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Documentary Lifts the Veil on Elusive Author

27 Aug, 2015 By: Stephanie Prange

How do you do a documentary about a famously press-shy author who doesn’t do interviews?

That was the question that haunted Mary Murphy as she tried to produce a piece about the classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. She started researching the subject as a producer at CBS, but couldn’t quite put together the kind of piece the network was looking for.

“If you don’t have Harper Lee, you don’t have a story,” Murphy said about the sentiment of the network at the time. Lee famously in the 1960s retreated from public life and refused to give interviews.

Still, after leaving CBS, Murphy kept coming back to the novel and did more research about its impact on the Civil Rights movement.

“I began to think about the project in a different way,” she said. “The story would be the story about the novel and its impact.”

Thus, she created a documentary on the novel in 2011, Hey Boo: Harper Lee & To Kill a Mockingbird, which now has been updated to cover the recently published second novel from Harper Lee, Go Set a Watchman.

Harper Lee: From Mockingbird to Watchman, the updated documentary from Murphy, sifts through the facts surrounding the author and the publishing of Go Set a Watchman, a recently discovered manuscript, after so many years. It includes interviews with family, friends and famous personalities (including Oprah Winfrey) who have been affected by or involved in the writings of Harper Lee. The updated documentary is available now on iTunes and comes to DVD from First Run Features Sept. 22.

Murphy has had unique access to Lee’s friends and family.

“Harper Lee’s sister Alice had never given an interview. I was very fortunate to get her,” Murphy said. Alice died last year, but Murphy was able to get an interview when she was 99, a few years before her death as she was still practicing law in Alabama.

Murphy also talked with Mike and Joy Brown, who famously staked Lee as she embarked on her writing career.

“They had never talked to anyone,” Murphy said. “Their names had hardly been available to anyone.”

These interviews with intimate friends and family help elucidate the early writing career of Harper Lee and dispel any notion that she didn’t intend to publish Go Set a Watchman so many years after To Kill a Mockingbird.

In an extra on the DVD, Harper Lee herself sets the record straight. In perhaps the only interview with the author for decades, Murphy, after the documentary was finished, had the chance to ask Lee if she ever thought Go Set a Watchman would be published.

“Of course I did; don’t be silly,” Lee replied.


About the Author: Stephanie Prange

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