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Viva La Redhead, But It’s A Sin To Eat A Mocking Birdie

May 7, 2012

It’s been awhile since my last “birthday clock caricature.” Time to make amends. A belated Happy Birthday to actress-singer Ann-Margret (b. 1941) and reclusive author Harper Lee (b. 1926), both born on April 28th. Here’s the final:Actress singer dancer Ann Margret sex kitten caricature with To Kill A Mockingbird author Harper Lee as bird on top of old manual typewriter with built-in birthday clock

I had to laugh when I saw the two women shared a birthday. Why? Ann-Margret got saddled with the term “sex kitten” early in her career, and Harper Lee wrote To Kill A Mockingbird (1960), one of the most famous novels in American Literature. The idea of juxtaposing a “cat” and a “bird” jumped into my head immediately. But it gets even funnier because the movie that made Ann-Margret a major star was Bye Bye Birdie. Here’s a detail image:Β detail image of Actress singer dancer Ann Margret sex kitten caricature with To Kill A Mockingbird author Harper Lee as bird on top of old manual typewriter with built-in birthday clock

Ann-Margret Olsson was born in Sweden, and moved to the United States in 1946. She broke into show business around 1960, at the tail-end of the “golden age.” Early fans and supporters included show-biz legends George Burns, Bob Hope, and Jack Benny.

She began recording in 1961, and has had a long career as singer. However, she’s only hit the Billboard Top 40 once, with a song called I Just Don’t Understand, which peaked at #17 in August, 1961. (Trivia: The Beatles covered the song in their early live sets, and it can be found on their compilation album, Live At The BBC.)Β 

She became a major star playing all-American teenager Kim MacAfee from Sweet Apple, Ohio, in the film version of the Broadway musical, Bye Bye Birdie (1963), and went on to star with Elvis Presley in Viva Las Vegas (1964), and Steve McQueen in The Cincinnati Kid (1965).

Below left: a very young Ann-Margret with television host Ed Sullivan on the set of his variety show. Right: with Presley on the set of Viva Las Vegas.

photo of very young Ann Margret with TV host Ed Sullivan, and dressed as cowgirl with Elvis Presley on set of movie Viva Las Vegas

Trivia: Ann-Margret is a natural brunette. Alas, that famous red hair isn’t real (sigh). In researching this post, I was surprised to find that she had recorded a Christmas album as recently as 2004, and that she is still active as a television actress: she won an Emmy in 2010– her first, after six nominations. Below left: at the peak of her commercial success, circa mid-60s; below right: with her Emmy Award, August 2010.Β photo of young Ann Margret at dance rehearsal circa mid-1960s, and photo of Ann Margret in 2010 after winning her first Emmy award

Just how good is To Kill A Mockingbird? I saw the movie version (1962) first, then went straight out and bought the book. I literally couldn’t put it down– despite having seen the film and knowing exactly how it was going to end. It really is that good.

I could tell you it’s set in Alabama in the American South during the depression years of the 1930s, and that its central theme is racial prejudice. That there’s a court trial, and a heroic lawyer, and that the story is narrated (remembered) by his daughter who was six years old at the time the book’s events take place. That it’s also a coming-of-age story, filled with colorful characters and subplots. But it’s more than all that: it’s about human nature and life itself. And it recreates a time and place so visceral and real, you feel you’ve been there when you finally close the book.

Nelle Harper Lee based much of the book on her childhood growing up in Monroeville, Alabama. Her own father was a lawyer. Pictured below: Lee circa 1960 sitting in the balcony of the Monroe County Courthouse, where her father argued his cases. For the movie version of the book, a set designer came to Monroeville to measure and photograph the courtroom. It was then recreated on a Hollywood sound stage.

photo of To Kill A Mockingbird author Harper Lee sitting in balcony of Monroe County Courthouse in Monroeville, Alabama where her trial lawyer father had argued cases

The book’s odd title is drawn from an exchange in the story. Atticus Finch, the lawyer and central character, gives his children air rifles for Christmas, and tells them they can “shoot all the bluejays they want,” but that “it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” Puzzled, his daughter asks a neighbor why killing a mockingbird would be a sin. The neighbor explains that mockingbirds do no harm and simply “sing their hearts out for us.”

