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Tonight we have with us the author Charles J Shields, former English teacher who took on the formidable task of writing A Mockingbird, a portrait of Harper Lee, and I say formidable due to the fact that of the reluctance of Ms. Lee to cooperate with interviewers and autograph seekers and the like but Mr. Shields has treated the subject with the utmost respect and as a result his book rings true and we are glad to have him here with us tonight. Thank you, okay. Thank you, I have to tell you this little anecdote because it wont mean anything to anybody else, anywhere right, else that I go but last night I was crossing Golden Gate Bridge at sunset on the back of a hired car, and reflecting on my days living in Haight-Ashbury in the 60s I guess I sold out but as Jerry Rubin said when he became a stock broker, let's make capitalism work for everybody. Well let me tell you about about this book and how I came to write it. I was teaching English and I taught, To Kill a Mockingbird to freshmen and I would never hand out the novel and just say, okay, read pages one through 35 for tomorrow, we are starting in on it, first of all that's not good teaching, but secondly I think To Kill a Mockingbird is a little difficult to get into. I think you really could razor blade out the first five pages there and get into the story faster, but that's not the southern way. Southerners care a lot about family and where they are from and their history and Scout has to tell you all about the Finches before they get down to the [00:02:04] (grass) tax, so to speak. So the first few pages are setting the stage for the novel, but I would step take one step backward in fact and help my students a little more about the context of the novel as a whole, I mean where we are going to be in time, who these people are? And I would say you know we are going to be in southern Alabama, way down here between Montgomery and Mobile and down here it's called the wire grass country because it's kind of sandy and loamy and there is a lot of scrub pine down there. And we are going to be in the 1930s, now your grandparents may have told you about the great depression. But it's usually you know from a northern perspective, I taught in Chicago at this time, what you may not have heard about was what the depression was like in south. Now during the 1930s the south had the fewest number of public libraries, the fewest number of newspapers, the fewest number of homes with electricity, the fewest number of with running water, with radios and the lowest median education in the nation. This means that for the south the 1930s was a real rough patch. For about a third of the nation was really suffering. And beyond that I would have to tell them about the nature of segregations because the kids in 1980s and 1990s, they may think that white and colored, drinking fountains are some kind of custom or the southern tradition or something quaint and I would tell them that no, that this was enforceable by law and if you cross the line you could go to jail or you could be beaten or worse, hanged. So once having given them an idea of where we were going to be, then we would get into the book. Now the kids would pick up on the spirit of inquiry that I was encouraging them and the first obvious thing they would ask is well, who is Harper Lee, is a man or a woman? And I would say, actually it's a woman. And I found out later, her name was Nelle Harper, or is Nelle Harper Lee and Nelle is her grandmother's name, Ellen spelt backwards. And they would want to know well, is she alive or dead? Actually she is going to be she is going to be 82 this month, at the end of the April. And then they want to know well, how much of this is autobiographical, did she actually grow up like this, did she have these experiences, when she is talking about these adventures, is she Scout? And so I would try to do little bit of investigation about the author to give them some more background, to get them involved in what kind of writer she was and things like that, and actually my first place of recourse would be is a book like contemporary authors which is a compendium of profiles of American authors or even more easier to come to hand is an encyclopedia and you can try this experiment yourself. Take three encyclopedias and line them up side by side to Lee, Harper, the entry Lee Harper, and what you will find underneath is oh few paragraphs which in itself is a little surprising, you know not much information there at all. And you will see that the first sentence is something like Nelle Harper Lee was born on April 28th, 1928. Well, that's easy enough to establish, you go online to the US Census Bureau and for a dollar and a half you can download the census for 1930 in Monroeville, Alabama and there is Ms. Lee Nelle Harper Lee living on south Alabama avenue and she is the youngest of four. She has a brother Edmond who is a few years older and then the then Louise and then the eldest child is Alice and there is 17 years between Alice and Nelle. And the two parents in the house, old according to the census are A C Lee, who lists his occupation as attorney and his wife, who list her occupation as house wife, Francis Cunningham Finch Lee. And right next door if you are interested is a a little person named Truman; his name was Truman Streckfus Persons. He is living with his elderly cousins and when his mother remarries he will take his step father's last name and he will become Truman Capote, and they are about the same age and they became fast friends. Well, there wasn't really much information there at all. But what struck me was that the information in the encyclopedias would contradict each other. For example, one encyclopedia will say that Nelle Harper Lee went to Oxford University for a year to study law. And another one will say she went for a semester on a full bright scholarship. Actually she only went as part of a summer student exchange program for junior year in college. And one encyclopedia will say that she has a law degree from the University of Alabama and another one will say that she has a Bachelor's degree in English from the University of Alabama. Actually Nelle was in a five year law program like a five year engineering or architectural program and you had to pass your exams at the end of five years in order to become an attorney. She dropped out a quarter short of graduation because she didn't like Law School with the result that she had no degree from the University of Alabama. But all encyclopedias agree that she is direct ascendant of Robert E Lee, which she is not. No more than I am a direct descendent of Ulysses S. Grant because my grand father was named for him. I followed the Lees' all the way from the first Lee born in 1630 in Virginia, John Lee Esquire and how they migrated down the eastern sea board looking for better and better and cheaper land until they wound up in southern Alabama in what used to creek Indian territory. And Harper Lee's great grandfather Tobias Lee had a rough go of it, a