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13 Judicious Facts About To Kill a Mockingbird

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It's a scientific fact that no matter how great your own father may be, he's not as great as Atticus Finch. (Any truly great father will readily admit this.) Millions of people fell in dad-love with Atticus through Harper Lee's novel To Kill a Mockingbird, released in July 1960. And millions more fell even more deeply in love when the movie version was released on Christmas Day in 1962. The movie, directed by Robert Mulligan, was an instant classic, and it came to be one of America's most beloved and comforting films. To enhance your appreciation, here's a chifforobe full of facts about it.

1. ROCK HUDSON ALMOST PLAYED ATTICUS FINCH.

Universal Pictures offered the role to Rock Hudson when the project was first being developed, and the actor was prepared to take it. Things stalled, however, when the film's producer, Alan J. Pakula, wanted an even bigger star: Gregory Peck. Universal basically said, "Well, sure! If you can get Gregory Peck, we'll not only agree to it, we'll finance the movie!" And that's what happened. Sorry, Rock.

2. HARPER LEE ENTHUSIASTICALLY SUPPORTED THE FILM, BUT HAD NO INTEREST IN WRITING THE SCREENPLAY HERSELF.

The author would later become famous for being reclusive (and for not writing any more books until this year's Go Set a Watchman), but she was pleased as punch to visit the set when the movie was being filmed, and spoke glowingly of how well she was treated in Hollywood. But early on, when producers offered to let her write the screenplay adaptation of her own book, she politely declined. She had no experience with scripts; she was busy working on another book (which she never finished); and she didn't mind letting someone else grapple with the task of trimming her novel down to movie length. The job went to Horton Foote, a fellow Southerner, and Lee approved of the work he did.  

3. GREGORY PECK WANTED TO CHANGE THE TITLE.

He wasn't the only person who felt the phrase "to kill a mockingbird" didn't accurately reflect the content of the story. He was the most influential, though, and he pushed for a change before he'd even read the screenplay. Lee's literary agent, Annie Laurie Williams, was furious at the suggestion, and wrote to the publisher (who naturally wanted the bestselling book's title to carry over) to assure him that Peck "has been signed to play the part of Atticus, but has no right to say what the title of the picture will be." Mulligan and Pakula publicly stated that the title would remain intact, and Peck dropped the subject.

4. THEY COULDN'T SHOOT ON LOCATION BECAUSE THE REAL TOWN HAD BECOME MODERNIZED.

Lee based the novel's fiction town of Maycomb, Alabama on her own experiences growing up in Monroeville, Alabama during the Depression, with a lawyer father who had (unsuccessfully) defended two black men against rape charges. Peck, Pakula, and a small crew visited Monroeville to do some research, and to see if they could make the movie there. They found the town as charming and welcoming as they'd hoped, but it no longer bore much physical resemblance to the way it had looked 30 years earlier. That was disappointing for the filmmakers, but probably a good sign for the locals. (Imagine how sad it would be for a town in 1961 to look like it was still in the midst of the Depression.)

5. THEY SAVED MONEY ON THE SET BY RECYCLING REAL HOUSES.

Once it was determined that shooting on location wasn't practical, the question became how to most economically recreate a Depression-era Alabama town on the Universal backlot. Realizing that Monroeville's old houses were similar in style to the early-20th-century clapboard cottages that were then rapidly disappearing from the Los Angeles area, the film's production designers, Henry Bumstead and Alexander Golitzen, went looking for condemned houses they could use. Sure enough, they found a dozen such homes scheduled for demolition near Chavez Ravine (where Dodger Stadium was almost finished), and for just $5000 had the frames hauled to Universal. They lined their fake street with the houses and added the appropriate porches, shutters and so forth—all for about a quarter of what it would have cost to build the sets from scratch. 

6. THE COURTROOM WAS MADE TO LOOK JUST LIKE THE ONE IN HARPER LEE'S HOMETOWN.

For an extra bit of authenticity that almost no one would ever notice, the production designers built the courtroom set as an exact duplicate of the real courtroom from Lee's childhood, based on photos and measurements they'd taken while visiting Monroeville. (Fittingly, the real Monroeville courthouse is now a museum devoted to the book and the movie.) 

