MUHLENBERG COUNTY, Ky. (5/15/13) – Just about everyone who has taken high school literature classes is familiar with the gripping courtroom drama entitled "To Kill a Mockingbird". The Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Harper Lee, and Oscar winning film starring Gregory Peck as lawyer Atticus Finch, were based on actual events that occurred early in the writer's life in Monroeville, Alabama.
Lee captures the intense drama, laced with Twain-like humor, in this immortal tale of a Southern lawyer who defends a black man accused of the rape of a white girl in a small Alabama community Lee calls Maycomb in her novel. Lee still lives in the town and has not allowed interviews since 1964.
However, the real life adventure of two Muhlenberg County natives is also quite a story. It involves former Judge Executive Rodney Kirtley, Ralph Dillihay, formerly of Drakesboro and their wives, Suzanne Dillihay, a native of Martwick, and Jackie Robinson Kirtley of Central City. Both couples now live in Bowling Green, but decided to make a trip to Alabama.
Dillihay explains what happened. "We all are in the same Sunday School class at church, and got to know 2 other couples originally from Monroeville. As we got to know them, they reminded me that Harper Lee is from that town, and from time to time they would bring up interesting facts about the town, it began to fascinate me." Dillihay said.
"We then learned that a group of local actors there give live performances of "To Kill A Mockingbird" each year in the actual courthouse where the drama played out." Dillihay said.
"We decided to go down to see a performance. When I called to get tickets the lady at the box office said, 'Well, today you are going to get a special deal. I thought she must have meant our tickets would cost less or something like that. Then she explained, 'No, you are going to be on the jury!' Ended up, we weren't just in the play.., Rodney was picked to be the foreman. It was a fantastic production. You would have a hard time telling that these were just local people that get up and go to work every morning. They really seemed like highly trained professional actors. They sell out all shows, 16 or so I think each year in May." Dillihay noted.
"The funniest part is Rodney somehow had never read the book, and had never seen the movie. So he was a bit surprised when they gave him the piece of paper that said 'Guilty,’” Dillihay said.
To Kill a Mockingbird is a novel by Harper Lee published in 1960. It was an instant success, winning the Pulitzer Prize, and has become a true American classic.
The plot and characters are loosely based on the author's observations of her family and neighbors, as well as an event many say occurred near the author's home in 1936, when she was just 10 years old. To make things even more fascinating for fans of Southern flavored literature, the town was also where renowned author Truman Capote spent his summers. He and Ms. Lee were best friends throughout his life, and many of his novels and short stories were also inspired by the town and its people.
"Even though it's a novel, it's really about what went on in Monroeville." Dillihay continued. Harper Lee was Scout. Her father, of course, was a lawyer there. But to actually see the town and especially to be inside the courtroom that inspired Ms. Lee's novel was really a once in a lifetime experience for all of us. If you ever get a chance to go, put it on your calendar to call them in February because the tickets for all shows go pretty fast." Dillihay stressed.
Although performances of this one of a kind courtroom drama are sold out this season, if the Gulf Coast is on your summer vacation plans, you can still tour the courthouse and the town's many historic landmarks, that will seem hauntingly familiar to anyone who has read the novel.
Monroeville is located approximately half way between Montgomery and Mobile.
The appropriately named "Mockingbird Players" are set to perform before sold out audiences through May 18th, with all proceeds going to keep the courthouse and other historic sites in the town looking just the way they did when Atticus and Scout walked hand in hand through the not so fictitious Alabama town of "Maycomb".
Photos provided by Rodney Kirtley
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