Boo Radley was modeled after a young man named Arthur Bouleware, who lived on Harper Lee’s street, Alabama Avenue in Monroeville, Alabama. His father did indeed force Arthur to stay in the house for most of his adult life, as a punishment for having been arrested. Arthur was carried out dead at 40 from tuberculosis.
The novel’s Tom Robinson trial isn’t based on the notorious trial of the Scottsboro boys, as many scholars have maintained. It’s loosely adapted from the trial of a black man in Monroeville, Walter Lett, who was accused of raping Naomi Lowery, a poor white woman in her 20s. Lett was sentenced to death, but the governor commuted his sentence to life in prison. The order came too late. Lett, locked in a cell near the electric chair and fearful was certified insane. He died from tuberculosis in an Alabama state sanitarium.
The events surrounding Lett were carried in the Monroeville Journal, Lee’s hometown newspaper, when her father was editor-publisher in the 1930s. Harper Lee was Scout’s age at the time.
In 1959, Harper Lee was so fed up with revising the third draft of To Kill a Mockingbird— or Atticus, as she was calling it— that she threw the manuscript out the window of her apartment in New York into the snow. She called her editor, Tay Hohoff to say she couldn’t go on. Hohoff told her to march outside, pick up the pages, and keep working because the novel was as much a product of Hohoff’s guidance as Lee’s talent.
In Kansas a few months later, Harper Lee and Truman Capote depended on their ingenuity to outwit other reporters covering the Clutter family murders. They befriended the lead detective on the case, Alvin Dewey, who surreptitiously gave them items from the confidential files of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, and access to the killers. The result was Capote’s In Cold Blood.
Gregory Peck, who had creative control over the filming in 1962 of “To Kill a Mockingbird” wrote a long, point-by-point memo to the director, Alan Pakula, arguing that certain scenes needed to be recut to make Atticus’s role more important than the children’s.
In the spring of 1963 when the film premiered at the Melba Theater in Birmingham, Alabama, a crowd arrived to catch a glimpse of child stars playing Scout and Jem. Apparently, the movie’s message about bigotry didn’t impress the city’s leaders, however. A few weeks later, Sheriff “Bull” Connor waged war on civil rights demonstrators with dogs and fire hoses.
Lee remained Capote’s steadfast friend until the late 1970s when his alcohol and drug abuse became uncontrollable.
Fifteen years ago, a first edition To Kill a Mockingbird in a “very good” condition was worth about $2,500. Today, it would bring over $10,000. A presentation copy was bought at auction not long ago for $12,650.
To Kill a Mockingbird consistently ranks in the top half of the “100 Most Often Banned Books” according to the American Library Association. Some school boards and parents have objected to the language; others don’t believe Tom Robinson’s trial for rape is a fit subject for young readers.