7. JAMES ANDERSON, THE ACTOR WHO PLAYED MEAN OLD BOB EWELL, REALLY WAS KIND OF MEAN.

Or he behaved that way on the set, anyway, possibly due to some Method acting mentality. He didn't get along with Brock Peters (who played Tom Robinson), and wouldn't talk to Peck at all, insisting on communicating through Mulligan, their director. In the climactic fight with Jem Finch, Anderson yanked young Phillip Alford's hair so hard, he pulled him out of the shot. 

8. THERE'S A REASON THE MOVIE FOCUSES MORE ON ATTICUS THAN THE BOOK DOES, AND THAT REASON IS NAMED GREGORY PECK.

After seeing a rough cut of the film early in the summer of 1962, Peck sent a memo to his agent and to Universal execs listing 44 problems he had with it. What it boiled down to was that the children had too much screen time, Atticus not enough. "Atticus has no chance to emerge as courageous or strong," Peck wrote. He said in a later memo, "In my opinion, the picture will begin to look better as Atticus' story line emerges, and the children's scenes are cut down to proportion." Universal wanted the star to be happy, but Mulligan and Pakula's contract had stipulated they'd get final cut. Still, they made more changes to appease Peck, deleting some of the children's scenes in favor of Peck's. In the end, the trial occupies some 30 percent of the film, despite being only about 15 percent of the book. 

9. THE NARRATOR DID THE FILM AS A FAVOR TO THE SCREENWRITER.

Kim Stanley, unnamed in the credits, was a successful stage actress who had worked with screenwriter Horton Foote in the theater world. She lent the film her molasses-dripping vocals out of fondness for him. 

10. HARPER LEE WASN'T SOLD ON GREGORY PECK UNTIL SHE SAW HIM IN COSTUME.

The actor had visited Lee and her father (whom he'd be playing) in Monroeville, and both Lees thought he was a swell guy. But Harper wasn't convinced he was right for the part until they were in Hollywood and she saw his wardrobe test. "The first glimpse I had of him was when he came out of his dressing room in his Atticus suit," she said in an interview a couple years later. "It was the most amazing transformation I had ever seen. A middle-aged man came out. He looked bigger, he looked thicker through the middle. He didn't have an ounce of makeup, just a 1933-type suit with a collar and a vest and a watch and chain. The minute I saw him I knew everything was going to be all right because he was Atticus." 

Mary Badham, who played young Scout, later recalled how Peck once finished a scene and noticed that Lee, standing off to the side, had tears in her eyes. Peck went over to her, thinking she must have been touched by the performance. But it was something else: "Oh, Gregory!" she said. "You've got a little pot belly, just like my daddy!" Peck's reply: "That's just good acting, my dear." 

11. MARY BADHAM SET AN OSCAR RECORD.

Badham was 10 years and 141 days old on Oscar night, when she was up for Best Supporting Actress. At the time, she was the youngest nominee ever for that category. (Interestingly, she lost to another kid: Patty Duke, age 16, for The Miracle Worker.) Badham is still the second-youngest Best Supporting Actress nominee, after Tatum O'Neal, who was 35 days younger the night she was up (and won) for Paper Moon in 1974.

12. MARY BADHAM ALSO DELAYED THE PRODUCTION.

Badham, just nine years old at the time of filming, had never acted professionally at all, let alone in a big-time Hollywood film. Understandably, she was thrilled by the experience—so much so that she didn't want it to end. The very last scene to be shot was the one outside the jailhouse, when the children show up and interrupt the lynch mob. To keep the happy times rolling forever, Badham kept screwing up her lines on purpose, until finally her mother told her to knock it off and be a professional. 

