The first scene that Gregory Peck shot showed him returning home from his character's law office while his children ran to greet him. Author Harper Lee was a guest on the set that day, and Peck noticed her crying after the scene was filmed. He asked Lee why she was crying, and she responded that Peck had looked just like her late father, the model for Atticus. Lee explained that Peck even had a little round stomach like her father's. "That's not a pot belly, Harper," Peck told her, "That's great acting."
After being offered the character role of "Atticus Finch", Gregory Peck quickly read Harper Lee's novel in one sitting and called Robert Mulligan immediately after, to say that he would gladly play the very role.
Brock Peters (Tom Robinson) started to cry while filming his testifying scenes, without rehearsing it this way, and Gregory Peck (Atticus Finch) said that he looked past him, instead of looking at him in the eye, to avoid choking up himself.
Atticus Finch is modeled on Harper Lee's own father, Amasa "A.C." Lee, an attorney and Alabama state legislator, whose 1923 defense of a black client partially inspired the novel's trial. Like Amasa Lee, the character of Atticus Finch was not only an attorney, but also a state legislator and a widowed single father. Gregory Peck met with Amasa Lee, then 82 years old, and formed a strong bond with him. Unfortunately, Lee died during movie filming, so his daughter Harper gave Peck his watch and chain. Peck was wearing that same watch and chain at the Academy Awards the following year, when he won the Oscar for Best Actor of the Year.
Robert Duvall stayed out of the sun for six weeks and dyed his hair blonde, for the role of Boo Radley who, according to the story, spent much of his life as a recluse. The character of Arthur "Boo" Radley is based in part on Harper Lee's recollection of Alfred "Son" Bouleware, who lived with his parents in a dilapidated, mostly boarded-up house just a few doors away from the Lee home. He was kept secluded in the house by his father, following a vandalism incident in which young Alfred was involved. Described in the book and in the movie, as leaving the house only at night because the sun hurt his eyes, this would indicate that Boo Radley was a person of Albinism (lack of pigment in the skin, in the hair, and in the irises of the eyes).
The character of Dill is purportedly based on Truman Capote, who had been a childhood friend of author Harper Lee, when he was sent to live with relatives in Lee's hometown each summer. Capote, in turn, based one of his characters in his literary work "Other Voices, Other Rooms" upon his recollection of Harper Lee. In interviews, Lee implied as much, and in the season 26, episode 3 of American Masters (1985), it was stated that Dill was the only character which Lee admitted to have fully based on a real person.
Truman Capote, who grew up with Harper Lee, also knew the inspiration for "Boo" Radley, and had planned to base a character on him in one of his short stories. After seeing how well the character was realized in Lee's novel, however, he decided against it.
Despite universal praise for the novice film actors, neither Mary Badham nor Phillip Alford chose to capitalize on their stunning film debuts. Badham retired from acting and married a schoolteacher, living near Richmond, Virginia, and spending most of her time raising her two children. Alford later became a successful businessman in Birmingham, Alabama.
Mary Badham, at age nine during filming, became the youngest girl to receive an Oscar nomination, (for Best Supporting Actress), coincidentally losing the award to another child actress, Patty Duke, at age fourteen while acting, in The Miracle Worker (1962).
A director, Robert Mulligan and producer Alan J. Pakula traveled to Harper Lee's hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, but found it unsuitable for filming because the town had been modernized. Therefore, the production team constructed their own ideal version of Monroeville, Alabama, on a backlot at Universal. When Lee saw their recreation, she said it was perfect.
Mary Badham (Scout) messed up nearly every take in which the family eats at the table. Phillip Alford (Jem) did not like eating the same meal dozens of times, so in one of the takes of the scene, in which he rolls Badham in the tire, he aimed it at an equipment truck in an attempt to hurt her.
The courthouse that was copied for this film still stands in Monroeville, Alabama, and is now a museum dedicated to the book, this movie, and the lives of Nelle Harper Lee and the people represented in this work. Additionally, the town of Monroeville (population, approximately 7,000) produces a community play based on the book, held on the grounds of the courthouse and inside the courtroom, every year. The play receives rave reviews, an achievement given that there are no trained actors in it, and has been performed by the Monroeville cast at The Kennedy Center and in Israel. Tickets typically sell out just a few hours after going on sale. The town contains several historic markers bearing information on Lee and Truman Capote. The courthouse is no longer used for actual court proceedings; much of it is not air-conditioned nor heated, a function of its old age. A new courthouse stands adjacent to it in the town's square.
Despite the novel winning the Pulitzer Prize, the studios were not interested in buying up the film rights, as they deemed it lacking in action and romance (with the absence of a love story), and that the villain does not get a big comeuppance. Producer Alan J. Pakula disagreed, however, and persuaded director Robert Mulligan, his producing partner at that time, that it would make a good film for their Pakula-Mulligan Productions. Together, they were able to convince Gregory Peck, who readily agreed to the role.
