I have a film critic friend who used to crack us up at parties with his Brock Peters imitation. It was funny, not just because of his mimicry of Peters’ moist-eyed protestations of wounded dignity as the falsely accused rape defendant in To Kill a Mockingbird (”Ah did not… suh!”), but also because the idea of doing an impression of a somewhat obscure character actor was inherently ludicrous.

Then again, it was a mark of how distinctive Peters (who died Tuesday at 78) was that we all recognized the impression’s target immediately. Not to slight Peters’ later sci-fi appearances, in Soylent Green and various Star Trek projects, or his musical theater work, but he’ll be remembered primarily for one role, Mockingbird‘s Tom Robinson. Still, for screen immortality, that was all he needed.