t be meeting with audience members personally after the show, they would try to get his signature for me.
Before I gave the artwork to Hancher personnel, I attached a handwritten note addressed to Gregory Peck, telling him about my love for the movie and tipping him off to the fact that if I could muster the courage I would stand up during his question and answer segment and recite the soliloquy by heart.
As I sat in the audience with my two sisters, not far from the stage, my heart raced as I was deciding whether I would follow through with my recitation. I was afraid, but I was more afraid of knowing I’d kick myself for the rest of my life if I didn’t step up to the plate.
So, in front of God, Gregory Peck, my sisters and a full attentive audience, I rose in the blackness of the aisle with silence around me, and the 128 words were spoken. Speaking in full Southern drawl, as much as any Northerner can do, I nearly choked from emotion on a couple of words to accomplish my goal without mistake or memory lapse.
Gregory peck was obviously moved by what I had just done, and as I quickly sat before my shaking legs would cause me to fall, he was bowing in appreciation before me on stage as the audience erupted in applause. After this, I was invited backstage to meet Gregory Peck in person, at his personal request. He had signed my calligraphy, and after a 10 minute one-on-one chat in his dressing room, he allowed me to give him a hug as we were about to part. I also found out while walking backstage that the Hancher staff were trying to find me in the audience in hopes of encouraging me to go through with my recitation.