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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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Echo Bridge Home Entertainment
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15 Must-See Holiday Horror Movies
Echo Bridge Home Entertainment
Echo Bridge Home Entertainment

Families often use the holidays as an excuse to indulge in repeat viewings of Planes, Trains and Automobiles and Elf. But for a certain section of the population, the yuletide is all about horror. Although it didn’t truly emerge until the mid-1970s, “holiday horror” is a thriving subgenre that often combines comedy to tell stories of demented Saint Nicks and lethal gingerbread men. If you’ve never seen Santa slash someone, here are 15 movies to get you started.

1. THANKSKILLING (2009)

Most holiday horror movies concern Christmas, so ThanksKilling is a bit of an anomaly. Another reason it’s an anomaly? It opens in 1621, with an axe-wielding turkey murdering a topless pilgrim woman. The movie continues on to the present-day, where a group of college friends are terrorized by that same demon bird during Thanksgiving break. It’s pretty schlocky, but if Turkey Day-themed terror is your bag, make sure to check out the sequel: ThanksKilling 3. (No one really knows what happened to ThanksKilling 2.)

2. BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974)

Fittingly, the same man who brought us A Christmas Story also brought us its twisted cousin. Before Bob Clark co-wrote and directed the 1983 saga of Ralphie Parker, he helmed Black Christmas. It concerns a group of sorority sisters who are systematically picked off by a man who keeps making threatening phone calls to their house. Oh, and it all happens during the holidays. Black Christmas is often considered the godfather of holiday horror, but it was also pretty early on the slasher scene, too. It opened the same year as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and beat Halloween by a full four years.

3. SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (1984)

This movie isn’t about Santa Claus himself going berserk and slaughtering a bunch of people. But it is about a troubled teen who does just that in a Santa suit. Billy Chapman starts Silent Night, Deadly Night as a happy little kid, only to witness a man dressed as St. Nick murder his parents in cold blood. Years later, after he has grown up and gotten a job at a toy store, he conducts a killing spree in his own red-and-white suit. The PTA and plenty of critics condemned the film for demonizing a kiddie icon, but it turned into a bona fide franchise with four sequels and a 2012 remake.

4. RARE EXPORTS: A CHRISTMAS TALE (2010)

This Finnish flick dismantles Santa lore in truly bizarre fashion, and it’s not easy to explain in a quick plot summary. But Rare Exports involves a small community living at the base of Korvatunturi mountain, a major excavation project, a bunch of dead reindeer, and a creepy old naked dude who may or may not be Santa Claus. Thanks to its snowy backdrop, the movie scored some comparisons to The Thing, but the hero here isn’t some Kurt Russell clone with equally feathered hair. It’s a bunch of earnest kids and their skeptical dads, who all want to survive the holidays in one piece.

5. TO ALL A GOODNIGHT (1980)

To All a Goodnight follows a by-now familiar recipe: Add a bunch of young women to one psycho dressed as Santa Claus and you get a healthy dose of murder and this 1980 slasher flick. Only this one takes place at a finishing school. So it’s fancier.

6. KRAMPUS (2015)

Although many Americans are blissfully unaware of him, Krampus has terrorized German-speaking kids for centuries. According to folklore, he’s a yuletide demon who punishes naughty children. (He’s also part-goat.) That’s some solid horror movie material, so naturally Krampus earned his own feature film. In the movie, he’s summoned because a large suburban family loses its Christmas cheer. That family has an Austrian grandma who had encounters with Krampus as a kid, so he returns to punish her descendants. He also animates one truly awful Jack-in-the-Box.

7. THE GINGERDEAD MAN (2005)

“Eat me, you punk b*tch!” That’s one of the many corny catchphrases spouted by the Gingerdead Man, an evil cookie possessed by the spirit of a convicted killer (played by Gary Busey). The lesson here, obviously, is to never bake.

