March 6, 2009


Horton Foote, an appreciation: A playwright for the common man (Gregory M. Lamb, 3/05/09, The Christian Science Monitor )

As a playwright, Horton Foote grappled with the great themes of human existence: love, despair, home, family, identity, redemption. And he often found them all in the lives of people in the little town of Harrison, Texas, the fictional setting for many of his works.

Mr. Foote, who passed on March 4, spent seven decades as a playwright and screenwriter, penning more than 50 plays and films and winning a Pulitzer Prize in 1995 (for the play "The Young Man From Atlanta"), and Academy Awards in 1962 (for his screen adaptation of the Harper Lee novel "To Kill a Mockingbird") and 1983 (for his original screenplay "Tender Mercies"). He also wrote acclaimed television dramas, including "The Trip to Bountiful," which was later made into a film starring Geraldine Page, who received an Oscar for her role.

Not to be forgotten, he wrote the great Robert Duvall film, Tender Merciers.

Home, family, religion (James M. Wall, 2/19/97, Christian Century)

EVERYONE WANTS to know if 81-year-old Horton Foote is related to Shelby Foote, the gravel-voiced historian who graced Ken Burns's television series on the Civil War. So when I had the chance to visit with Foote I asked him about it. Yes, he answered, the two Footes are third cousins; their great-grandfathers were brothers. "And while we didn't grow up together, we have become friends; I was the voice of Jefferson Davis in that TV series," he added proudly.

The Foote cousins also share a writing talent. Horton has earned two Academy Awards for screenplays (for Tender Mercies and To Kill a Mockingbird), and in 1995 won a Pulitzer Prize for his play The Young Man from Atlanta. The production of that play brought him to Chicago, where it will run until its New York opening in March.

Like all his plays, Young Man is drawn from family stories. Foote's much-acclaimed Orphans' Home Cycle includes nine plays, the first of which begins in 1902 with the death of his real-life paternal grandfather and the remarriage of his grandmother. The cycle ends with The Death of Papa, in which a nine-year-old Horton (called Horace Robedaux Jr. in the play) experiences the loss of another grandfather. (Foote does not consider The Young Man from Atlanta, which features characters drawn from an aunt and uncle, as part of his Orphans cycle. "That series has ended; it was about my father's search for a home.")

About the cycle, Foote has written: "The time of the plays is a harsh time. They begin in 1902, a time of far-reaching social and economic change in Texas. The aftermath of Reconstruction and its passions had brought about a white man's union to prevent blacks from voting in local and state elections. But in spite of political and social acts to hold onto the past, a way of life was over, and the practical, the pragmatic were scrambling to form a new economic order."

Foote began to write the cycle of plays in 1974, the year of his mother's death. His father had died the previous year "in the very room and on the bed my brothers had been born in." Foote later bought his parents' home in Wharton, Texas (called Harrison in the plays), and continues to live there. After sorting through his parents' letters and personal papers, Foote began writing plays that tell the story of his parents' lives and "the world of the town that had surrounded them from birth to death." Reynolds Price has said that Foote's family saga "will take its rightful place near the center of our largest American dramatic achievements."

Foote was raised as a Methodist in Wharton (population 3,000, "half white, half black"), where religion was so much a part of the culture that it wasn't at all unusual for a minister to greet a newcomer with the question, "Where were you baptized, Mr. Sledge?"--which is a scene in Tender Mercies. That 1983 film stars Robert Duvall as Mac Sledge, an alcoholic country singer whose life is turned around when he marries a young widow who sings in the Baptist choir. The movie offers a rarity in contemporary film: when Mac is baptized, along with his young stepson, the Baptist immersion is treated respectfully.

Foote, who left Texas at age 17 and who has lived in New York, New Hampshire and California, remains a a southern writer whose work is saturated with religion. When pressed on the topic, however, he worries that he might be accused of what he calls, nervously, "proselytizing." He need not worry; his writing does not proselytize, but it does reveal the integral, inescapable role religion plays in his characters' lives.

