One of American literature’s greatest courtroom dramas is generating some legal theater of its own. To Kill A Mockingbird author Harper Lee is suing her former lit agent’s son-in-law, Samuel Pinkus, and companies he allegedly started for failing to protect the Pulitzer-winning novel’s copyright. Lee, 87, alleges that Pinkus took advantage of her failing eyesight and hearing and assigned the copyright to himself and a firm he operated after his father-in-law, Eugene Winick — who had repped Lee since the book’s publication in 1960 — became ill 10 years ago. The author, who lives in rural Alabama, filed suit in Manhattan federal court and is seeking return of the copyright and unspecified damages. The 1962 movie adaptation of Mockingbird was nominated for Best Picture and seven other Academy Awards and won three, including Best Actor for Gregory Peck’s legendary performance as Atticus Finch. The lawyer who becomes a pariah in his small Southern town as defends a black man accused of raping a white woman was hailed by the AFI in 2003 as the greatest film hero of all time. Last year President Obama introduced the film before a 50th anniversary screening at the White House.
“What are the chances that this day in Florida George Zimmerman would be arrested? What are the chances that we sit in Beverly Hills on this day to see To Kill A Mockingbird, and these kinds of tensions still exist in our country?” asked host Tavis Smiley during his introductory remarks Wednesday evening at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences 50th anniversary screening and L.A. premiere of Universal’s flawless digital restoration of its 1962 classic Oscar winner. As Academy members, press, industryites and the public gathered (Academy events guru Ellen Harrington who also conducted the post-screening Q&A said it sold out within two days of their announcement), the Trayvon Martin murder case was heating up in a scenario eerily reminiscent in some ways of Harper Lee’s iconic 1960 novel To Kill A Mockingbird and its film version directed by Robert Mulligan.
Although the story deals with heroic lawyer Atticus Finch, as played by Gregory Peck in his Oscar winning performance, defending an innocent black man (Brock Peters) against the inflammatory accusations of a young white woman in the Jim Crow south of the 1930s , it also a movie about many other things including the love of a father and is one of the best, if not the best, film about childhood ever committed to celluloid. Mary Badham who was 10 years old at the time she played Scout was in attendance and received a standing ovation when she was introduced after the film for a Q&A along with civil rights attorney Connie Rice …
The 50th Anniversary celebration of the Academy Award winning 1962 classic, To Kill A Mockingbird just got a very high profile addition with the American Film Institute’s announcement today that the film will be screened tomorrow night, April 5, at the White House Family Theatre with an introduction from President Obama. The date also coincidentally marks the 96th birthday of the film’s star, Gregory Peck who served as Founding Chair of the AFI Board of Trustees from 1967 to 1969. It is also significant for the AFI since the Institute was created in the White House Rose Garden in 1965 in a ceremony presided over by President Lyndon Johnson.
Among those attending will be the film’s Oscar nominated co-star Mary Badham, Peck’s family including wife Veronique, AFI Chair Sir Howard Stringer , Universal President and COO Ron Meyer, U’s Chairman Adam Fogelson, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and AFI President and CEO Bob Gazzale. Also in attendance will be a group of students from DC area schools.
With yesterday’s announcement that the President will also introduce the film for the USA Network’s broadcast of the digital restoration on April 7th, the film is getting a strong boost for its half-century milestone. The AFI previously named Atticus Finch as the greatest hero in the history of American Film.
The president will make his comments for USA Network’s broadcast of the iconic film about racial tolerance on April 7. It’s the first time Mockingbird will be nationally shown after being digitally remastered and restored, and marks the film’s 50th aniversary. USA’s corporate cousin, Universal Pictures, recently released the restored version of Mockingbird — as well as three hours of bonus materials including two full-length documentaries — on Blu-ray as part of a series that includes 12 other classic films. “I’m deeply honored that President Obama will be celebrating the 50th Anniversary of To Kill A Mockingbird by introducing it to a national audience,” the book’s author Harper Lee says. “I believe it remains the best translation of a book to film ever made, and I’m proud to know that Gregory Peck’s portrayal of Atticus Finch lives on – in a world that needs him now more than ever.”
Universal this month is launching a yearlong 2012 centennial celebration with an ambitious and almost unprecedented film-restoration effort, a new logo, a swarm of special-edition Blu-ray movie packages, theme park celebrations emphasizing their film history, special events, premieres, and a major social media campaign. Like Paramount, which is also embarking on a centennial celebration, the emphasis here is making the old seem new again. Key among Universal’s plans is the complete restoration of 13 films that showcase a large part of the history of the studio — from 1930′s All Quiet On The Western Front to 1993′s Schindler’s List.
When I spoke with Universal president and COO Ron Meyer on Monday morning, his excitement about this opportunity to mark the studio’s storied past and take it into the future was evident. “One hundred years is such a great milestone,” he said. “I am a movie lover. It’s such an important part of the American culture, a part of the heritage of this country. I think we have a responsibility to our employees, to the public to celebrate not just a milestone but celebrate the movie business, and this gives us a reason to do it.” He emphasized the centerpiece of this yearlong effort: the restoration of many Universal classics each uniquely repping their own decades.
Films chosen to get the full restoration treatment — in addition to the aforementioned All’s Quiet and Schindler’s List — are both 1931 versions of Dracula, Frankenstein (1931), The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Abbott and Costello’s Buck Privates (1941), Pillow Talk (1959), To Kill A Mockingbird (1962), The Birds (1963), The Sting (1973), Jaws (1975), and Out of Africa (1985). That’s actually 12 titles altogether, but there are 13 films since the studio is restoring both 1931 versions of Dracula — including Bela Lugosi’s famous English-language picture and the Spanish version that was filmed on the same sets at night. Pillow Talk repping the ’50s was one of Universal’s biggest hits ever to that time, earning an Original Screenplay Oscar and Doris Day’s only Oscar nomination. It seems an interesting and inspired choice to me, and to Meyer. “What a great movie,” he said. “I have four children who don’t know these movies. They don’t know a Doris Day movie or Rock Hudson movies. And they are going to enjoy them when they see them. Once they see it they can appreciate it. There’s no way for even 30-year olds to know some of those movies unless they are film buffs.”