rough time, he was in the bottom third of all farmers in the Dale County, in fact he had to take a part time job as an overseer down the road at another mans place to make ends meet. Her grandfather Cader Lee was a Private in the 15th Alabama regiment; he fought in 22 battles in the civil war including Gettysburg and was never wounded. He surrendered in 1865 at Appomattox and her father A C Lee; he had about the equivalent of eighth grade education. In those days around the turn of the latter century, A C Lee was born in 1880; people would take an eighth grade education or a sixth grade education and build on it. That would be the foundation of of larger aims if you could self educate yourself. And A C for example learnt how to become a book keeper, he was a book keeper for a saw mill and then he became accountant for a small rail road and then by reading for the law like Abraham Lincoln, he passed his bar exam in 1950 to become an attorney. And he was a pretty well known man in Monroeville, Alabama which at that time in the early 1920, it was a little town of about 1500, half black, half white he was a member of rotary and all kinds of civic organizations, probably rotary later, I think after the war, but he was a deacon in his church and he was a well known attorney and really kind of an outstanding citizen. Well, many of these things I would find out later. But what struck me was this essential mystery, how could so little be known and much of it inaccurate about one of the most popular authors of the 20th century. I mean, think about it, 30 million copies of To Kill a Mockingbird have been sold since it came out in 1960. Over a 100,000 copies are still purchased every year. It's required reading in two thirds of American high schools. When people were asked in 1991 name the five most influential books you have read in your life To Kill a Mockingbird is almost always on that list and the only book that consistently ranks higher is the Bible. It has had a tremendous impact on us as Americans. I meet young man named Atticus; I meet girls named Harper and Scout. Remember the O J Simpson trial, Johnny Cochran decided that his life's work was to become an attorney as a result of reading To Kill a Mockingbird when he was about 13. People have found themselves by reading this book and have found the nature of the good life in it by reading it as well. It's an important book and yet we know so little about the author. So I took it upon my humble self to find out all about the author. It was a pretty cold trail, because Harper Lee has not given an interview since 1964 and she only gave she only wrote one book. But I had a plan, what I was going to do was this. I was going to put together a pretty standard non fiction proposal. Two sample chapters, an outline of the entire book, a list of all the questions that I would probably be able to find answers to or may be some that would be dead ends, the rumors and misunderstandings, the false facts, I would I would list names of people that I had contacted, who knew Harper Lee in their lifetime and I could depend upon to as interviewees. I located about 50 people who had gone to school with her at some point in their life, whether they were elementary school classmates or high school classmates or college classmates. I even found four women who were in her sorority at Chi Omega at the University of Alabama. And a couple of people who had worked on the college newspaper with her, and they are numbered among my 50 people. And then of course all the resources I was going to use, all the newspaper articles where she have been quoted, before she stopped giving interviews and all the critical analysis of To kill a Mockingbird. That came to about 100 pages, it so turned out. Then I was going to find a reputable publisher and an editor who knew that I wanted to do a good and accurate book. Then I would approach miss Lee herself, and I would sent her the proposal and I would include a nice letter saying something like, I have a reputable house behind me, reputable publishing house, an editor who wants a fair and an accurate book about you. And when I get done with this biography, I want to send you the entire manuscript. And if I had said anything that's misleading or cast aspersions inadvertently on your family or your career or your reputation, you point those things out to me, I will change them. I would really I would appreciate I will be grateful for your cooperation on this book. That was my plan. This is what actually happened. What happened was is that I found a good agent, named Jeff Kleinman who still works with me on number of other projects and Jeff was behind me on this book and he mailed out a proposal to 19 editors in New York. I mean he went down to Manhattan to meet with five who really wanted to get to know me and they thought that may be I could pull off this this project that no one else have been able to do before, because understand, there has never been a biography Harper Lee before. So Jeff and I met with some editors and then I remember we were walking down Seventh Avenue, it was a cold November day. And his cell phone rings and he takes it out, and he says yeah, Jeff Kleinman well how do you know that she did? Well well who did that exactly? Well look, I will talk to you later, I am not in a position to talk now. And he hung up put away his cell phone. And then I I asked him what happened. He said, well somebody, evidently thinking they were carrying favor with Ms. Lee made a complete copy of your proposal, put it on a FedEx envelope and mailed it to her. She already has it and she is not happy. And she is calling the 50 people that you collected and she is asking them not to speak to you and also that they asking them not to show her photographs. So I thought at that that point the mission was in trouble. However later that afternoon, we met with George Hageman who eventually become my editor at Henry Holton Company and he said, what you going to do about this? I mean she is way ahead of you now, you don't even have the opportunity to introduce yourself. And I said wow George, she doesn't control the planet you know, I mean it's not like she could tell everybody what to do. I will I will just talk to more people, you know, I will just have to redouble my effort in in talking to people who knew her in some point in their life. And that's how I came to talk to 600 people over the course of four years. Because what what have been very you know, the simplest things to establish by a phone call to her or a note or a letter to her required me getting cooperation from two or three different people. For example I remember going to in to the bedroom one morning and saying to my wife, I have established that she doesn't like to wear hats. I mean you know it came down to things that picky-yoon because I couldn't just ask her directly; I had to find out from other people. And that's an interesting thing talking to people about the past. And remember I was talking to people in in their 70s and early 80s about things that had happened in 