June 4th, 2015
Harper Lee
About the Documentary

Updated May 26, 2015
Harper Lee: American Masters airs Friday, July 10, 2015, 9-10:30 p.m. on PBS (check local listings) in honor of the release of her new novel Go Set a Watchman (July 14, 2015 by HarperCollins).

One of the most influential American novels of the 20th century and biggest bestsellers of all time, To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) was believed to be the first and only novel by Nelle Harper Lee (born April 28, 1926), until now. On July 14, HarperCollins will release Lee’s earliest known work, Go Set a Watchman, featuring characters from her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, which was published 55 years ago.

In honor of this landmark literary event, American Masters presents a newly updated version of Emmy®-winning filmmaker Mary McDonagh Murphy’s 2012 documentary Harper Lee: Hey, Boo, broadcast as Harper Lee: American Masters on Friday, July 10, 9 – 10:30 pm on PBS (check local listings) The author of Scout, Atticus & Boo: A Celebration of To Kill a Mockingbird, Murphy was able to read an advance copy of the new novel before updating the film and will live tweet (#HarperLeePBS) during the broadcast.

Go Set a Watchman was written before To Kill a Mockingbird and believed to be lost or destroyed. Its remarkable discovery allows readers of Lee’s beloved classic the chance to see Atticus and Scout again. How and why this happened is a mystery we unravel in the new version of the documentary,” said Murphy.

Lee once said she wanted to be South Alabama’s Jane Austen, but became an enigma when she stopped speaking to press in 1964 after her whirlwind success. Harper Lee: American Masters offers an unprecedented look at Lee’s life, illuminates the phenomenon behind To Kill a Mockingbird and the Oscar®-winning 1962 film adaptation, and previews Go Set a Watchman, which Lee wrote in 1957. The documentary features interviews with Lee’s friends and family – including her centenarian sister Alice (now deceased) – who share intimate recollections, anecdotes and biographical details for the first time: Lee’s rise from small-town Alabama girl to famous author, her tumultuous friendship with Truman Capote, and the origin of her most memorable characters: Atticus Finch, his daughter Scout, her friend Dill, and Boo Radley.

The film also explores the context and history of the novel’s Deep South setting and the social changes it inspired after publication and through the feature film starring Gregory Peck. Oprah Winfrey, Rosanne Cash, Tom Brokaw, Pulitzer Prize-winners Rick Bragg, Anna Quindlen, Richard Russo, Jon Meacham and Diane McWhorter, James Patterson, Wally Lamb, Scott Turow, civil rights leader Andrew Young, and others reflect on the novel’s power, influence, popularity, and the ways it has shaped their lives.

“Harper Lee was ahead of her time. She challenged the social order and made a cultural impact with To Kill a Mockingbird that still resonates today. I’m thrilled that American Masters is able to give viewers a sneak peek at Lee’s new novel,” said Michael Kantor, executive producer of American Masters.

Interviewees (in alphabetical order):

Mary Badham – actress, played Scout Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
Boaty Boatwright
– casting director, To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
Rick Bragg
– author
Tom Brokaw
– news anchor, journalist and author
Joy Brown
– Lee’s friend
Michael Brown
– Lee’s friend
Rosanne Cash
– musician and author
Mark Childress
– author
Jane Ellen Clark
– former director, The Monroe County Heritage Museum
Allan Gurganus
– author
David Kipen
– former director of literature, National Endowment for the Arts
Wally Lamb
– author
Alice Finch Lee
– Lee’s sister
James McBride
– author and musician
Michael Morrison, President and Publisher of HarperCollins US General Books Group and Canada
Diane McWhorter – historian
Jon Meacham
– historian
James Patterson
– author
Anna Quindlen
– author
Richard Russo
– author
Lizzie Skurnick
– author
Lee Smith
– author
Adriana Trigiani
– author
Mary Tucker
– educator and Monroeville, Alabama resident
Scott Turow
– author
Oprah Winfrey
– TV and film producer, founder of O, The Oprah magazine, radio programmer, actress, philanthropist, and chairman of Harpo Inc.
Andrew Young
– civil rights leader

Harper Lee: American Masters is a production of Mary Murphy & Company, LLC. Mary McDonagh Murphy is producer, writer and director. Rich White is director of photography. Christopher Seward is editor and producer. Michael Kantor and Susan Lacy are executive producers for American Masters. The series is a production of THIRTEEN PRODUCTIONS LLC for WNET.

