Is Harper Lee’s new book headed for Hollywood?

Harper Lee on the set of "To Kill a Mockingbird" with Mary Badham, who played Scout. Will Lee's new novel find a place in Hollywood?
(Associated Press / Associated Press)

Harper Lee stunned the literary world last week with the news that her second book, “Go Set a Watchman,” will be released in July, 55 years after “To Kill A Mockingbird.” But it wasn’t just the publishing industry that was paying attention -- film industry observers are now wondering whether the follow-up to “To Kill a Mockingbird” will make it to the silver screen.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, it’s unclear who might own the film rights to a possible “Go Set A Watchman” adaptation. “To Kill A Mockingbird” was adapted into a critically acclaimed 1962 movie, starring Gregory Peck as the righteous lawyer Atticus Finch and Mary Badham as his precocious daughter Scout. The film, which won three Academy Awards, was distributed by Universal, and partially shot on the studio’s backlot.

A fight over the book’s film rights could complicate what’s already a contentious debate over “Watchman.” Some have speculated that Lee, who is 88 and losing her sight and hearing, might not be fully behind the decision to release the novel. In a statement released by her publisher, Harper (an imprint of HarperCollins), Lee reportedly said, “I’m alive and kicking and happy as hell with the reactions of ‘Watchman.’”


Some observers are skeptical, however, noting that the news of the book’s release came not long after Lee’s sister and lawyer Alice died in November. In an opinion piece for The Times, Scott Martelle wrote, “So there’s cause for some skepticism about whether Lee, reportedly in poor physical health herself, really wanted this book published. After all, she had six decades to find it in her files if she was interested in having the public read it.”

Nevertheless, readers eager for a second book from Harper Lee instantly made the book the No. 1 bestselling book at Amazon when it was made available for pre-order on the site. Whether a movie without star Gregory Peck would fare as well is hard to predict -- although Scout appears as a grown woman in “Go Set a Watchman” and Badham might be available.