Mockingbird won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1961. It has sold over 30 million copies and been translated into over 40 languages. It’s the mostly widely read book in American high schools, and has never been out of print.

Below left: Harper Lee with actor Gregory Peck who played Atticus Finch in the movie. Right: a photo of Lee taken in 2005.

photo of author Harper Lee with actor Gregory Peck during making of film version of novel To Kill A Mockingbird, and photo of Harper Lee taken in 2005

What do you think? Are you an Ann-Margret fan? Ever read To Kill A Mockingbird? Hope you’ll leave a comment.

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31 Comments leave one →
  1. May 7, 2012 11:15 AM

    I am an English teacher who has taught To Kill A Mockingbird for years. One of the best American Novels ever, but sadly many of our students don’t have the patience to get through it. Clever and witty post!


    • May 7, 2012 2:36 PM

      Many thanks for stopping by, and for your very interesting comment.

      It’s troubling to think of the limiting effects of our ever-diminishing attention span. The important lessons in life require more than soundbites. Today we seem to have all the world’s knowledge at our fingertips, but nobody wants to read more than 140 characters at a time. OK, I’m exaggerating, but it is discouraging. I wish I had a solution.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, hope you’ll stop in again sometime. : )


      • May 8, 2012 11:27 AM

        Valleygirl96’s comment reminded me of the segment where the Harvard professor said she could not assign books over 200 pages long because students just don’t have the attention span for it. I mean, really, they’re earning a Harvard degree without even having to read real classic novels? That’s just shocking.


        • May 8, 2012 12:07 PM

          I hear you. I read somewhere recently that several colleges have for-credit courses on Lady Gaga and her music. I don’t mean to single her out– there are plenty of other college courses on modern pop culture. It conjures up this vision of lowered expectations and dumbing-down of curricula, while this huge body of classic literature, with all its wisdom and insights, just molders away.

          Well, that’s enough happy talk for one comment… : (


      • May 8, 2012 12:27 PM

        You can’t be serious. A class on Lady Gaga? OMG. Funny and sad at the same time.

        Honestly? I don’t think that’s such a bad thing IF the student has passed some very difficult classes, has worked their fingers to the bone and just wants a fun class. There is nothing wrong with that. But only under those circumstances.

        (Also congrats to that university, whoever they are, for big time milking money out of students that way. Wow.)


    • May 7, 2012 2:59 PM

      Valleygirl 96, I wonder if you (or you, Mark) have watched the Frontline special called Digital Nation. It’s chilling.


  2. May 7, 2012 11:25 AM

    And yes one more reason I love Ann-Margret, she’s a closet brunette turned redhead, like moi! She’s the bomb, always loved her and had no idea she was a singer too. That pic you have of her with her Emmy puts a smile on my face. Good to know a girl can still look so good after all these years. And yes, Harper Lee’s book was one of my staples growing up. Thanks for reminding me of it’s powerful story.


    • May 7, 2012 2:51 PM

      Let’s hear it for redheads, no pedigree required!! : )

      Must admit, I always got a kick out of Ann-Margret’s antics. And I swear she had a twinkle in her eye the whole time. That’s a pretty neat trick, being “da bomb” and the girl next door at the same time. She’s an inspiration. Not quite as inspiring as you and me, maybe, but still– not bad… : P

      Mockingbird is quite the book. Harper Lee was like some guy who hit a grand slam homer in his first at-bat to win the World Series. Yeah– I think I woulda retired on the spot, too! : )


  3. May 7, 2012 12:08 PM

    I really appreciate the background you give to your illustrations, Mark. I think no matter what we do in life, it’s always richer when we’re well informed.

    I remember reading Lee’s book in high school and getting fully lost in the story. Fiction is great that way – instead of being lectured about racism, students get to be absorbed in a story about the realities of life in a time of racism; although I agree with some who say the black characters were not fully developed and the book could be considered exploitive instead of educational.


    • May 7, 2012 2:56 PM

      Many thanks for that kind comment, Amelie.

      It’s funny how fiction has a kind of power that non-fiction does not. And you’re right: a story touches the heart, in a way a lecture can’t hope to do.