8. JACK FROST (1997)

No, this isn’t the Michael Keaton snowman movie. It’s actually a holiday horror movie that beat that family film by a year. In this version, Jack Frost is a serial killer on death row who escapes prison and then, through a freak accident, becomes a snowman. He embarks on a murder spree that’s often played for laughs—for instance, the cops threaten him with hairdryers. But the comedy is pretty questionable in the infamous, and quite controversial, Shannon Elizabeth shower scene.

9. ELVES (1989)

Based on the tagline—“They’re not working for Santa anymore”—you’d assume this is your standard evil elves movie. But Elves weaves Nazis, bathtub electrocutions, and a solitary, super grotesque elf into its utterly absurd plot. Watch at your own risk.

10. SINT (2010)

The Dutch have their own take on Santa, and his name is Sinterklaas. Sinterklaas travels to the Netherlands via steamship each year with his racist sidekick Zwarte Piet. But otherwise, he’s pretty similar to Santa. And if Santa can be evil, so can Sinterklaas. According to the backstory in Sint (or Saint), the townspeople burned their malevolent bishop alive on December 5, 1492. But Sinterklaas returns from the grave on that date whenever there’s a full moon to continue dropping bodies. In keeping with his olden origins, he rides around on a white horse wielding a golden staff … that he can use to murder you.

11. SANTA’S SLAY (2005)

Ever wonder where Santa came from? This horror-comedy claims he comes from the worst possible person: Satan. The devil’s kid lost a bet many years ago and had to pretend to be a jolly gift-giver. But now the terms of the bet are up and he’s out to act like a true demon. That includes killing Fran Drescher and James Caan, obviously.

12. ALL THROUGH THE HOUSE (2015)

Another Santa slasher is on the loose in All Through the House, but the big mystery here is who it is. This villain dons a mask during his/her streak through suburbia—and, as the genre dictates, offs a bunch of promiscuous young couples along the way. The riddle is all tied up in the disappearance of a little girl, who vanished several years earlier.

13. CHRISTMAS EVIL (1980)

Several years before Silent Night, Deadly Night garnered protests for its anti-Kringle stance, Christmas Evil put a radicalized Santa at the center of its story. The movie’s protagonist, Harry Stadling, first starts to get weird thoughts in his head as a kid when he sees “Santa” (really his dad in the costume) groping his mom. Then, he becomes unhealthily obsessed with the holiday season, deludes himself into thinking he’s Santa, and goes on a rampage. The movie is mostly notable for its superfan John Waters, who lent commentary to the DVD and gave Christmas Evil some serious cult cred.

14. SANTA CLAWS (1996)

If you thought this was the holiday version of Pet Sematary, guess again. The culprit here isn’t a demon cat in a Santa hat, but a creepy next-door neighbor. Santa Claws stars B-movie icon Debbie Rochon as Raven Quinn, an actress going through a divorce right in the middle of the holidays. She needs some help caring for her two girls, so she seeks out Wayne, her neighbor who has an obsessive crush on her. He eventually snaps and dresses up as Santa Claus in a ski mask. Mayhem ensues.

15. NEW YEAR’S EVIL (1980)

Because the holidays aren’t over until everyone’s sung “Auld Lang Syne,” we can’t count out New Year’s Eve horror. In New Year’s Evil, lady rocker Blaze is hosting a live NYE show. Everything is going well, until a man calls in promising to kill at midnight. The cops write it off as a prank call, but soon, Blaze’s friends start dropping like flies. Just to tie it all together, the mysterious murderer refers to himself as … “EVIL.”

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10 Surprising Ways Senses Shape Perception
The American Museum of Natural History
The American Museum of Natural History

Every bit of information we know about the world we gathered with one of our five senses. But even with perfect pitch or 20/20 vision, our perceptions don’t always reflect an accurate picture of our surroundings. Our brain is constantly filling in gaps and taking shortcuts, which can result in some pretty wild illusions.

That’s the subject of “Our Senses: An Immersive Experience,” a new exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Mental Floss recently took a tour of the sensory funhouse to learn more about how the brain and the senses interact.