13. GREGORY PECK'S GRANDSON IS NAMED AFTER HARPER LEE.

Though the process of turning a book into a movie often ends in bitterness and disillusionment for the author, To Kill a Mockingbird was an exception. Lee loved the screenplay, loved the film, and became lifelong friends with Peck. In 1999, Peck's daughter, Cecilia, named her son Harper, in honor of the woman who gave her dad the greatest role of his career.

Additional sources:
DVD special features
Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee, by Charles J. Shields
Gregory Peck: A Biography, by Gary Fishgall
Interview with Harper Lee

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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
6 Priceless Treasures Lost in Shipwrecks
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In the lore around treasures lost at sea, most of the excitement goes to pirate’s gold and the sunken luxuries of the Titanic. But in the centuries of human seafaring, many lesser-known priceless objects, from literary manuscripts to scientific research, have been claimed by the depths. Here are some tales of those losses, from a lifetime of work by a 19th-century woman who was an expert in cephalopods, to a rare book by Dickens that went down with the Lusitania.

1. LOUIS DE JAUCOURT'S ANATOMICAL LEXICON

Always, always, always back up your work. Of course, that's easier now than it was in the 18th century, when French scholar Louis de Jaucourt dispatched his six-volume Lexicon medicum universale to his Amsterdam publisher, a move intended to evade French censorship. The medical dictionary, on which he'd spent 20 years, was completely lost when the ship it was on sank off Holland's coast. Luckily, Jaucourt rebounded when Denis Diderot asked him to contribute to the Encyclopédie, now considered one of the greatest works of Enlightenment thought, for which he used his notes from the lost manuscript. Jaucourt became the publication's most prolific author, penning 40,000 articles—so many he was nicknamed l'esclave de l’Encyclopédie, or the "slave of the Encyclopedia."

2. THE FIELDWORK OF ALFRED RUSSEL WALLACE

Portrait of Alfred Russel Wallace, Welsh naturalist and explorer
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In 1852, following four years of research in the Amazon, the British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace was ready to return to England. He loaded his copious notes, animal and plant specimens, and drawings onto the brig Helen. Just 26 days into the voyage, the vessel caught fire. Wallace only had time to hastily fill a tin box with a few drawings of fish and palms and some scientific notes before joining the crew in the lifeboat. After 10 days marooned at sea, they were rescued by the brig Jordeson—but most of Wallace's work was gone forever. As he lamented in an October 19, 1852 letter, "The only things which I saved were my watch, my drawings of fishes, and a portion of my notes and journals. Most of my journals, notes on the habits of animals, and drawings of the transformations of insects, were lost.” While he continued as a leading naturalist—albeit one overshadowed in his evolution research by Charles Darwin—Wallace was never able to reconstruct those years of fieldwork.

3. THE CEPHALOPOD RESEARCH OF JEANNE VILLEPREUX-POWER

Before Jeanne Villepreux-Power’s 19th-century research, most scientists thought the Argonauta argo, or paper nautilus, scavenged its shell from other animals. But by inventing the modern aquarium, Villepreux-Power could study the species first-hand, and witness how it grows and repairs its own shell. The breakthrough was one of many discoveries made by the pioneer in cephalopod research, one of the few women to achieve prominence in Victorian science. She might be better known today if it weren't for the fact that when she and her husband decided to move from Sicily to London, the vessel on which they’d shipped their possessions—including the majority of her drawings, notes, and equipment—foundered off the coast of France in 1843. After the devastating loss, she never published again.