1930s, 1940s, for some people the past is like a distant land shrouded in the fog and they can see the high points, you know the pinnacles of things sticking out that recall to them, certain memories or events. For other people all they need to do, is turn their mind a 180 degrees to the past and suddenly they are there. For example, I would talk to some people about Nelle and they would say, oh sure I sat next to her in algebra class and I would say, what was she like? And they would say friendly, funny you know, well, you can't write an 110,000 word biography and that's no page turner you know, where everything is going to be she is nice, you would like her, she is amusing, she smoked the cigarettes down to the end you know, things like that. But then some people would have memories of her that make her stand out in vivid relief. Things that really brought out character traits about her and the more consistent these descriptions were, the more valuable they were. For example, she went Huntingdon College, in Huntingdon, Montgomery, Alabama her freshmen year of college. At that time it was an all girls Methodist sponsored college and really this was no finishing school. I mean these young women are going on and they did go on to become physicians and physician's assistants and social workers and teachers and school administrators. So she was in there with a lot of bright young women. Now the way to look, in the 1940s during World War Two, for going in to town or going to chapel in special occasions things like that was a black chesterfield coat and a sweater that's reversed with the buttons in the front. Stinger pearls, gloves young ladies wore gloves in those days, particularly in the south stockings and heels. Here is Nelle Lee crossing campus as she was seen by her classmates, Nelle could be often be seen with a long purposeful stride crossing campus wearing a brown leather bombadeers jacket with jeans and two tone buster brown shoes. I asked her classmates, where did she get the bombadeers jacket and they reminded me that her brother Edwin was in the eighth army air core and as a present to his kid sister gave her a bombadeers jacket. Here is another indication of what she was like. Women in those days could smoke, in class, in the dormitories, things like that was quite common. In any event a classmate of hers remembers walking down the hall and smelling smoke coming from her room which was nothing unusual. And as this classmate leaned in to say hello, here she sees Ms. Lee sitting her desk puffing on a pipe. Obviously now Harper Lee doesn't care about approval from other people. She is not worried about fitting in. You know, she is a condiment non conformist and when you read To Kill a Mockingbird and you read about Scout, what you are getting is Harper Lee. That little overall wearing girl who hangs up side down from china berry trees and beats up the boys on the playground for getting too mouthy, was a little bit too precocious in class and surprises the teacher by knowing how to read the newspaper when she arrives in the first grade, that's Nelle to a tee. And that little boy next door Dill in the novel, the blonde haired boy is Truman Capote. There were no other kids in Monroeville like them. Nobody quite as precocious, nobody who loved reading as much, as one of their classmates told me, they were a little above the rest of the kids in town. And they lived right next door to each other. What are the chances of that? They even wrote stories together. Mr. Lee gave them an old typewriter from his office, an old Underwood that well, it was as heavy as an anvil and they would set there and pound out stories taking turns, one would type one would dictate and then they rotate, the other would type and the other would dictate. And that's how their friendship was formed. And it turned out there were many other autobiographical things in the book I found out along the way. A.C. Lee was the perfect model for Atticus Finch. Harper Lee didn't have to look any further than her own father for somebody who embodied the values that are in Atticus Finch. In fact in some ways To Kill A Mockingbird is a do-over a redressing of something that happened to added to A.C. Lee when he was a young man. In the novel he gets a chance to argue a case again in a better arena where people are more sympathetic, particularly you, the reader. What happened was, in 1915, actually it was 1919, A.C. Lee had only been in Attorney for four years when he was appointed to defend two black men accused of murder. Now this was a typical gambit in the south at the time, I shouldn't say gambit actually it was a prerogative word, it was a typical practice at that time. You take a young attorney who need some court room time and you give him a fairly hopeless case. Usually one involving the you know, blacks because of the heavy prejudice that was against them when they came to crime and misbehavior and civil disobedience that sort of thing. And you may make mistakes in front of the judge and your elders will correct you but you will get a little bit of court time you know, in defending an important case. So Lee was appointed by the judge to defend these two men. I believe that it was just a robbery gone wrong. What happened was these two young men went into a mom and pop type store that was unelectrified on a hot August night the temperature was about a 100 really, believe it or not. And they asked the old man to take something down from the shelf and then when he turned to get it they bopped him on the back of the head with a tree branch. I think the idea was to rifle the til or take money out of the cigar box. But he was 82 years old and they hit him on the back of the head and sometime during the night he died behind this counter of his store. So the charge became first degree murder, which was a capital crime. Well Lee defended them as best he could and actually put out more than a fight than what was expected in this kind of situation. Normally these trials could take about an hour. In one case a trial took six minutes. But Lee raised six major objections, and one of which was the dead man's son was on the jury. How do you think he would have voted? Also that the men had confessed to sheriff who then paraphrased their confession to the local paper and it was on the front page, everything that they said. So everybody in town knew what they had said. All six objections were over written and the trial went forward. They were found guilty of murder, sentenced to hang. A month later, in early December they were hanged in the jail across the street. And Lee as their attorney attended their hanging. It was a very sad incident for a young man, a religious young man who wanted to do right by his clients both were condemned to death. But worse than that, about a couple of weeks before Christmas, another son of the dead man received a package. He lived in Upstate, New York. The post mark was Monroeville. He thought that it was a Christmas package was being send to him by relatives. He opened it up and there was Christmas