-AN APPRECIATION: Remembering Horton Foote: Writer of stage and screen created poignant portraits of small-town life. (CHARLES McNULTY, March 5, 2009, LA Times)
If one were to choose a single phrase to distill the essence of Horton Foote's distinctive literary grace, the title of the 1983 film for which he won an Academy Award for screenwriting, "Tender Mercies," could hardly be bettered. For it is this quality of loving forbearance that characterizes his relationship to all those everyday eccentrics from Texas backwaters he introduced us to -- that colorful, twangy crew who wear their hearts as well as their foibles on their sleeves.

Foote, who died Wednesday less than two weeks shy of his 93rd birthday, revealed to us again and again in a career spanning several generations in theater, film and television that a small scope needn't imply a shallow soul. No matter how conniving, gossiping or suspicious those denizens of Harrison, Texas -- the name he bestowed on his hometown of Wharton to protect the privacy of friends, family and neighbors -- may have been, they were never insentient to the poetry of loneliness and loss, which were Foote's twin themes and the ground that made him an American Chekhov.

One could be forgiven for thinking that this gracious and dapper Southern original would last forever.

Remembering Horton Foote: Newscaster Dan Rather reflects on the Texas roots he shares with playwright Horton Foote, the screenwriter of To Kill a Mockingbird, who died Wednesday at the age of 92. (Dan Rather, 3/05/09, Daily Beast)
Wharton, Texas, from which Foote drew sustenance to the end, is a small river town at the mouth of the Colorado River (the Texas Colorado River, not the “Big Colorado” of the far West), on the Gulf Coast. It was cotton country in the heyday of King Cotton. It’s also long been cattle country, and hurricane country. Native Americans once roamed here, living on plentiful deer and ducks.

Foote’s forebears were among the early Texans of European descent, eventually establishing plantations out of early land grants given by Mexico. Foote’s early surroundings were not that far in sensibility from William Faulkner’s Mississippi, and the old South of poet Sidney Lanier and songwriter Stephen Foster. They, along with Flannery O’Connor, were all favorites of his, and he could recite them from memory. He once told me, “They all had perfect pitch for place and tone for talk.”

And that’s what he had. His place was southeast Texas in the 20th century, Wharton and other small towns like it. It was in his blood and in his bones and he wrote it better than anyone.

He had an almost mystical ability to bring the characters of that time and place to life, even and perhaps especially to those who knew them best.

Horton Foote succeeded in his mission (EVERETT EVANS, 3/05/09, HOUSTON CHRONICLE)
More than a legend in American theater and arts, Horton Foote was family to anyone who experienced any of the plays or films he wrote during his extraordinarily prolific and steady seven-decade career.

Like countless theater and film fans, I couldn’t help feeling as if I’d lost a cherished member of my own family upon learning of Foote’s death Wednesday. Quite apart from the privilege of sharing his company several times through the years, the world Foote created in his dramatic writing is so true, so detailed, so intimately known, that you always felt you’d lived those stories — many of them based on his family’s history in Wharton in the early 20th century.

One can only marvel at his career, stretching from his first full-length play, Texas Town, staged in New York in 1941, to Dividing the Estate, presented to glowing reviews on Broadway earlier this season and expected to be a leading contender for this year’s Tony Award as best play.

-OBIT: Horton Foote, Chronicler of America in Plays and Film, Dies at 92 WILBORN HAMPTON, 3/05/09, NY Times)
Horton Foote, who chronicled a wistful American odyssey through the 20th century in plays and films mostly set in a small town in Texas and who left a literary legacy as one of the country’s foremost storytellers, died on Wednesday in Hartford. He was 92 and lived in Pacific Palisades, Calif., and Wharton, Tex.

Mr. Foote died after a brief illness, his daughter Hallie Foote said. He had recently been living in Hartford while adapting his nine-play “Orphans’ Home Cycle” into a three-part production that will be staged next fall at the Hartford Stage Company and the Signature Theater in New York.

In a body of work for which he won the Pulitzer Prize and two Academy Awards, Mr. Foote was known as a writer’s writer, an author who never abandoned his vision even when Broadway and Hollywood temporarily turned their backs on him.

-A CurtainUp Feature: An Overview of Horton Foote's Career (Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp)
-GOOGLE BOOK: Horton Foote: A Literary Biography
By Charles S. Watson

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Posted by Orrin Judd at March 6, 2009 11:45 AM
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