4. A COPY OF A CHRISTMAS CAROL OWNED BY CHARLES DICKENS

Sinking of the Lusitania
Three Lions/Getty Images

When Boston bookseller Charles Lauriat realized the RMS Lusitania was doomed that fateful day in 1915, he dashed to his cabin, using the light from a few matches to try to find the literary treasures he’d brought aboard. These included original drawings by Vanity Fair author William Makepeace Thackeray, as well as an edition of A Christmas Carol owned by Charles Dickens himself. The edition was irreplaceable, since it included Dickens’s notes related to his 1844 copyright suit against the illicit republishing of his story. In the book Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, Erik Larson vividly describes Lauriat’s harrowing experience when the ocean liner was torpedoed by a German U-boat off the coast of Ireland: Lauriat grabbed the leather briefcase containing the Dickens, but left the Thackeray sketches behind. Rushing out to the deck, he saw a lifeboat packed with women and children that was being dragged down by the sinking ship. He jumped in with the briefcase, yet was unable to free the lifeboat, and in the escape into the water he lost the precious cargo. Out in the waves, he managed to evade entanglement with an antenna, swim to a collapsible lifeboat, and survive. One of the few items he managed to save were photographs of his baby, which he told his wife were his "mascot."

5. WRITINGS OF JOSÉ ASUNCIÓN SILVA

Portrait of José Asunción Silva

Many Colombians can recite the first lines from the influential Modernist poet José Asunción Silva's "Nocturne III"—"A night / A night full of hushings, of the curled wool of perfume / And incanting wing"—and it’s even printed in microtext on the 5000 Colombian peso bill. The poem, written in 1892, is believed to be a tribute to Silva’s half-sister. Silva suffered another blow in 1895, when many of his manuscripts, including a draft of a novel, were lost in a shipwreck. He left his diplomatic post in Venezuela, and dedicated all his time to reconstructing the drowned novel. But his melancholy continued: After visiting a doctor to ask the exact position of his heart, he shot himself in 1896. His rewritten novel—After-Dinner Conversation (De sobremesa) —wasn’t published until 1925.

6. THE ART OF GIOVANNI BATTISTA LUSIERI

The South-east Corner of the Parthenon, Athens by Giovanni Battista Lusieri
Giovanni Battista Lusieri, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Giovanni Battista Lusieri was a meticulous painter of the Italian landscape, particularly its classical ruins. In large panoramas and more compact watercolors, he depicted the Acropolis, views of Rome and Naples, and, his favorite, the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Some of his most striking works captured the volcano at night, illuminating the darkness with its orange glow. Lord Byron called him "an Italian painter of the first eminence." Yet his name is now obscure. This is partly due to the years he stopped painting to help Lord Elgin remove and ship the Parthenon Marbles to London. But when Lusieri's artwork was being sent home from Greece after his death in 1821, a shipwreck destroyed nearly half of it (including a spectacular 25-foot-long panorama of Athens), helping to ensure his fall from fame.

BONUS: PEKING MAN

A replica of the Peking Man Skull
A replica of the Peking Man Skull

When paleontologists discovered the bones of "Peking man" in a dig near Beijing in the 1920s, they were the oldest hominid fossils ever found. However, scientists can now only study the bones—thought to be about half a million years old—from casts. The Peking Man fossils were last seen in December 1941, but vanished during the Japanese occupation of China while they were being sent to the United States for safekeeping. There are many conjectures on their fate, from being secretly stored away in Japan, to being under a parking lot in China. Yet one enduring theory is that they were lost at sea on the Japanese freighter Awa Maru: In 1945, the ship was torpedoed in the Taiwan Strait by the USS Queenfish despite being guaranteed safe passage by the United States, leading to the loss of more than 2000 lives—and, it's said, the priceless Peking fossils [PDF].

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Animals
7 Cases of Mistaken Dog Identity
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For decades, an enduring urban and internet legend has provided a cautionary tale for people seeking to adopt a pet. While details vary according to the storyteller, it goes something like this: A woman on vacation takes pity on a stray, hairless dog she finds in dire shape. Bringing him home, he doesn’t seem to respond to generous helpings of food and verbal assurance that he's a good boy. Instead, he’s rather aggressive. Taking him to the vet, she realizes she didn’t pick up a dog at all but a massive, sewer-dwelling rat.

While a delightful story, it's probably not true. These cases are. Take a look at seven people who experienced some alarming examples of animals they thought were dogs, and dogs they thought were other animals.