wrapping on the outside and he took off the wrapping and it was a box like a shoe box. He took off the lid and inside was some bloody newspaper and parting the newspaper inside were the scalps of the two hanged men, with a note saying, justice has been done in Alabama. It was the last criminal case that A.C.Lee ever took in his life. For the rest of his life he only argued property and tax cases. He would never represent another human being. So in some regards, To Kill A Mockingbird is a redress of that case you know, of when A.C.Lee was a young man in a system that was overwhelming. They put him up against a litigator, a prosecutor who is famous on the circuit. A man almost 50 years old and of course he lost to him. But any way Atticus Finch is A.C.Lee in almost an ideal kind of setting. Well and there are other people that were in the book, that were autobiographical that Lee only had to look to for her from her childhood. For example, there was a Boo Radley. He lived on the street. His name is Arthur Bulwar, he was a young man about 16 years old and his father was on the high school school board. And they didn't get along, young Arthur and his father Arthur Bulwar senior. And one night, young Arthur threw a brick through the high school window. I mean, out of all the buildings in town, he picked the high school right? So he was hauled out before the Judge and Judge Fountain says well young man I think you could use a year in the Alabama Reformatory School if you are that enterprising. And actually in the 1930s going to reform school in Alabama wouldn't have been that bad. It was like shop class all day long. There was engine repair and metal work and everything. All day eight hours a day was bunch other young guys of your age. But instead Mister Bulwar stepped forward and he said your owner, if you remand custody of my son to me, I guarantee you he'll never bother this town again. So the judge said all right. Mister Bulwar you are on. So Mister Bulwar Senior takes his son home and then has a little heart to heart with him. And he says you have disgraced me and you have made me ashamed. I have spent my whole life building up my reputation in this town and in one stupid adolescent act, you have ruined that. I am going to take you out of the company of descent people as a punishment. And he kept Arthur at home. He took him out of school. Arthur was a football player and pretty good at Math and actually his football player teammate would come alongside his window at night and they would slip their math homework under the window and he would do it for them and slip it back out again. And on Friday nights, they would have a car running in the alley and he would slip out and they would go joy riding around town, and be in before dawn. But eventually they grew up and moved away and Arthur stayed at home and years passe and he didn't go out and I think he actually became convinced that he was some kind of pariah that people in town really didn't want to see him. Rumors had started about him, you know, the strange incidents were his fault and he was some kind of deranged character. Actually he never left the property until he was carried out, dead of Tuberculosis at 42 and he is buried in the Baptist cemetery in Monroeville right next to his father. So there really was a Boo and there really was a Dill and there really was an Atticus. Now how did Harper Lee come to write this marvelous book. I mean, how do you take childhood experiences and make them into some kind of art because of strictly you know, if autobiography was all it took to write a novel, all of us would be drawing on our on our you know, classmate experiences, classroom experiences and things to write a novel. Well she quit college in 1948, and much to her father's disappointment, because he had the idea, that she would join the law firm. And at that time he was one of the founding partners in a law firm with the Dickensian name, the Bugg, Barnett and Lee and Alice Lee was already a member of the firm, and here was Nelle in Law School and so he had visions of both his daughters being in the firm, in fact he used to tell little joke around that some day they might have to change the name of the firm to Lee and Daughters' Attorneys'. But here comes Nelle and says that she doesn't like law, she has no intention of taking her exams and if she did she might fail them anyway, she wants to quit, go to New York, be a writer. Now those of you who are parents can just imagine a 20-year-old coming to you and saying, I am not only quitting Law School, I am going to go to New York to be a writer. It sounds you know, absurd. But, he let her go. And I am sure that Truman had something to do with it because Truman had already left to live in New York, his mother had pulled him up there when she remarried and he was attending some Tony prep schools, he never finished high school, but he did go to work for the New Yorker and by 1948 he had published his first novel. The same year that Nelle quit he becomes a published author. The novel was, Other Voices Other Rooms, a real piece of southern Gothic writing, and he became a sensation. So here Truman tells Nelle you come up to New York and I would introduce you to all the right people, this is the literary capital of the world, you will make it. And for a while she does travel with all the RT people that he can introduce her to. She goes to parties hosted by Zoot Sims, the saxophone player who happens to be from Alabama and a number of other literary lights who were hanging around up there, sort of exiles from the south but eventually she has to get down to the business of making a living and it turns out to be a pretty quotidian one at that, she winds up landing a job as a ticket reservationist, a ticket seller for Eastern Airlines. And the only place she can find that she can afford in New York, remember there is a tremendous housing shortage after the war in New York, the only place she can find is a little place in a German neighborhood called Yorkville where Lou Gehrig grew up and it's a one bedroom, no hot water, no furniture and no stove. So for a stove she uses a hot plate and she eats up her food on that. For furniture she takes the door of the closet and she puts it on some blocks and that becomes her combination table and work area, that's her whole study, on a door. And she is using the typewriter that her father gave her for college, an old royal Corona typewriter. And that's where she writes and interestingly she doesn't send out anything for years which makes me think that she was worried about being disappointed. In a lot of ways Nelle Harper Lee is a go it alone type and somebody who doesn't look over her shoulder to see if people are approving of her. But in other ways she is a sensitive individual. And I think she didn't send out anything for years because she was worried about getting form letters that began, dear Ms. Lee thanks for your submission, but its not for us at this time, please, you know, best of luck placing it else where. You get enough of those form letters