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Okay, I gotta admit -- yesterday was a big day for me. Not only did I get to meet Sesame Street's Elmo and his puppet master Kevin Clash, I got to hang out in the State Theatre green room with "Scout," a.k.a actress Mary Badham from the classic film To Kill a Mockingbird. Sure, I've been around lotsa big names on both coasts. Heck, I've kissed Kevin Kline on stage, I've kidnapped Loretta Lynn on TV, and I've worked with everyone from the late James Coburn to the very now Seth Rogan on HBO. But Elmo and Scout in one day...? Come on. Just bear with me while I take a moment....
I caught up with Kevin Clash, Elmo, director Constance Marks and producer James J. Miller after yesterday's panel, Being Elmo, at the City Opera House. They were there along with producer Corinne LaPook, co-director Philip Shane and writer/editor Justin Weinstein. Their film, Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey, was a huge hit at this year's Sundance Film Festival, garnering rave reviews, including this one from Julie Makinen of the Los Angeles Times:
Of all the fur-swathed celebrities at the Sundance Film Festival this year, none holds a candle to Elmo …The squeaky-voiced muppet moved fans to tears Sunday at the world premiere.
The film tells the story of uber-talented Kevin Clash's remarkable career, as he goes from being a creative 10-year-old puppeteer wannabe to being the creator of international superstar puppet extraordinaire, Elmo, one of Sesame Street's biggest stars. I'd tell you more, but I still haven't had time to catch the film.:(
I did catch both Kevin and Elmo backstage in the green room after the show. Let me just say this, Kevin is as warm and friendly a guy as you'd ever hope to meet -- the perfect person to bring life to the precocious and beloved Elmo. And Elmo...? He's simply adorable. No one could get enough Elmo. It was an amazing thing to see children and grown ups alike just smitten by the little big-eyed furry red guy. Yours truly included.
Congrats to Kevin for getting his due in front of the cameras. In Being Elmo he's one heckuva star!
L.toR. Rebecca Reynolds, Elmo, Kevin Clash
Tuesday right before I head in for the Opening Night festivities, I get a call from Festival Director Deb Lake asking me to intro Wednesday night's screening of To Kill a Mockingbird and lead the Q&A session after with actress Mary Badham, who played "Scout" opposite Academy Award winner Gregory Peck. I start laughing. Deb asks what's up? I explain to her that in all seven years of working on the festival this is the first time I'd actually bought a ticket to a film. That film being To Kill a Mockingbird! (Full disclosure: I'm a juror and we get into 20 or so films, give or take a few, as part of our job.) Of course, I say yes to Deb and thank her and Michael profusely.
Being born and raised in a small town in Kentucky, I am over the moon about this assignment. Nelle Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize winning book, To Kill a Mockingbird, and the award filming film of the same name were part and parcel of my own growing up in the Upper South. My good friend Bobbie McAdoo Greer Fazzini, from Paris, TN, says, "Every southern girl has a little 'Scout' in her, especially us tomboy types." And I believe her.
As played by the then 10-year-old Mary Badham, the character of Jean Louise "Scout" Finch has been a revelation and an inspiration for nearly fifty years. What little girl doesn't want to sneak up on a scary house with her big brother and best friend in the dark of night? What little girl doesn't want to sit in her daddy's lap and be comforted, especially when her daddy, Atticus Finch, is played by that classic American actor Gregory Peck? What little girl doesn't want a summer filled with adventure and a fall filled with danger and ultimately reconciliation? Scout experienced it all for all of us. She is without question one of film's most unforgettable characters for the ages.
I meet Mary Badham in front of the State for an interview early late yesterday afternoon before the screening. She's the quintessential friendly, easy-going southern woman. The interview is as easy as pie. She's having a great time in TC, touring the countryside and seeing the cherry orchards with her concierge Stephanie. Right before coming to the State, Mary went over to Stephanie's house, where they picked red raspberries. She tells me she's more comfortable out in the country than going shopping in town, which was her other option. Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, she and her husband now live on a farm in Virginia where this year they're growing corn and hay. "Next year," she says, "maybe soybeans."
The one thing I realize during the interview is that Mary gets very emotional when talking about Gregory Peck, whom she still calls Atticus. They formed a unbreakable bond during the five-month-long filming, and they remained close friends until his death in 2003 at age eighty-seven. She can't watch the film down in the green room, because she doesn't want to start crying again and ruin her eye makeup before our Q&A. I'm not wearing eye makeup, so I don't have that problem. I cry. Right on cue. Right when Boo Radley steps out of the shadows in Jem's room, and Scout says those two simple words that speak to the heart of Harper Lee's story, "Hey, Boo." I grab a tissue and pat my eyes as Mary and I head up the stairs to the stage. Mary needs to get rid of her chewing gum, so I tear off a corner of my tissue, she deposits her gum, and we hit the stage. Interview, intro, Q&A, and then I have to say goodbye to Mary and head on home.
So, earlier in the evening I facebook Bobbie: "Just intro-ed the film and brought Mary Badham on stage to say hi. Now we're down in the green room while the film's playing upstairs...eating pizza and swapping stories. Tall cotton tonight, Miss Bobbie."
I know Bobbie understands. Me and Scout, hanging out. Tall cotton. Both good things.
L.toR. Rebecca Reynolds, Mary Badham