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10/14/2010

One year ago: Collin Wilcox Paxton

October 14, 2010 |  6:04 am

Collin-wilcox Collin Wilcox Paxton, who played the poor Southern white girl who falsely accuses a black man of raping her in the 1962 film adaptation of the novel "To Kill a Mockingbird," recalls receiving unfriendly looks when she appeared to speak at an NAACP conference. An official had to remind the crowd that "she is not the character in the film."

Paxton, who spent her life acting and advocating for desegregation, died one year ago of brain cancer at her home in Highlands, N.C. She was 74.

Paxton said she believed she could play the character of Mayella because she understood both sides of the racism issue and the culture from which her character would have come. She once recalled that the other girls auditioning for the role were overly made up, while she intentionally dressed in worn-down clothes that better reflected the character's background.

Both Paxton and Brock Peters, who played the accused black man in the film, were involved in the civil rights movement and the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People.

"On the set, there was a main feeling that we were making a film that had meaning, had something to say," she recalled. "But no one ever expected or anticipated the kind of impact the film actually created."

In addition to "To Kill a Mockingbird," Paxton also made appearances on Broadway and as a guest star in a variety of TV shows.

For more on her career, read Collin Wilcox Paxton's obituary by The Times.

--Michael Farr

Photo: Collin Wilcox Paxton. Credit: Eric Skipsey

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