and you begin to think that maybe you really don't have it. And she did take a big gamble, you know leaving her home town goodbye, I am going to New York to become a writer, she didn't send out a thing. And then in 1958, almost 10 years after arriving in New York something wonderful happened. She was going to go home at Christmas time, which was an annual right of hers, to go home and see her folks. But this year her supervisor said, I am sorry Ms. Lee, you can't. You are needed to work the desk, you can have Christmas Eve off and you can have Christmas day off until 2 pm. But then you got to come back to work. And you know the Airlines, like the rail road works on seniority and that's all the vacation they could give her at Christmas time. Well, she had some married friends, a married couple who were very close to her. And said to her that sounds so sad for you, Nelle, I mean the idea of waking up in your little apartment on Christmas Eve and you are alone, there is no family and then you go off to work, that's hardly some way to ring in the holidays. Why don't you stay over with us? So she did, she stayed over at their house Christmas Eve and she woke up Christmas morning and here is the couples' two children in their footy pajamas running around the tree, all excited and everything and Nelle gives the gentleman of the couple his present and gives the lady of the couple, her present and then she waits and she waits and nothing is coming her way and when the joke has gone on long enough, they say, Nelle, go look on the tree, your present is on the tree, so she goes over to the tree and here tucked into the bows is an envelope with her name on it. She takes it up and she opens it up and it says, "Dear Lee dear Nelle you have one year to work on your book", and attached to it is a blank check and they said that she should add up her rent and add up her utilities, everything she would need for food, build in any emergency money for unforeseen things and this was going to be her writing year, this was going to be her sabbatical, she was going to do nothing except work on her book. She was going to do nothing except work on her book. And she said, but then it's such a great gamble. And they said, no it isn't. You have been writing with your left hand all this time at night and on weekends and when you felt like it. You need to treat it like a job. You need to get up and work on the book. So she quit her job. And she offered to pay them back as soon as she could but they, you know, - were little more experienced about this kind of things because they had lived in New York a long time and they said, "No, no, you wait, you wait. You would probably need the money." So she worked on what she was calling at that time Atticus and it was difficult, it was hard for her to write this book. It took about two and a half years of writing and rewriting to get to a point where it was even close to being finished. But I had to find out who were these angels you know, who gave her the money. Who are these people who intervened at this critical time and said here, here is a big piece of your life? You know, here is a year for you to be creative and see if you can do it. Well I had heard about this story for a long time but I had never found a name. And you know, it was difficult to even run down who they might be, except I had a clue. And when you are doing some literary detective work, you follow up anything you know, like CSI any dime on a a dime on the staircase, you will take right. So what I knew is this that she eventually sold her book to J. B. Lippincott and Company and her editor there was a lovely woman in her 60s named Tay Hohoff. Now Tay at that time was going blind as a matter of fact and Nelle was one of her last authors. She was looking with one young author at that time named Thomas Pynchon who was 22-years-old. And Tay has long since passed away. She has been gone since 1974 but her son-in-law Dr. Grady Nunn lives in Atlanta, Georgia. And I thought you know, maybe Tay knew this story and told it as an anecdote to Dr. Nun and he knows who these people are? So I called Dr. Nun in Atlanta. I introduced myself and I said I am writing biography of Nelle Harper Lee, a very gracious man. I said listen - do you remember that Christmas morning when some friends of Nelle's gave her the money in order to write for a year. And he said, "Oh yes I heard that story." I said well who were those people? And he said, "I think their name was the Browns." Now if I were to go back to a Manhattan telephone directory for 1958. How many pages of the Browns do you think would be in there? But it was something of a clue. And I filed it in the back of my mind the Browns. Six months later, I was at Colombia University and I was going through the papers of Annie Laurie Williams. Now Annie Laurie Williams was Nelle's agent for the film rights To Kill A Mockingbird. Her husband Maurice handled the literary properties but Annie's papers are really deep and long. She had a long carrer. As a matter of fact for those of you who like Margaret Mitchell, she sold Gone with the Wind and MGM for the unheard of sum of $86000 in 1936. Miss Mitchell Mrs. Mitchell and I don't think she went by her maiden name, Margaret Mitchell was outraged, because she said she didn't know anybody who had ever made that much money from writing anything and she would never be able to hold her head up in Atlanta again. Must be the only time when author has gotten angry at an agent for making too much money. So anyway I am going through the papers. I am going through her papers, and going the else and here I find a photograph of Nelle. And photographs of Miss Lee are hard to come across, they really are. They are kind of rare and she is just a woman on top of her game. She is obviously in her early thirties, sunlight's coming into the window. She has her books behind her and a photograph over here, apparently not in her place. And she has her arms crossed and she is smiling and I turned this over and on the back it says, Michael Brown. And I thought Michael Brown. How many Michael Browns in the New York can it be? But at least it's a little better. So my wife and I broke for a lunch and we were going down the steps to the library and then I turned to her and I said wait a minute, we are you doing this with blinkers on? We keep looking under L you know, anything about Nelle. But may be this Michael Brown person has something to do with Annie Laurie. That's how the photograph ended up in there, I mean, I don't know, maybe he is an artist of some type maybe she is handling him too. So we go back into the library, we had the librarian pull out the B-Box. And we start going through it and lo - there is a manilla envelope in there Michael Martin Brown. And in 1958, he was evidently pretty flushed with cash. So maybe he could afford to give a loan to someone. He was co-lyricist on a Broadway play that was a hit, a musical, called House of Flowers and in the lead was Pearl Bailey. And even more interestingly as I went through the correspondence, his