Funding for American Masters is provided by The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Rosalind P. Walter, The Blanche & Irving Laurie Foundation, Rhoda Herrick, Michael & Helen Schaffer Foundation, Vital Projects Fund, Rolf and Elizabeth Rosenthal, The Philip and Janice Levin Foundation, Judith and Burton Resnick, Jack Rudin, The André and Elizabeth Kertész Foundation, and public television viewers. Original funding for this program was provided by The National Endowment for the Arts and the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family.

  • Marjorie Gifford

    My neighborhood book club recently read and discussed this classic book. Fabulous part of USA history

  • Bev Sims

    I have the distinct pleasure of teaching this book each year to freshmen e (high school) and I always look forward to it, since it is my most favorite book. Fortunately, many of their parents have read it and I have great support for the time spent on it. There is so much in the novel that students take away from it. Hopefully, they end up loving it as much as I and millions of other people do. I know I can’t watch anyone else play Atticus but Gregory Peck. He just IS Attricus! This documentary comes at a very opportune time for us as we always read TKM in the spring–it is a fresh awakening to so many things!

  • Susan Luth

    I often think about the times in my life as a child when Gina, the first black child to integrate my school was seated by me in the back of the class-me for behavior reasons and Gina because she was black. My parents told me to stay away from her but I felt so bad for her and every day she brought a grocery bag full of popcorn for her snack-I can remember being a little scared to eat her food, but alas broke down and traded some of my cookies for her popcorn. Other instances I remember vividly was a discussion of who were dinner discussions of people we knew who were part of the KKK, lynchings my grandfather had witnessed as a young boy. My mother would kick me under the table to try and keep me from expressing myself as these issues unfolded.

  • rita

    I would like to hear Ms Harper Lee’s thoughts on this.

  • Tim Smith

    If I could only write one book in my life I would want it to be as life changing as To Kill a Mockingbird. I have read a many books but none that became the catalyst this book has been.

    I don’t believe in fate but I believe this book was “meant” to be written. Lee should be proud. She has done what many have tried and failed to do and that is reach and change the hearts of many people from all walks of lives.

  • Lost Horse

    Before Skeeter…there was Scout!
    After I read the Help, I went back and reread To Kill A Mockingbird. It had a whole different meaning to me as an adult and as a parent.

  • Charlotte

    I watched this because I wanted to know about Harper Lee. Instead, I saw maybe 15 minutes of a 90 minute program that was listed as about her!!!!! This American Experience program was, instead, about her book, the movie adaptation of her book, and various people’s reactions to both!!!!! This PBS show SHOULD have been retitled something else, and NOT masquerade as “about Harper Lee!!!!!” Shame on you PBS for misrepresenting this to the American viewing public!!!!!

  • B.Potter

    I had a German class tonight and wanted to watch this! But like many things on the Internet,PBS said I could watch the entire show,but when I got on this page,it only shows a Preview! Very typical of the net,one thing is said to draw you in,then get there and its only an onion with a hole in it,well a preview not the whole 60 minutes!
    Guess they want me to buy it!!

  • rashe rich

    To Kill A Mockingbird has, since jr. high, has not only been my favorite novel, my favorite movie, so much so that i purchased the collector’s edition. If I could only have one movie……..this would be it.

  • Sonnie Swenston

    Oh, B.Potter: if you took a few minutes to look before you grumbled you’d find that it IS available online in its entirety. It’s here . Get yourself in a better mood before you watch it.

    And yes — this was not a typical biography. How do you tell the story of someone who hasn’t been interviewed since 1964? It is a wonderful show. We should all have an infinitesimal degree of this kind of impact on so many people!

  • dorothy cogswell

    when will pbs rebroadcast harper lee doc?

  • jenna

    we have a family tradition of reading aloud to each other on car trips… one year on our trek to the shore…i read this to my husband and young daughter… now my daughter is looking for colleges where she can major in literature… she claims her love of great novels came not only form this weird little family tradition but also specifically from TKM … i guess i should have known when she named her first pets (goldfish) atticus and scout…
    i know she will be delighted (as will i ) to watch this…
    thank you…

  • Caro Boswell

    Will this documentary, “Harper Lee – Hey, Boo”, be rebroadcast soon? It was not listed in our newspaper’s schedule for Monday, January 7, resulting in some of our group missing the wonderful program.


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