Horton Foote on the set of “The Traveling Lady”
at the Mabee Theatre at Baylor University in February 2004.
New York Times
March 4, 2009
Horton Foote Has Died
Horton Foote, who chronicled America’s wistful odyssey through the 20th century in plays and films mostly set in a small town in Texas and left a literary legacy as one of the country’s foremost storytellers, died in Hartford, Conn., on Wednesday. He was 92, said his daughter, Hallie Foote.
In screenplays for such movies as “Tender Mercies,” “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Trip to Bountiful,” and in plays like “The Young Man From Atlanta” and his nine-play cycle “The Orphans’ Home,” Mr. Foote depicted the way ordinary people shoulder the ordinary burdens of life, finding drama in the resilience by which they carry on in the face of change, economic hardship, disappointment, loss and death. His work earned him a Pulitzer Prize and two Academy Awards.
Here is a portion of his obituary, written by Wilborn Hampton; the complete version will be posted at nytimes.com Wednesday evening.
In a body of work for which he won the Pulitzer Prize and two Oscars, Mr. Foote was known as a writer’s writer, an author who never abandoned his vision or altered his simple, homespun style even when Broadway and Hollywood temporarily turned their backs on him.
In screenplays for such movies as “Tender Mercies,” “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Trip to Bountiful,” and in plays like “The Young Man From Atlanta” and his nine-play cycle “Orphans’ Home,” Mr. Foote depicted the way ordinary people shoulder the ordinary burdens of life, finding drama in the resilience by which they carry on in the face of change, economic hardship, disappointment, loss and death. His work earned him a Pulitzer Prize and two Academy Awards.
Frank Rich, who as theater critic of The New York Times was one of Mr. Foote’s champions, called him “one of America’s living literary wonders.” Mr. Rich wrote that his plays contained “a subtlety that suggests a collaboration between Faulkner and Chekhov.”
Mr. Foote, in a 1986 interview in The New York Times Magazine, said: “I believe very deeply in the human spirit and I have a sense of awe about it because I don’t know how people carry on. What makes the difference in people? What is it? I’ve known people that the world has thrown everything at to discourage them, to kill them, to break their spirit. And yet something about them retains a dignity. They face life and don’t ask quarters.”
Mr. Foote spent most of his life writing about such people in a simple, homespun style. In more than 50 plays and films, most of which were set in the fictiional town of Harrison, Texas, he charted their struggle through the century by recording the daily, familial conflicts that filled their lives.
He often seemed to resemble a character from one of his own plays. Always courteous and courtly, he spoke with a slow Texas drawl. He enjoyed good food and wine but would usually opt for barbecue and iced tea or fried chicken with a Dr Pepper when he was home in Texas. He was a jovial man with a wry humor, and his white hair and robust frame gave him the appearance of a Southern senator or one’s favorite uncle, the one who always had a story.
Albert Horton Foote Jr., one of three sons of Albert Horton Foote and the former Hallie Brooks, was born March 14, 1916, in Wharton, Texas, a small town about 40 miles southwest of Houston that was once surrounded by cotton fields. His father was a local haberdasher and his mother, who was from an old Southern family, taught piano.
Although he boarded a train for Dallas at the age of 16 to pursue a career as an actor, Mr. Foote never really left home. From his first efforts as a playwright, he returned again and again to set his plays and films amid the pecan groves and Victorian houses with large front porches on the tree-lined streets of Wharton. His inspiration came from the people he knew and the stories he heard growing up there. “I’ve spent my life listening,” Mr. Foote once said.