1. THE FOX IS NOT A HOUND

A screen capture of a fox that resembles a dog
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As contemporary pet breeding produces new strains of Franken-pups, it’s likely people will continue to be confused by animals that resemble exotic breeds. Case in point: In May 2018, a woman purchased what she thought was a Japanese Spitz puppy from a pet shop in China. With its long, pointed snout and fluffy coat, the dog at first appeared to be an adorable addition to the household. Within three months, however, it stopped eating dog food and began to sprout a long tail. Strangely, it also never barked. Its owner thought it might just be quiet and finicky, but a local zoo confirmed she had actually purchased a fox, which the Japanese Spitz is said to resemble. The animal’s new forever home is behind fencing at the zoo’s fox habitat.

2. CHARLIE THE LABRA-LION

Hysteria briefly gripped citizens of Norfolk, Virginia in 2013, when a rash of calls to 911 reported a lion loose within the city limits. One caller described it as a “baby lion,” while another believed it to be the size of a Labrador retriever. Close. The “lion” was a Labradoodle named Charlie, who got regular grooming visits that gave him a mane and improved his regal stature. His owner shaved him to resemble a sports mascot at Old Dominion University.

3. THE COYOTE AND THE SAMARITAN

When an unnamed resident of Bartlett, Illinois drove past a cowering animal on a busy stretch of roadway in May 2018, the person stopped and swept up what was believed to be a lost dog. Driving to the local police department, the resident dropped the alleged puppy off, only to discover that the rescue had been in the service of a coyote. The baby was taken to Willowbrook Wildlife for safekeeping.

4. A BEAR TO DEAL WITH

Despite the propaganda pushed by cartoons, bears are generally difficult to live with and might devour younger members of the household without warning. No one would likely live with one on purpose. By accident? That’s another story. In 2016, a family in the Yunnan province of China adopted what they believed was a Tibetan Mastiff puppy, a stout and noble breed. To their slowly-dawning surprise, it turned out it wasn’t a dog at all but an Asiatic black bear cub that skyrocketed to over 250 pounds in a matter of months. He also had a tendency to stand on his hind legs, a trait domesticated canines still lack. The family reached out to authorities and the bear—which is a protected species in China—was relocated to a sanctuary.

5. THE CAT MISTAKEN FOR A DOG

A screen capture of a cat with hypertrichosis
Moony strangecat, YouTube

Your standard orange tabby cats don’t have this problem, but certain feline breeds can wind up experiencing a real identity crisis. Snookie, a three-year-old Persian in Canada, has hypertrichosis, a condition sometimes referred to as “werewolf syndrome” because it causes excessive growth of hair, nails, and whiskers. As a result of her fluffed-up and rotund face, Snookie is often confused for a Shih Tzu puppy.

6. ACCIDENTALLY ADOPTING A WOLF

A wolf cub sits next to its mother
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It could happen to anyone. In 2016, a man in Arizona responded to an ad giving away a free “puppy” and took it home. The animal’s owner was sufficiently charmed by his new pet’s adorable face that he didn’t notice the pup, which he named Neo, avoided eye contact and didn’t seem to have much use for dog treats. When the man built a fence to prevent Neo from cavorting with the neighborhood dogs, the animal dug under it. When a neighbor took Neo to the local Humane Society for trespassing, officials discovered it was a wolf—an illegal animal to own without proper permits. Properly identified, Neo was relocated to a sanctuary named Wolf Connection.

7. THE RACCOON-DOG HYBRID

A tanuki dog resembles a raccoon
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The exotic animal trade in the UK has been trafficking tanukis, or raccoon dogs, for some time now. True to their name, the wild dogs resemble raccoons but are related to wolves and foxes. Unsuspecting owners purchase them for novelty’s sake, not realizing that they’re prone to wiping out frog populations and carrying hookworm and fatal fox tapeworms. Since they're nocturnal, they’ll also keep households up at night. Raccoon dogs are easily confused with actual raccoons and at least one distressed owner was afraid his pet would be harmed due to the likeness when his pet, Kekei, escaped in 2015. In the U.S., the only tanukis in residence are located in an Atlanta zoo. If you see a raccoon this large, run.

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