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Harper Lee: American Masters

Full Episode

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 (April 28, 1926 – February 19, 2016). Then 55 years later on July 14, 2015, Lee’s earliest known work, Go Set a Watchman, featuring characters from her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, was published.

In honor of that landmark literary event, on July 10, 2015, American Masters presented a newly updated version of Emmy®-winning filmmaker Mary McDonagh Murphy’s 2012 documentary Harper Lee: Hey, Boo, broadcast as Harper Lee: American Masters. 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 Go Set a Watchman before updating the film (read chapter one here).

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.

Learn more about the film.