On Christmas day in 1962, Mary Badham made her acting debut as Scout. In the minds of most people, the word “scout” conjures up routine images of troops, Native Americans and — to lovers of America’s pastime — pursuers of baseball talent. But to the die-hard movie fan — particularly those who can’t-get-enough-of-them film aficionados who grew up in the 60s — “scout” is not a word, but rather a name and it calls to mind only one thing: the critically-acclaimed film “To Kill a Mockingbird” and its then 10-year-old star.
Based on author Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name, the movie, which opened on Christmas day is about a southern white lawyer defending an innocent black man unjustly accused of raping a white woman.
Badham was the youngest actress ever to be nominated for an Oscar. She lost out to eventual winner Patty Duke who gave a performance in “The Miracle Worker.” Besides that of Badham, the film was nominated for seven other Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actor. The latter was deservedly won by its star Gregory Peck who played the role of Alabama lawyer Atticus Finch. It was Peck’s first Oscar win after being previously nominated four times.
In the film, Scout and her brother Jem learn how hatred and racism can hurt those in society, who may be the most innocent. When she auditioned for the role, Badham was living in Birmingham, Ala. She was young. But as an adolescent, are living in California where the movie was filmed, she saw the difference between races. She discovered her parents were not immune to the racial template being created in Birmingham when they forbid her to befriend a young, black delivery boy who had come to their home.
With her parents’ words you-are-not-in-California-anymore echoing in her brain, she decided she could no longer tolerate the discrimination and left Alabama for Arizona to live with her aunt. It was there that she finished her high school education, earned a college degree and met her future husband.