      I remember reading somewhere that he who tells the stories shapes the culture. Mockingbird is a perfect example of that.

      That’s as ever for your support! : )


  4. May 8, 2012 12:42 AM

    Nice illustrations and article.

    I always enjoyed the movies with Ann Margret in them. They were always fun and full of life. I am not sure they would stand the test of time if I tried to watch them now.

    To Kill a Mockingbird on the other hand, is and always will be one of my favorite movies. It is as good today as it was the first time I saw it.


    • May 8, 2012 11:40 AM

      Many thanks, Brad, sincerely appreciate your checking in, amigo.

      I must agree about Mockingbird. I think the fact that it was filmed in black and white accounts for some of its magic. I’ve noticed that about other B&W films as well. They create a certain mood you can’t get with color. Mockingbird does have that timeless quality– just like you and me, I might add… : P

      Thanks again for stopping by! : )


  5. May 8, 2012 9:17 AM

    hmmm. .. I believe I have some reading to do. I have not read those books yet πŸ™‚ Thanks for this info.

    And kudos to your fantastic caricature with those 2 women. What a mind you’ve got there! Very impressive.

    I love Ann Margret, she takes care of herself real well πŸ™‚


    • May 8, 2012 11:52 AM

      That’s probably the one book you’ve missed. Understandable, because you devote so much time to your outstanding blog, which is consistently ranked #1 in the world… : )

      Thanks for your kind words about the caricatures, blush, blush! Being your Photoshop apprentice is finally paying off for me… : )

      Yes, that Ann-Margret is certainly an inspiration. I’m always a bit shocked to see someone as pretty as myself… : P

      Of course, you are always an inspiration. Thanks so much for your support!! : )


  6. May 9, 2012 7:59 PM

    Are they too old for my era or I am too young for their era? LOL.

    I have to say that I never read Mrs. Lee’s novel and also do not know too much about Ann-Margaret. Perhaps it’s not their fault but me. πŸ˜€

    Thanks anyway for giving information about them, Mark. I really appreciate it. Ann-Margaret still looks beautiful for her age. Beautiful lady! πŸ™‚

    And as usual you did a great job, very amusing. πŸ™‚ I love it! πŸ™‚


    • May 10, 2012 3:59 PM

      Thank you, dear Inge, for your very kind and witty comment!

      For the record: You are just right for your era, you just happen to be following an old codger who knows other old codgers from an earlier era!! Well, someone has to give these ancient ones a little recognition– I guess that’s me… : P

      Thanks very much for your support, you youngster, you!! : )


  7. May 10, 2012 1:43 AM

    Haha! Mark! Yes it’s amazing how beautiful Ann Margaret is still to this day. And she doesn’t look plastic in the least — just like you!!

    I’ve heard so many people say that To Kill a Mockingbird is their favorite book of all time and still I haven’t read it or watched the movie. I will definitely have to keep my eye open for it you know where!

    I love the picture you drew!! And it is interesting that they have the same birthday and are both most famous for something to do with birds! Coincidence? Probably. But more likely a coin key dink! πŸ˜€


    • May 10, 2012 4:08 PM

      What?? You don’t think part of me is plastic?? Oh, that’s right, I guess you haven’t seen the x-rays of my skull… : P

      Well, you’re in for a treat if you’ve never had the Mockingbird experience. It’s not as exciting and er, vibrant, as your own posts, of course– but what the heck is?? That would be asking any written work to meet an impossible standard… : )

      Many thanks for your usual cheery comment, always a tweet to see you here in, uh, Birdland… : P


      • May 10, 2012 5:06 PM

        Oh, you’ll have to post those X-rays of your skull, Mark! Or better yet sketch them. The workings of Mark’s brain! I’m expecting in your next post or I’ll be bitterly disappointed!

        And I’m defintely going to keep an eagle eye out for a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird! And I’m sure it will be quite a tweet! HA! πŸ˜€


        • May 15, 2012 12:47 PM

          I can’t believe your comment got dumped in the Spam bin– it’s an outrage!! What’s worse: it was stuck between two vile comments from some rotter calling himself abarnnamedpottery… : P


        • May 15, 2012 2:01 PM

          HAHA! That’s it Mark! It’s a conspiracy. It’s karma! It’s an outrage and Pottery Barn will be hearing from my lawyers . . .my lawyer? Ok, I don’t really have a lawyer but I do have a dog who graduated from obedience training with a minor in eating spam . . . ok, he didn’t really graduate from obedience training . . . but he does eat spam.


