May 22, 2005

Reclusive 'Mockingbird' Author Appears

LOS ANGELES - Harper Lee, who has been dodging publicity for decades since she published her only book, "To Kill a Mockingbird," made a rare step into the limelight to be honored by the Los Angeles Public Library.

Lee, 79, stopped giving interviews a few years after she won the Pulitzer Prize for her 1960 coming-of-age book exploring racial prejudice in the South. She has turned down most request for appearances.

But she couldn't refuse an invitation from Veronique Peck, the widow of actor Gregory Peck, who won an Oscar for his starring role as lawyer Atticus Finch in the 1962 film version of the book and became a lifelong friend with Lee.

"Mockingbird" co-star Brock Peters, who played the black man falsely accused of rape in the film, presented the award to Lee.

After Veronique Peck whispered in her ear, Lee gave her only remarks of the evening: "I'll say it again. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart."

Veronique Peck said Lee is "like a national treasure."

"She's someone who has made a difference with this book," she said. "All the kids in the United States read this book and see the film in the seventh and eighth grades and write papers and essays. My husband used to get thousands and thousands of letters from teachers who would send them to him."

She said Atticus Finch was her husband's "favorite role, and he felt that in his professional life, it was probably the best performance he ever gave."

The awards dinner Thursday drew more than 600 supporters and raised $700,000 for computers, computer training and literacy programs.

Actress Jones Receives Honorary Degree

WASHINGTON, Pa. - Shirley Jones is finally getting the college degree that was delayed by a 50-plus-year career on Broadway, in movies and portraying the rock 'n' roll mom to television's Partridge Family.

Jones, 71, received an honorary degree at Washington & Jefferson College's graduation ceremony Saturday.

Jones was raised in Smithton, about 25 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. After graduating from high school, Jones planned to study veterinary medicine — after she returned from a summer trip to New York City. But Jones tried out for the chorus of "South Pacific" and Rogers and Hammerstein cast her in the Broadway production.

"I wanted to become a veterinarian. As God would have it, I was given another path to follow," Jones said. "But I most miss not necessarily getting the degree, but the broad experiences you can only get in college."

Besides starring on Broadway, Jones won the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award in 1961 for her role as a prostitute in "Elmer Gantry." She gained a new generation of fans playing the role of Shirley Partridge alongside her real-life stepson, David Cassidy, in TV's "Partridge Family."

'Star Wars' Earns Record-Breaking $158.5M

LOS ANGELES - Moviegoers have turned out in full force for the final chapter of the "Star Wars" saga, which took in $158.5 million since its opening to shatter three-day and four-day box office records.

"Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith" grossed $124.7 million from Thursday to Saturday, according to studio estimates Sunday. That's higher than the three-day record set by the first "Spider-Man," which took in $114.8 million in May 2002 — though "Star Wars" had a lower Friday-Sunday take ($108.5 million) than the Tobey Maguire film.

"Revenge of the Sith" rang in a whopping $50 million on its opening Thursday, a single-day record boosted by eagerly anticipated midnight showings, and its total receipts since then beat the four-day $134.3 million opening of 2003's "The Matrix Reloaded." The George Lucas film has also grossed $144.7 million overseas for a total of $303 million worldwide.

"The reaction to the movie is absolutely spectacular," said Bruce Snyder, president of domestic distribution at Twentieth Century Fox.

Last weekend's box office champ, "Monster-in-Law," which marked Jane Fonda's return to the big screen as Jennifer Lopez's villainous prospective mother-in-law, slipped to a distant second with $14.4 million, a 38 percent drop. The Will Ferrell soccer comedy "Kicking & Screaming" took in $10.5 million to finish third.

Theater owners, studios and marketing partners were pleased to see "Star Wars" jump-start the summer movie season.

"It's a very strong start to what will hopefully be a very strong summer," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box office tracker Exhibitor Relations.

The Adam Sandler-Chris Rock remake of "The Longest Yard" and the animated zoo tale "Madagascar" open in wide release during Memorial Day weekend, traditionally one of the busiest movie viewing times of the year.

But "Star Wars" — which has sold an average of eight tickets per second online at — could remain at the top of the box office despite the competition.

"I think we have a shot to be No. 1 next week even with two giant pictures coming out," Snyder said.

The third and final installment in the "Star Wars" prequel trilogy chronicles the transformation of the heroic Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker into the villainous Darth Vader. Studio exit surveys showed the audience — usually dominated by men for sci-fi films — was 58 percent male and 42 percent female, with nearly half the viewers under age 25, Snyder said.

"Revenge of the Sith" is the first "Star Wars" film to earn a PG-13 rating. The first five films were rated PG. Considered by critics to be the most entertaining of the prequel trilogy, it easily outperformed "Episode I — The Phantom Menace" and "Episode II — Attack of the Clones," which grossed $64.8 million and $80 million, respectively, in their opening weekends.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at North American theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. Final figures will be released Monday.

1. "Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith," $108.5 million

2. "Monster-in-Law," $14.4 million

3. "Kicking & Screaming," $10.5 million

4. "Crash," $5.5 million

5. "Unleashed," $3.8 million

6. "Kingdom of Heaven," $3.4 million

7. "House of Wax," $3.2 million

8. "The Interpreter," $2.8 million

9. "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," $2 million

10. "Mindhunters," $909,049

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