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'I must have had at least 50 men over the years tell me that they became lawyers because of that film,' he told EW in 1998.

February 19, 2016 at 12:00 PM EST

Harper Lee, who died Thursday at 89, gained fame for her beloved Pulitzer Prize-winning novel To Kill A Mockingbird, which became a film in 1962. Starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, it was the first adaption of the novel and maintained its literary strength. Peck, who died in 2003 at 87 years old of bronchopneumonia, picked up a Best Actor Oscar award for the role.

Years later, in 1998, he spoke to EW about the film for a story looking back on his most memorable roles. “I must have had at least 50 men over the years tell me that they became lawyers because of that film,” he said at the time. “They were young when they first saw it, and they became determined to serve the cause of justice and fight against bigotry and intolerance. These days the film is shown all over the country in junior high schools, so it’s my pipeline to the teenagers. It just goes on. I think it’s the warmth between the widowed father and his two kids and the way he spoke to them, like young adults. He didn’t patronize them, and he always made time for them. I think that probably means more to teenagers today than the civil rights issue, although they do sometimes talk about that.”

GALLERY: Harper Lee’s Life in Pictures

Peck and Lee’s relationship was chronicled in Michael Freedland’s biography of Peck, discussed last year in The Guardain. He said their partnership on the film had a father-daughter-like quality. “I saw him walk out of his dressing room in the three-piece white suit and called out, ‘My God, he’s got a little pot belly just like my Daddy,'” she told him. “In that film, the man and the part met.”

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