co-lyricist on the show was Truman Capote. So now we see a little bit of linkage here you know, Truman, Michael, Annie maybe they are all like they had pointed Nelle toward Annie Laurie Williams, you should work with her. We do, she is terrific but even more interesting than that and more critical than that was Michael Martin Brown's address was in there on a yellowed piece of paper and thank god for rent control. Whoever enacted rent control obviously had historians and biographers in mind because I went to a 2004 telephone directory and Michael Martin Brown is at the same address. The man hasn't moved. This is where they gave her that check that Christmas morning. So I call him up and I and his wife Joy answers the phone and she was a dancer at one time with the Ballet Ruse I found out later and it had been on Ed Sullivan a couple of times. Has a lovely voice, I introduced myself. Yes I said I am writing the biography of Nelle Harper Lee, she gets very quiet. I said I would just like to ask you about that wonderful gift that you gave Nelle on Christmas morning, 1958, that enabled her to write To Kill a Mockingbird. She gasped, nobody had ever put it together. It was a private loan between friends, nobody had ever strung it together like beads on a string and finally, 50 years later the phone rings, some guy is calling from a crummy, rented apartment on Riverside Drive, well I want to know all about that Christmas morning and what she said was I am having lunch with Nelle tomorrow, I have to call you back and she called me back the next day and she said, I am sorry, I can't talk to you. And that's just the way those things went. Sometimes a door would close but even so it added color and it added texture, you know, because I didn't use that particular anecdote of being, you know, shut down over the phone, but nevertheless I found out who Michael and Joy are so that as I continue to read you all those correspondence and letters began, dear Nelle I hear you are going out tonight and talk it with Michael and Joy, don't spend too much time babysitting those little boys of theirs' you have a writing to do you know, I am expecting a couple of chapters at the end of August, I know who Michael and Joy are. I even managed to follow his career up into the 1964 World's Fair, when he was writing songs for the shows out there that were at the fair that year. So anyway, it just deepens, it just deepens the biography. Now it was very difficult writing the book, she really wrote it three times. Once, in the first person, once in the third person and then she sort of blended two perspectives, which is a real hat trick. If you have noticed it and what bind me the first couple of times I even read the book, its so subtle she will do a present tense and a looking back tense at the same time. In other words, Scout will say Dill, what the heck are doing? And then the very next sentence will be, that was the summer that Dill came to us. You know a little boy you would never forget. Its Scout as a seven year old and it's the grown up Scout looking back, you know, nostalgically at a bygone era. It's almost like a voice over in a film and its unusual. Some critics found fault with it, they said that she couldn't you know get her point of view straight. A lot of people think it's charming, but she was on her third draft one night in 1959 and she was so fed up with this book that she could hardly go on. If any of you write or had to write lengthy things like dissertations or any reports or anything, you know you get to a point where it might well be Swedish on the page, you know I mean, it doesn't even make sense to you any longer. Well, she had a page in the typewriter and two thirds of the manuscript was done and she was reading it over and reading it over and finally she took the paper out of the typewriter, she put it on the manuscript, she walked over to the window and she took what would become one of the best selling novels of the 20th century, raised the window and threw the entire thing out into the flush and she slammed the window. And she went to the phone and she called her editor Tay Hohoff and she said, I quit, she was crying. She said I am done, I guess I am not a writer, I put things in, I take things out, I have created characters I don't even knew use, I am completely lost on this and I don't want to do anymore of it. Now Tay had been through this in her long career with a lot of young writers. It's that dark place when you get very lost and what she did was she took kind of a tough love approach with her. And she said, look we have invested a lot of time in this, what you brought to me was disconnected stories and sketches and vignettes about growing up in the south. What we have now is almost a novel. We have gone over it sentence by sentence, word by word, now you go out there and pick it up and Nelle put on her coat and she went outside and she picked it up and the pages that were ruined, she retyped and November 1959 she handed it in. Hallelujah, she was done, you know, she had been wanting to be a writer for a decade and she finally got her first novel done. As she said to a friend all she was hoping for was a merciful death at the hands of the reviewers. She was just so tired of it. And then couple of weeks later the phone rang and it was Truman. And Truman said that he had an unusual assignment, turns out that a farm family in Kansas had been murdered. No one in this little town locked their doors because everybody knew each other. They all went to church together and belonged to 4-H and things like that and this entire family had been killed by persons unknown and the only thing that was missing was a radio. Not even the Kansas Bureau of Investigation had an idea about who might have done it. And Truman's assignment was to go to Kansas and do a portrait of a traumatized town. What was this little town doing and how are they holding up under it. Would Nelle want to go with? Well anything was better than working on an, you know, on writing and also she was very excited about mystery and intrigue. One of her favorite things to read is mystery novels. So she said heck yeah she'd go. Well Truman didn't know what to expect out in Kansas. He had never been west of the Mississippi. So he was a little worried about going out there and he didn't even know if he was going to like what they had to eat out there. So he took a great big steamer trunk and in it he had tins of ham and caviar and a couple of bottles of champagne for emergency celebrations and some a couple of bottles of J&B Scotch. You know, you never know, so he and Nelle goes with him and he goes out there. Now you have to know something about Garden City. The two main industries out there were slaughtering cattles and turning beets into sugar beet. It's a you know, it's a real down to the bone kind of agricultural town, with church going people, who all know each other and their grandparents were settlers out there. I mean, that's how close they are to the pioneer epic. Their grandparents settled that town. So here comes Truman from