Although Gregory Peck's inspirational performance as Atticus Finch turned out to be a perfect highlight to his long career, Rock Hudson, Universal's number one star at the time, lobbied for the role, and was considered by producer Alan J. Pakula and director Robert Mulligan. Spencer Tracy was the first choice of producer Pakula and director Mulligan, but it conflicted with Tracy's existing film schedule. James Stewart was also offered the part, reportedly second, but told the producers he believed the script was "too liberal," and feared the film would be controversial.
When he attended the Academy Awards, Gregory Peck was very deeply convinced that his friend Jack Lemmon would win, for his acting, in to the Best Actor Oscar, for his searing portrayal of an alcoholic in Days of Wine and Roses (1962). In reality, Gregory Peck was stunned, that he heard that he was the winner of a much coveted Oscar trophy.
Gregory Peck journeyed to Monroeville, Alabama with Robert Mulligan and Alan J. Pakula to meet Harper Lee's ailing father. True to the story, Amasa Lee really had been a widower who raised his children single-handed, a man, who at the same time, was always ready to defend a black man falsely accused of crimes he did not commit. That experience of meeting the actual man aided Peck's performance immeasurably.
Art directors Alexander Golitzen and Henry Bumstead had an entire reconstruction of the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama, built on the Universal backlot at a cost of $225,000. The set contained more than thirty buildings. It would have cost at least $100,000 more had Golitzen and Bumstead not learned of some Southern-style housing about to be demolished to make way for a new Los Angeles freeway. They bought a dozen of them and had them brought to the studio. Such efforts resulted in the two winning the Oscar for Best Art Direction the following year.
The courtroom is a recreation of the interior of the Monroe County Courthouse in Monroeville, Alabama, Harper Lee's hometown. Prior to filming, production designers traveled to Monroeville, took photographs and measurements, and created a near duplicate on soundstages at Universal Studios. It won art directors Alexander Golitzen and Henry Bumstead and set decorator Oliver Emert the Academy Award for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White, 1963.
Bob Ewell's full name is Robert E. Lee Ewell. This is a reference to General, Robert E. Lee, who was a major figurehead in the Confederacy, during the United States of America's Civil War, with Confederate States, that seceded from the Union.
Despite their close characters, Mary Badham and Phillip Alford did not get along while filming. Mary would mimic Phillip saying his lines off camera so that he couldn't concentrate. This may have been how it seemed at the time, but there is another explanation. When Scout and Jem beg Atticus let them ride along the first time he drives out to speak with Helen Robinson, Mary is mouthing Gregory Peck's lines (at 0:44:37). It is unlikely that Mary was trying to break Gregory Peck's concentration. It is more likely that she memorized all of the lines in each of her scenes and repeated them as a technique to ensure that she would know what her next line would be when the time came for her to deliver it, but like memorizing a song, she wouldn't know what her next line would be until she recited the line immediately preceding it.
The residential street where the Finches lived was located slightly southeast of Universal's Courthouse Square. It ran in a westerly direction, then hair-pinned towards the back of the courthouse edifice from Mrs. Dubose's corner, on what is now the small parking lot where Royal Crescent Drive and James Stewart Avenue converge.
The courtroom is a recreation of the interior of the Monroe County Courthouse in Monroeville, Alabama, Harper Lee's hometown. Prior to filming, the production designers travelled to Monroeville, took photographs and measurements, and recreated a duplicate version on Universal's studio lot.
Robert Duvall and John Megna later appeared in The Godfather: Part II (1974), but shared no scenes, for two reasons: Megna played the young Hyman Roth in the scenes with Robert De Niro, and his scenes were deleted from the theatrical version of the film. They were restored for a television airing.
The Maycomb County Bank calendar in the background when Atticus throws a glass to Tom shows a 30 day month starting on Tuesday. June and September are the only summer months having exactly 30 days, but in September the children would have been in school rather than at the trial. Hence the film is depicting a year when June started on Tuesday. June started on Wednesday in 1932, on Thursday in 1933, on Friday in 1934, on Saturday in 1935, on Monday in 1936, and on Tuesday in 1937, so the film is set in 1936-1937 (or else the filmmakers had a different or incorrect or wrong Calendar).
Cast members Paul Fix (Judge Taylor), Brock Peters (Tom Robinson), John Menga (Dill Harris), Frank Overton (Heck Tate), William Windom (Mr. Gilmer), Richard Hale (Nathan Radley), and Noble 'Kid' Chissell (Courtroom Spectator)all appeared in episodes of the original Star Trek (1966) TV series.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
Gregory Peck stated in subsequent interviews that he felt that the scene where he quietly walks out of the courthouse after losing the case, while the upper gallery stands in silent respect, along with the line given by the reverend, "Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father's passing", was what won him the Academy Award.
When Mayella Ewell is sworn in during the trial of Tom Robinson, if you look closely you can see that she does not actually place her hand on the bible. Instead she lets it hover just above. She does so knowing that the testimony she was about to give accusing Tom of assault was false.