  8. May 14, 2012 8:08 AM

    Powerful story Mark…. I haven’t read the book and doubt that I ever will (I’ve never been a great reader). I have seen the movie though, and it’s one of the greats. I can remember reading somewhere that Harper Lee said she believed she couldn’t top her one and only, so why bother; an understandable belief. It must have taken quite a toll on her emotionally to draw so much rawness and truth from inside herself onto the page… I so admire those who have this ability…

    As for Ann-Margret, I can’t help but be inspired and smile whenever I see her wonderful expressive face that shows her big heart full of love and sweetness. She seems to have such a generous nature…

    I’m so pleased to have found your blog; you are certainly ‘full of surprises’ Mac Giggles..! πŸ˜‰


    • May 14, 2012 10:25 AM

      Thank you for that lovely and expressive comment, Carolyn– very sincerely appreciated.

      That was an interesting point about the emotional toll Mockingbird must have taken on Harper Lee. I’m sure you’re right. It sounds like she tapped deep into the wellspring of her childhood memories– and there aren’t many forces more powerful than those.

      You’re right about Ann-Margret’s generosity, too. I was touched by some of the stories I read about her, especially her kindness to military veterans. I had forgotten she was part of Bob Hope’s USO tours during the Vietnam War.

      Thanks again for the kind words, absolutely delighted to have you here! : )


  9. robpixaday permalink
    May 14, 2012 2:39 PM

    Can’t type, too busy giggling about kittens and mockingbirds!!!!!

    Wow, memories!
    Your fabulous clock slammed the entire score of “Bye, Bye, Birdie!” into a black and white Gregory-Peck-narrated slow-speed collision with “To Kill a Mockingbird” in my mind. And it was wonderful!

    That courthouse is splendid. thank you for showing us.
    And I think my favorite part of the clock is the bird body under Lee’s head.
    Ann-Margret…terrific entertainer!


    • May 14, 2012 7:44 PM

      Thank you, dear Ms. King! I do believe you’re the only person whose incredibly nimble brain could simultaneously accommodate the soundtracks from those two films! Incredible to think Gregory Peck won the Best Song Oscar for Surfin’ Bird. Or was it Mockin’ Bird? Or am I mixing up my film genres again??

      Yes, that shot of Harper Lee sitting in the courthouse balcony is a great photo. Hard to believe they didn’t use the real courthouse in the movie. Just doesn’t seem possible that they could have duplicated an old building like that down to the last detail…

      Yeah– bird bodies! I’m gonna start giving all my caricatures bird bodies so I can get more “cheep” laughs… : P

      Thanks for stopping by, always honored by a visit from a Painting Mega-Talent!! : )


  10. May 15, 2012 7:05 PM

    Ann-Margret’s pose is so her. You do such a great job distilling the visual essence of public personas. Fun and very engaging caricature. πŸ™‚


    • May 15, 2012 8:33 PM

      “… distilling the visual essence…” Wow! I’m gonna use that expression from now on!! It sounds so much better than “I try to make it look like the person, only kinda weird and funny…” : )

      Thanks for that lovely comment, Jayne– that’ll keep me going for a couple more ice ages!! : )


  11. robpixaday permalink
    May 16, 2012 6:49 PM

    β€œcheep” laughs… : P


  12. May 17, 2012 1:13 PM

    Hi Mark,

    I really enjoy your caricature and your posts but I’m lame when it comes to commenting.

    I clearly recall To Kill A Mockingbird and vaguely remember watching Elvis and Ann-Margret on the screen.

    Thanks to the history you provided I know much more about her than I ever did before. She sure looks great for her age.


    • May 17, 2012 10:10 PM

      Lame?? Nonsense! You’re excellent. Why? Because you take the time to provide encouragement and support. That’s what it’s all about, and it means a lot.

      So thanks a heap, always a pleasure, glad you enjoyed the post!! : )


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