New York. He wears a beret and a long coat down to his ankles. A scarf wrapped fetchingly three times around his neck and a little western accent, moccasins. And he starts calling up to these cattle farmers and asking them questions like I understand Herb Clutter was a very hard man but he only did things that were you know, served his interest. Is that true? And I understand that Mrs. Clutter had to go to Topeka once a month for treatment due to severe depression. Where things not right with the Clutters? Well they thought he was a ghoul, I mean, you know, these friends of theirs had killed and this odd little man comes out and asks personal questions of their friends. Well they shut him down. As Nelle says in her notes, they were talking to one cattle farmer who just looked at Truman and let him ask two or three questions and finally said, you know, Mister, I am very busy man and turned on his heal and walked away and left Truman standing there and that happened a lot. In fact Truman even paid for some interviews. He couldn't get through to some people he needed to talk to so he wrote out checks for 75 bucks. Anything to get through to the people he needed to. He began to think that probably he couldn't do much with this at all. That he would just have to go back and describe it, you know, and what the people are like and everything, just let it lie but something good happened and it was because of Nelle. The phone rang in Nelle's room on Christmas Eve and it was Cliff Hope, the attorney for the Clutter family and he was calling to find out if they had any plans for Christmas day, which was a nice thing to do. They were strangers in town and didn't know anybody. And Nelle said, well we don't have any plans and Mr. Hope said would you like to come over to our house for dinner. And she said fine, sure. So they come over on Christmas Day. They were a little bit late, Truman forgot his bottle of Scotch, he had to go back and get it, 20 minutes late. So they get to the Clutter, they get to the Hope's house, and here is Cliff Hope who is the attorney for the Clutters, his wife Delores who is a reporter on the Garden City telegram and has been covering the murder since it started and since it you know, broke and across the table is Al Dewey who is the lead detective for the Kansas Bureau of Investigation on the case and his wife Marie. And Marie is from New Orleans and when she hears two southern accents come through the front door its "how y'all doing." And they start talking in the way southerners do, start trying to you know, make connections with world, are you from (Dorfin), are you Monroeville and just talk and talk, two nights later Truman and Nelle are over at the Dewey's for red beans and rice, collared greens, dark red wine and fried chicken. And they are just talking up the storm and Al let the friendship go, let it develop, because he thought it was good for Marie. Because Al was spending so much time on the case that Marie was left alone with the kids and he thought heck, you know, she has really fixed herself up with these people, let him be friends and that's how they broke in. It was due to Nelle's authenticity and her warmth, people liked her, they didn't know what to make of Truman but they liked Nelle. She was just folks. Now if that's all that Nelle did fine. Then she was just a good friend. But she did way more than that. Joe Clarke autobiography of Truman in 1988 and why he never mentioned this I don't know because I found it easily enough. I went through Truman's papers in the New York public library and I found 150 single spaced type written pages of notes that Nelle took while she was in Kansas and they are divided up into chapters, the landscape, the people, the town, the crime, the Clutters. She even drew maps for Truman. She walked around the Clutter farm and she drew where the house was and the silo and everything. They got permission to go into the house and they walked around to where the bedrooms were or the furniture was, all in the service of helping Truman do a good job. But more than that what I read some of Nelle's notes, some of them, some of sentences and phrases began to ring strangely familiar. For example, Nelle says about one of the killers. Dick Hickock's face looked like it had been cut in half and not put back together quite right. Dick Hickock was in a motor cycle accident and one eye was slightly lower than the other. When you read In Cold Blood, you will read this. Dick Hickock's face looked like an apple that had been cut in half and put back together off center. That's very close. You know, that's the kind of plagiarism freshman indulge in to cover their tracks. And there is a lot of that in there. Nelle Harper Lee was not just Truman's side kick, for the rest of his life he said that she was just a long as a friend. And he paid her to be a researcher. She is another writer, she is a gifted writer and she said some things that he couldn't say better. And he depended a lot on her insights into other people. Some of her character sketches are great and it helped him a great deal. So you would think that when, you know, In Cold Blood came out in 1966 that it would be In Cold Blood by Truman Capote with Harper Lee. That would have sold a lot of books because by then Harper Lee was famous. That would have moved a lot of books. But no, you open it up and there is page that says, I couldn't have done this without my childhood friend and her priceless contributions. No it doesn't say that, what you see is a page, a dedicatory page and it says to Jack Dunphy and Harper Lee with deepest gratitude. And if Jack Dunphy doesn't ring the bell that's okay, most Americans didn't know who Jack Dunphy. Jack Dunphy was Truman Capote's lover. They shared a place on Fire Island together. Jack Dunphy was an Irish American novelist who was in Philadelphia and was a published novelist but a kind of a small one, and just think he gets first billing over Harper Lee and she even saw that manuscript through to the end. I have seen Truman's manuscript typed and ready to go to press and here is Harper Lee's immaculate handwriting in the margins with notes like Truman. Everybody talks in short sentences, it doesn't sound real, and he changed it. So she had a lot to do with the creation of that book, it was the beginning of the fissure in their friendship. Well Harper Lee comes back from Kansas having gone out there with Truman two or three times in the winter of 1960 and her book is slated to come out. Is she excited, well yeah, she is very excited. It's her first book, but she is not expecting too much. Tell you, took her aside and said now Nelle, you are a first time novelist and nobody knows your name. you are going up against people with names like Ballo and Updike and Joyce Carol Oates you know, and you know, are wealthy, people who are well known in the American public and you are first time novelist. Plus you have picked the topic racism which is very sensitive with a lot of people. So if you sell 2500 copies of this book you should feel proud. You will be able to walk into a book store and say there is my book. Well the next time you sell 3000 and then 10000 and that's how these things go. The book comes out in 1960, July 1960 and the reviews are just overwhelmingly positive. They say things like you could go to church for a year and not hear, you know, sermons but talk as eloquently about justice and tolerance and fair treatment of our fellow human beings as you could by reading this slim book on a weekend. And what makes the Kill A Mockingbird so exceptional, well several things. First of all it meets the standard of universal of great art, in that it talks about great themes. Justice and tolerance and a fair treatment but you know, if that were the only thing then every novel by John Grisham would also be a piece of great literature wouldn't it because they all deal with justice and recompense and sometimes retribution. Well more than that To Kill A Mockingbird is a guide to the good life. I mean, through Calpurnia's example and Atticus's example and Ms.