“American Masters” spotlights Harper Lee and Margaret Mitchell tonight on PBS

In a win-win for book and film lovers alike, tonight PBS’ acclaimed biography series American Masters will present back-to-back profiles of Gone With the Wind scribe Margaret Mitchell and To Kill a Mockingbird author Harper Lee that present facts, photos and interviews fresh to even their most ardent fans.

Though Mitchell was born in 1900 and Lee in 1926, like their works, these women are every ounce as compelling as any character from today’s entertainment realm, real or fictionalized.

Did you know Mitchell rappelled down buildings as a newspaper reporter and funded the education of African-American medical students after GWTW made her rich? Or that Lee based Mockingbird’s Dill on her childhood friend Truman Capote and put her writing career on hold to help him research In Cold Blood? Or that each won the Pulitzer prize for these, their debut novels, and then never published another book again?

Here are the episodes’ synopses, as provided by PBS:

Margaret Mitchell: American Rebel engages leading historians, biographers and personal friends to reveal a complex woman who experienced profound identity shifts during her life and struggled with the two great issues of her day: the changing role of women and the liberation of African Americans. A charismatic force until a tragic accident led to her death at age 48, Mitchell rebelled against the stifling social restrictions placed on women: as an unconventional tomboy, a defiant debutante, a brazen flapper, one of Georgia’s first female newspaper reporters, and, later, as a philanthropist who risked her life to fund African-American education. Emmy®-winning executive producer/writer Pamela Roberts uses reenactments based on Mitchell’s personal letters and journals to show how her upbringing and romantic relationships influenced the creation of Gone With the Wind. The film also explores Scarlett and Rhett’s place as two of the world’s greatest lovers and the public’s initial reception to the book and David O. Selznick’s 1939 epic film – from racial lightning rod to model for survival. 2012 marks the 75th anniversary of Mitchell’s Pulitzer Prize win for the only book published during her lifetime. Gone With the Wind’s lasting popularity seems permanently etched in the American cultural landscape.

Harper Lee: Hey, Boo illuminates the phenomenon behind Lee’s first and only novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, and the 1962 film version, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Offering an unprecedented look into Lee’s mysterious life, Emmy®-winning filmmaker Mary McDonagh Murphy (author of Scout, Atticus & Boo: A Celebration of To Kill a Mockingbird) interviews Lee’s friends and family, including her centenarian sister Alice, who share intimate recollections, anecdotes and biographical details for the first time: her 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 documentary also explores the context and history of the novel’s Deep South setting and the social changes it inspired after publication and through the film starring Gregory Peck. Tom Brokaw, Rosanne Cash, Anna Quindlen, Scott Turow, Oprah Winfrey, and others reflect on the novel’s power, influence, popularity, and the ways it has shaped their lives. Lee gave her last interview in 1964 and receded from the limelight.

Margaret Mitchell: American Rebel premieres tonight at 9pm ET/8CT on PBS. Harper Lee: Hey, Boo follows immediately after. Check your local listings for air times in your area.

Photos and video: PBS

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About Lori Acken 1195 Articles
Lori just hasn't been the same since "thirtysomething" and "Northern Exposure" went off the air.