Robert Mulligan, who directed the classic film “To Kill a Mockingbird,” with its sensitive look at a child’s world shaken by the racism of a Southern town, died Saturday in Lyme, Conn., after a battle with heart disease. He was 83.
Mulligan was nominated for an Oscar for “Mockingbird,” the adaptation of Harper Lee’s bestselling, Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.
The 1962 film starred Gregory Peck, who won the best actor Oscar for his portrayal of Atticus Finch, the small-town lawyer who defends a black man falsely accused of rape.
The story unfolds largely from the point of view of Atticus’ young daughter, Scout, memorably played by Mary Badham. Phillip Alford played his son, Jem.
The New York Times wrote that the film’s opening segment “achieves a bewitching indication of the excitement and thrill of being a child.”
Mulligan was also known as the director of Reese Witherspoon’s first film, “The Man in the Moon,” which came out in 1991. It was his last film, and the family drama brought Witherspoon notice as the younger of two teenage daughters grappling with her first love.
Among his other credits were “Fear Strikes Out,” the 1957 drama starring Anthony Perkins as troubled ballplayer Jim Piersall; “Summer of ‘42,” the 1971 wartime coming-of-age story starring Gary Grimes and Jennifer O’Neill; and the 1972 horror hit “The Other.” Additional notable features he directed included “Inside Daisy Clover,” “Love With the Proper Stranger,” “Up the Down Staircase” and “Same Time, Next Year,” with Ellen Burstyn and Alan Alda.
He also carved out a solid career as a TV director before moving over to film, working on such drama series as “Studio One,” “The Philco Television Playhouse” and “The Alcoa Hour.”
But “Mockingbird” would remain his most famous work. In 2003, an American Film Institute listing of the top heroes in film history ranked Peck’s Atticus Finch as No. 1.
“The big danger in making a movie of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ is in thinking of this as a chance to jump on the segregation-integration soapbox,” Mulligan told the New York Times in 1961 while the planning for the film was in its early stages. “The book does not make speeches. It is not melodramatic.”
Mulligan was born in the Bronx, N.Y., and studied at Fordham U.
He is survived by his wife of 37 years, Sandy; three children; two grandchildren; and a brother.
Donations may be made to the Alan Rosenthal Research Fund, care of Jennifer Jacobson, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, 633 Third Ave., 28th Floor, New York, N.Y. 10017.