(Mody) across the street, you get a notion of a way you can live you know, that will help you relate to people and make you prouder of yourself. That will raise you, may raise your own sense of self esteem and even more than that all great literature reads you as you read it. In other words you put down the book and you are changed because you start asking questions of yourself. You read it and you think Boy! If I was in the corner like that, you know, and I was asked to take on an unpopular cause and I knew my kids are going to be ridiculed about it, could I do it. Calpurnia does a simple thing like takes the kids of her church which is all black and what happens. Sounds like an easy enough thing, right to take children to church. They no sooner get there, then a lady plants herself in their way and says, Calpurnia why are you bringing these white children to this school. You know, there is prejudice everywhere and you read the book and I have heard that people have read it many times over the years and it means more and more to them. Well they are developing as readers and they are maturing you know, as people. You read it when you are thirteen and you are excited about making Boo Radley come out. You read it when you are 50 and you think gee, could I be an Atticus. Do I know people who are like Atticus. The book grows with you and that's what makes it a sterling piece of literature is that it has that kind of staying quality and it is life changing. Well by the end of 1960 it had sold half a million copies and in May 1961 she won the Pulitzer Prize and at the end of 1961 it had sold 1.5 million copies, then it was made into major motion picture. That was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won three Truman could just spit. Because Truman, his entire life, had believed that he was a genius and he was going to beget to be rich and famous through writing and here this little girl next door, who was admittedly his friend had in essence gotten up to the bat and figuratively hit a 90-mile-an-hour pitch out of the park, the first time. Truman never got the Pulitzer Prize, never got the National Book Award even though he is very well known to all of us. You know, we are baby boomers and born in the mid century, Truman Capote only won two mystery awards, for short stories that he wrote in the early 60s and in the late 50s I think. So he was very envious of Nelle's success, very envious. And when he died 1984 they had not seen each other in almost 12 years which is unfortunate. So the rift got wider and wider. Well why didn't she ever follow up with another book? Where is son of Mockingbird? You know, why don't we have another book of that caliber from her? A couple of things, first of all that little group around to that was supporting her, faded away. Her agent passed away, her editor passed away. Truman became an unreliable friend as a result of drugs and alcohol and so that little cheerleading group around her was no longer there. Well she still could have soldiered on. She was overwhelmed by fame. Don't forget that she was just hoping to get a book published and instead she becomes one of the best known authors in America and she really has to go to a Hollywood premiere and she has to grant interviews all the time. The only place she is safe is as at home in Monroeville because her sister Alice answers the phone and won't let reporters talk to her. You know, so she was really kind of hounded there, she was intensely famous for about four years. And she probably worried that she would disappoint her fans with another book. She told her cousin Dickie Williams, you know, Dickie when you have been at the top like that there is only one way to go and that's down. It wouldn't be just human nature for reviewers to read another book from Nelle Harper Lee and say things like well its good, charming, enduring but its sure no Mockingbird. The rumor is that she has written another book, another novel. The publishing world since convinced that says actually that's a book that's done but it won't be published until after she is gone because she doesn't want the attended publicity. You know, in the 1960s called before they came. Now you part the sheers and you look out there and there is a CNN truck with a satellite dish on top of it, right. She is an elderly lady, she is 82 years old. And you can still see her down there, she used to spend half a year in New York, half a year in Monroeville but she is down in Monroeville almost all the time now. She lives in a little brick ranch house with her sister Alice who is 97 years old and Alice goes into the law office of Bugg, Barnett & Lee three times a week. She still gets cases and she still does people's taxes. They go over today's cat fish cabin on Saturday. You can see him over there. It's right outside the town and they usually get the child's portion of fried cat fish, hush puppies and sweet tea. And if you passed the table you might hear their hearing aids going wee and then they will argue about whose hearing aid is doing it and then they will argue about who is going to get the check this time. Then they get into Nelle's great blue buick and try drive over to the post office and they get Nelle's letters. And they for 50 years have been pretty much running along the same thing which is what happened to Scout when she grew up and what happened to Jem and did Boo Radley ever come out again. And where is the other book, where is the next book, I am still waiting. She used to write replies like that all the time to those letters but she doesn't any more. She really doesn't want to talk about To Kill A Mockingbird. That was something that happened a long time ago. And so that's her story really. She is not a recluse. She is just a little southern lady who lives in a small town and she puts up her figs in the summer time and she covers up her chrysanthemums when the first frost comes in the fall and that's the way she lives. Well I would be happy to answer any questions about the book or about the movie or anything like that please.