Mary Badham messed up nearly every take in which the family was eating at the table. Phillip Alford didn't 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 first scene that Gregory Peck shot showed him returning home from his character's law office while his children ran to greet him. Harper Lee was a guest on the set that day, and Peck noticed her crying after the scene was filmed. "Why are you crying?" Peck asked. Peck had looked just like her late father, the model for Atticus, Lee explained; Peck even had a little round pot belly like her father's. "That's not a pot belly, Harper," Peck told her, "That's great acting."
The character of Dill is purportedly based upon Truman Capote, who had been a childhood friend of Harper Lee when he was sent to live with relatives in Lee's hometown each summer. Truman Capote, in turn, based one of his characters in his literary work "Other Voices, Other Rooms" upon his recollection of Harper Lee.
Robert Duvall stayed out of the sun for six weeks and dyed his hair blond 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.)
Phillip Alford told his mother that he did not want to go to the auditions for the part of Jem Finch but when his mother told him he would miss half a day of school, he immediately decided to go to them.
Brock Peters started to cry while shooting the testifying scene, without rehearsing it this way, and Gregory Peck said that he had to look past him, instead of looking him in the eye, without choking up himself.
The courthouse that was copied for this film still stands in Monroeville, Ala., 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 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 has received 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.
Director Robert Mulligan and producer Alan J. Pakula traveled to Harper Lee's hometown of Monroeville but found it unsuitable for filming. The town had been modernized. Therefore the production team constructed their own ideal version of Monroeville on a backlot at Universal. When Lee saw their recreation, she said it was perfect.
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 30 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.
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 the novel winning the Pulitzer Prize, the studios were not interested in buying up the film rights as they deemed it lacking in action, there was no love story and the villain doesn't get a big comeuppance. Producer Alan J. Pakula disagreed however and persuaded director Robert Mulligan that it would make a good film. Together they were able to convince Gregory Peck who readily agreed.
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.
Atticus Finch is modeled on Harper Lee's own father, Amasa Lee, an attorney whose 1923 defense of a black client inspired the novel's trial. Gregory Peck met with Amasa Lee - then 82 years old - and formed a strong bond with him. Unfortunately Lee died during 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.
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.
Although Gregory Peck's inspirational performance as Atticus Finch turned out to be a perfect highlight to his long career, Rock Hudson was actually the studio's first choice for the role. James Stewart was also offered the part, but told the producers he believed the script was "too liberal", and feared the film would be controversial.
Bob Ewell's full name is Robert E. Lee Ewell. This is a reference to Robert E. Lee, who was a major figurehead in the Confederacy during the Civil War. Given the mentality of the South for the years that followed the Civil War, it is not surprising someone would name their child in Lee's honor.
The residential street where the Finches lived was located slightly southeast of Universals 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 Dr. and James Stewart Ave. converge.