Mary Badham returns to Alabama with “Mockingbird”

Mary Badham

By Lee J. Green

The bird will fly back to Alabama and it will be a homecoming for Birmingham’s own Mary Badham.

The latest “To Kill A Mockingbird” production, written by Academy Award-winner Aaron Sorkin, will take the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex Concert Hall stage Nov. 14 to 19. It will also come to Auburn on Feb. 14 and 15, and Huntsville Feb. 16 to 18.

Badham, who played Scout Finch in the 1962 movie that also starred Gregory Peck and Robert Duvall, will be featured in the traveling Broadway production as neighbor Mrs. Henry Dubose.

When Badham was contacted by the production about the role, she was at first hesitant. Mrs. Dubose is known by the kids in the neighborhood as the “the meanest old woman who has ever lived.” But she felt such a connection to the story and its pertinence so many years later.

“This production is just brilliant. The set is more modern and it really enhances the classic,” said Badham. Richard Thomas, of “The Waltons” fame, plays Atticus Finch.

“The (Harper Lee) book, movie and play have been loved throughout the years. It’s such a great teaching tool and it is something that has resonated with me for so many years,” she said.

Badham grew up in Birmingham, but she had not acted before when the 10-year-old was convinced by her mom to attend the Mockingbird movie auditions at the old Town and Gown Theatre.

“I got up there and it just felt very natural,” she said. “I was just up there having fun and there were several things about Scout, her family I could relate to.”

Badham would earn an Oscar nomination for her breakthrough performance — at the time the youngest person ever nominated for a supporting role. Coincidentally, another child actress, Patty Duke, won the Oscar for her portrayal of Alabama’s Helen Keller in “The Miracle Worker.”

She would go on to play minor roles in a few TV shows and movies until 1966. She moved to Arizona to attend the University of Arizona.

Badham met her husband, Richard, during her senior year at Arizona. They would get married and move east. The two live in Virginia and Richard retired as the dean of a college there.

She isn’t Jewish, but when Badham visits Birmingham she always sees longtime friends in the community.

The producer of the national touring Broadway show, Orin Wolf, is Jewish. Wolf won a Tony Award with “The Band’s Visit” and was nominated for “Fiddler on the Roof.”

Badham’s older brother, John, would go on to become a well-known Hollywood director with titles including “Saturday Night Fever,” “Short Circuit” and “War Games.” Her younger brother, Tom, lives in Huntsville and has published books, articles and magazines on the history of Jefferson County as well as Madison County.

Badham has never been in a national travelling production, but she has toured across the country to speak on Mockingbird’s powerful messages about social injustice.

This past September, she visited Birmingham on a publicity tour for the production, and to meet with some classes at the Birmingham Public Library.

“My mom would always read to me when I was young. I love reading, learning and connecting with kids,” she said. “When I speak to the schools, I always say, ‘ignorance is the root of all evil. Education is the key to freedom’.”