Robert Mulligan: Film and television director best known for 'To Kill a Mockingbird', dies aged 83





Robert Mulligan's film version of Harper Lee's moving courtroom drama, To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Film and Best Director. Though Mulligan and the movie lost to David Lean and Lawrence of Arabia, the film has endured as a classic, and his leading man, Gregory Peck, won the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of the dogged lawyer Atticus Finch, a character named by the American Film Institute as the most loved fictional figure in the history of film.


Peck, like several other players, including Steve McQueen, Tony Curtis and Natalie Wood, would act more than once with the director, for though auteurists lament the lack of a personal stamp on his films, Mulligan's flair with actors was notable. He was particularly adept at guiding young players, such as Mary Badham and Philip Alford, who in To Kill a Mockingbird play the two children in 1930s Alabama who witness their lawyer father defending a black man against a bigoted accusation of rape.

Other films featuring adolescents are among the director's most rewarding, including Summer of '42 (1971), in which a young boy falls in love with an older woman whose husband is away at war; Clara's Heart (1988), which depicts a white boy bonding with his family's Jamaican maid; and The Man in the Moon, (1991) in which Reese Witherspoon made her screen debut as a 14-year old who falls in love with the young man who loves her sister.

Born in New York's Bronx district in 1925, Mulligan was the son of a policeman of Irish extraction – his younger brother, Richard Mulligan, became an actor and is remembered as Burt Campbell in the sitcom Soap. He studied at Fordham University with the intention of becoming a priest, but the Second World War interrupted his theological studies. After serving as a radio operator with the Marines, he returned to civilian life as a copy-boy on The New York Times, then as a messenger at the CBS television studio.

He rose to become one of the foremost directors of television drama on such series as Playhouse 90 and Suspense, his many acclaimed productions including Gore Vidal's The Death of Billy the Kid (1955) starring Paul Newman, Horton Foote's The Travelling Lady (1957) with Kim Stanley and Wendy Hiller, and a star-studded TV version of A Tale of Two Cities (1958) which signifies why the period is often referred to as a golden age – the players included James Donald as Sydney Carton, with Max Adrian, Gracie Fields, Denholm Elliott, George C. Scott, Agnes Moorehead and Rosemary Harris in the cast. Mulligan won an Emmy for directing The Moon and Sixpence (1959), in which Sir Laurence Olivier made his American TV debut...



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