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PBS specials will explore Margaret Mitchell and Harper Lee

The Southern authors, each of whom wrote a classic American novel, will have their lives and influence explored in two episodes of PBS's 'American Masters.'

By Monitor contributor / February 29, 2012

Margaret Mitchell (l.) lived in Atlanta, Ga., the setting of part of her book 'Gone with the Wind,' for her entire life. Harper Lee (r. with former president George W. Bush) grew up in an Alabama town similar to the setting of 'To Kill A Mockingbird,' the fictional Maycomb.


It's hard to think of two more indelible portraits of the American South than the novels "Gone with the Wind" and "To Kill A Mockingbird."
And PBS is pairing the two authors of those works, Margaret Mitchell and Harper Lee, for its new "American Masters" specials. "Margaret Mitchell: American Rebel," which will focus on the author behind Scarlett O'Hara, will premiere at 9 p.m. on April 2. "Harper Lee: Hey, Boo" will premiere after the special on Mitchell at 10 p.m. (Local times may be different.)
Both authors were born in the South and each published only one novel in her lifetime (though Lee is still alive). The two books, both of which are considered classics, are celebrating anniversaries this year, with "Gone with the Wind" marking its 75th year since publication and "To Kill A Mockingbird" reaching its 50-year milestone.

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The 1939 film adaptation of Mitchell's book "Gone with the Wind" won the Academy Award for Best Picture and is still the highest-grossing film of all time when box office receipts are adjusted for inflation. Mitchell famously distanced herself from the project, despite the production team asking for her advice with the film. Mitchell relented only to the extent that she asked that her friend Susan Myrick, a journalist and educator, serve as technical adviser on the film.
Lee was much more involved in the 1962 movie of "To Kill A Mockingbird," staying on set for three weeks before leaving because, she told The New York Times, she approved so entirely of the work done that she knew there was no need for her presence. Lee said she was very pleased with the finished film.
"Margaret Mitchell: American Rebel" will discuss the life of the author, including early losses in her life such as the death of her mother and fiance, and address her work as a journalist and her financial contribution to African-Americans studying medicine. The special will include interviews with film scholars who have studied the "Gone with the Wind" movie as well as writers like John Wiley, author of "Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind."
"Harper Lee: Hey, Boo" will explore the influence of Lee's novel in shaping racial attitudes in the US as well as examine Lee's life. Interviews will include discussions with Lee's sister Alice Finch Lee and actress Mary Badham, who played the main character Scout in the film.

Molly Driscoll is a Monitor contributor.

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