The colorful casting director of such films as Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and the daytime series General Hospital was the go-to guy for the American Cinematheque, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, TCM, and UCLA Film & Television Archive when they needed veteran performers or filmmakers for their programs
Since his death in 2013, the Cinematheque has honored his legacy annually with a special screening. And this Saturday, January 27, 2018, the Cinematheque is celebrating Marvin with a pre-screening reception followed by one of his favorite films, 1962’s To Kill a Mockingbird with Gregory Peck, Mary Badham, Phillip Alford, Brock Peters, and Robert Duvall.
To make the occasion even more special, Mary Badham, who earned a supporting actress Oscar nomination as Scout, the 10-year old daughter of Peck’s Atticus Finch, will discuss memories of making the film and her friendship with Marvin, with film historian/author/professor Foster Hirsch.
“I knew Marvin very well,” said Hirsch. “He was my greatest advocate, a wonderful friend and generous to everyone. You know that everybody feels that way because he was one of a kind. The Cinematheque would not have had many, many of their wonderful guests without Marvin’s wrangling. He knew everybody. He loved the movies and the people who made then. He treated everybody with such respect."
Badham described Marvin as “such a love.” adding that when she was in L.A. “he used to come and take me out to dinner and take me over to the Academy and introduce me to his friends. But most of all it was just time where we would talk about his kitty cat. He was just really a sweet guy.”
Directed by Robert Mulligan, produced by Alan J. Pakula, and featuring an exquisite score by Elmer Bernstein, To Kill a Mockingbird is a touching, beautifully rendered adaptation of Harper Lee’s autobiographical novel. Gregory Peck stars in his iconic, Oscar-winning performance as Atticus Finch, the noble small-town Alabama lawyer in the 1930s who defends an African-American man (Brock Peters) accused of rape.
A widower, Atticus is also the caring, loving father of Scout (Badham) and Jem (Alford). Rounding out the cast is Robert Duvall in his film debut as Boo Radley and John Megna as Dill.
The classic also won Oscars for Horton Foote’s screenplay, and for art direction - the legendary Henry Bumstead was one of the team who transformed the Universal backlot into small-town Depression-era Alabama.
“I knew this was one of Marvin’s favorite films,” said Hirsch. “It was just the kind of movie that he liked. Marvin didn’t like anything cynical and dark. He really had a more upbeat sense of life. I thought this was a perfect way to pay tribute to Marvin.”
Badham, at the age of 10, was the youngest female at the time to be nominated for an Oscar, despite it being her film debut. (She lost to another juvenile performer, Patty Duke for The Miracle Worker.)
“I didn’t know movies, I didn’t know movie stars,” said Badham, 65, who is the younger sister of director John Badham (Saturday Night Fever). I didn’t know any of that stuff. I just knew that these were very nice people that I got to work with.”
And Peck, she said, “was such a love. I missed my dad so much because my dad and I were really close. He had to stay back in Alabama and help take care of the family and run the business. To have that nurturing atmosphere that we had on the set of Mockingbird - it really made a difference. All the guys were really caring individuals. They were gentlemen. They really conducted themselves in a manner that was befitting the piece."
She remained close to Peck and Peters until they died. She considered Gregory Peck and Brock Peters as her fathers along with her own.
The filmmakers, she said, were looking for child actors with real southern accents.
“The main thing was that the children had to understand the social structure of the day,” noted Badham. “The 1950s and 60s Birmingham, Alabama where Phillip and I came from was still run the same way that it was in 1930s. It was a white, male-run society. Women and children and servants were not to be seen or heard. You did what you were told. If you spoke out of tune, corporal punishment was not out of the ordinary. I had mostly boys in my family. I was very much a tomboy. We sat at the dinner table every night, just like they did in Mockingbird. Everything was so similar.”
Badham did two films and an episode of The Twilight Zone after Mockingbird, and then left the business. She married in 1975, has two grown children, and worked as an art restorer and college testing coordinator in Virginia where she has lived ever since. She now devotes most of her time to spreading the word of Mockingbird.
It is something she had done for years.
Prior to his death, she appeared frequently with Peters. And for a long time did a symphony program with Peters and Alford featuring the music from the film with stories from the production.
It was really wonderful,” said Badham. “And then Phillip and I did speaking engagements together.”
Mockingbird still offers a message of hope to audiences. “Atticus was the perfect father figure,” noted Badham. “He was such an honorable human being. We don’t have many of those people nowadays, certainly not in our politics. I feel like our country has jumped back to the 1930s.”
Education, she added, “has always been my banner that I wave. My driving force to keep me going is to educate our children. I know they have not learned what happened in the 1930s. They are not learning how World War II came about. The don’t even know the current history about racial issues. Even though we have Martin Luther King Day, a lot of that has been skimmed over." Because of the rise in racism in the past year, “we have to have a call to justice and we’ve got a situation in the United States now where we have to have a call to justice and moral strength to fight “
Last year, she agreed to do the play version of Mockingbird in Virginia, but within one week of the Charlottesville tragedy, Badham said, “five members of the cast quit. They were too afraid to do it. That just did it for me. There has never been more important time to have [Mockingbird].”
Veteran journalist Susan King wrote about entertainment at the Los Angeles Times for 26 years (January 1990 - March 2016), specializing in classic Hollywood stories. She also wrote about independent, foreign and studio movies and occasionally TV and theater stories. She received her master's degree in film history and criticism at USC. After working 10 years at the L.A. Herald Examiner, she moved to the Los Angeles Times.