To Exploit a Mockingbird

By Victor Gold

to_kill_a_mocking_bird-189x300“She can’t see and can’t hear and will sign anything put before her by anyone in whom she has confidence.”
—Alice Lee, Harper Lee’s sister, on Harper’s condition in an assisted living home

For more than half a century publishers and editors pleaded with Harper Lee to write a second novel after the worldwide success of To Kill a Mockingbird. For more than half a century, she refused.

Meanwhile, known to Harper, her publisher, and her editor, a manuscript existed of a rough draft of a novel titled Go Set a Watchman, which neither Lee nor her publisher and editor considered worthy of putting into print—despite the clamor for another Harper Lee book.

Now, 55  years later—Harper’s sister Alice, who guided her business interests over the years, having died last fall—a publisher, lawyer, and agent have “newly discovered” her old manuscript and want to publish it.

Harper Lee, at age 88, with her legacy secure as author of a great American novel, doesn’t need or want the money. Others obviously do.

It’s times like these that I think of the last scene of the movie Harvey, the story of Elwood P. Dowd (played by Jimmy Stewart), who imagines and talks to a huge rabbit no one else can see. A team of doctors recommends a medical procedure that would cure the condition, but as a taxi driver (played by Fred Gwynne) notes, that would simply turn Elwood into a normal human being—and, as the taxi driver says, “You know what bastards they are.”

That we do, though sometimes we forget—until a story like Harper Lee’s “newly discovered” novel comes along.

Victor Gold, a lawyer and longtime Washington journalist and political aide, was a college classmate of Harper Lee at the University of Alabama.

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