1. LIGHTING REVEALS HIDDEN IMAGES.

Woman and child looking at pictures on a wall

Under normal lighting, the walls of the first room of “Our Senses” look like abstract art. But when the lights change color, hidden illustrations are revealed. The three lights—blue, red, and green—used in the room activate the three cone cells in our eyes, and each color highlights a different set of animal illustrations, giving the viewers the impression of switching between three separate rooms while standing still.

2. CERTAIN SOUNDS TAKE PRIORITY ...

We can “hear” many different sounds at once, but we can only listen to a couple at a time. The AMNH exhibit demonstrates this with an audio collage of competing recordings. Our ears automatically pick out noises we’re conditioned to react to, like an ambulance siren or a baby’s cry. Other sounds, like individual voices and musical instruments, require more effort to detect.

3. ... AS DO CERTAIN IMAGES.

When looking at a painting, most people’s eyes are drawn to the same spots. The first things we look for in an image are human faces. So after staring at an artwork for five seconds, you may be able to say how many people are in it and what they look like, but would likely come up short when asked to list the inanimate object in the scene.

4. PAST IMAGES AFFECT PRESENT PERCEPTION.

Our senses often are more suggestible than we would like. Check out the video above. After seeing the first sequence of animal drawings, do you see a rat or a man’s face in the last image? The answer is likely a rat. Now watch the next round—after being shown pictures of faces, you might see a man’s face instead even though the final image hasn’t changed.

5. COLOR INFLUENCES TASTE ...

Every cooking show you’ve watched is right—presentation really is important. One look at something can dictate your expectations for how it should taste. Researchers have found that we perceive red food and drinks to taste sweeter and green food and drinks to taste less sweet regardless of chemical composition. Even the color of the cup we drink from can influence our perception of taste.

6. ... AND SO DOES SOUND

Sight isn’t the only sense that plays a part in how we taste. According to one study, listening to crunching noises while snacking on chips makes them taste fresher. Remember that trick before tossing out a bag of stale junk food.

7. BEING HYPER-FOCUSED HAS DRAWBACKS.

Have you ever been so focused on something that the world around you seemed to disappear? If you can’t recall the feeling, watch the video above. The instructions say to keep track of every time a ball is passed. If you’re totally absorbed, you may not notice anything peculiar, but watch it a second time without paying attention to anything in particular and you’ll see a person in a gorilla suit walk into the middle of the screen. The phenomenon that allows us to tune out big details like this is called selective attention. If you devote all your mental energy to one task, your brain puts up blinders that block out irrelevant information without you realizing it.

8. THINGS GET WEIRD WHEN SENSES CONTRADICT EACH OTHER.

Girl standing in optical illusion room.

The most mind-bending room in the "Our Senses" exhibit is practically empty. The illusion comes from the black grid pattern painted onto the white wall in such a way that straight planes appear to curve. The shapes tell our eyes we’re walking on uneven ground while our inner ear tells us the floor is stable. It’s like getting seasick in reverse: This conflicting sensory information can make us feel dizzy and even nauseous.

9. WE SEE SHADOWS THAT AREN’T THERE.

If our brains didn’t know how to adjust for lighting, we’d see every shadow as part of the object it falls on. But we can recognize that the half of a street that’s covered in shade isn’t actually darker in color than the half that sits in the sun. It’s a pretty useful adaptation—except when it’s hijacked for optical illusions. Look at the image above: The squares marked A and B are actually the same shade of gray. Because the pillar appears to cast a shadow over square B, our brain assumes it’s really lighter in color than what we’re shown.

10. WE SEE FACES EVERYWHERE.

The human brain is really good at recognizing human faces—so good it can make us see things that aren’t there. This is apparent in the Einstein hollow head illusion. When looking at the mold of Albert Einstein’s face straight on, the features appear to pop out rather than sink in. Our brain knows we’re looking at something similar to a human face, and it knows what human faces are shaped like, so it automatically corrects the image that it’s given.

All images courtesy of the American Museum of Natural History unless otherwise noted.

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