Robert Mulligan (FCRH’ 48), director of the 1962 Oscar-winning drama, To Kill A Mockingbird, died on Saturday, Dec. 20 at his Connecticut home, at age 83.
Known as an “actor’s director,” Mulligan elicited fine performances from a number of Hollywood heavyweights during his 40-year career and directed Gregory Peck in his Oscar-winning performance of Atticus Finch, the small-town lawyer who defends a black man unjustly accused of rape in the depression-era South. The movie was based on the Pulitzer-Prize winning novel by Harper Lee.
Mulligan also led four other actors to Oscar-nominated performances: child-actress Mary Badham (Mockingbird), Natalie Wood (Love with the Proper Stranger), Ruth Gordon (Inside Daisy Clover) and Ellen Burstyn (Same Time, Next Year).
Born in the Bronx, Mulligan was raised in an Irish-Catholic household and attended St. Anne’s Academy before coming to Fordham in 1944. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree with a concentration in radio, just one year after WFUV, Fordham’s non-commercial radio station, began broadcasting from the Fordham campus. He went on to work at CBS as a messenger, eventually breaking into television directing.
During the early days of broadcasting, Mulligan directed rising stars such as Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, George C. Scott and Sidney Poitier in some of their first dramatic roles. He won an Emmy in 1960 for directing veteran actor Sir Laurence Olivier in a teleplay of Somerset Maugham’s The Moon and Sixpence.
Mulligan entered a partnership in the early 1960s with then-producer Alan J. Pakula, and, together they made seven films. Both Mulligan and Pakula, along with Mockingbird author Harper Lee, reportedly held out for the role of Atticus Finch to be played by Peck at a time when other box-office names were being considered ahead of him. It earned Peck his only Academy Award, and in 2003 the American Film Institute chose Atticus Finch as the number one hero in U.S. movie history in its list of “100 Years . . . 100 Movie Heroes and Villains.”
Among Mulligan’s other film credits are Summer of ’42, Up the Down Stair Case, Fear Strikes Out, andBlood Brothers. Mulligan was the brother of Emmy-winning actor Richard Mulligan, who died in 2000.