Texas playwright, screenwriter Horton Foote dies

Lawson Taitte
The Dallas Morning News (MCT)

The subtle prose-poet of small-town Texas is gone: Playwright and screenwriter Horton Foote died Wednesday in Hartford, Conn., where he was working a production of one of his scripts. He was 92.

Equally at home writing for the stage, film or television, Foote quietly excelled in a career that lasted nearly 70 years. His first big TV script, "The Trip to Bountiful," had an ongoing life as a play and a movie. Two of his most notable screenplays were "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "Tender Mercies." He won Academy Awards for both.

He later won the 1995 Pulitzer Prize for drama for "The Young Man from Atlanta," and he continued to work right up to the end. His rewritten "Dividing the Estate" was a critical hit on Broadway last fall and is sure to figure into the Tony Awards this spring. He also wrote a John Doyle movie, "Main Street," to be released this year.

Foote didn't just win awards for himself. He provided dream roles for actors like Gregory Peck, Robert Duvall and Geraldine Page, who all won Oscars in movies he wrote for them.

"He was a great gentleman, with a lot of insight that was very generous to other human beings," Jac Alder, who produced two of Foote's plays at Dallas' Theatre Three, said on Wednesday. "I am always so amazed at how on the surface these plays seem almost nondramatic, not threateningly deep. But when they're performed they connect on such a deep level. Of course he especially speaks to us here in Texas."

Most of Foote's plays were set in a fictional town based on Wharton, Texas, where he was born Albert Horton Foote, Jr. on March 14, 1915. Foote's memoir, "Farewell: A Memoir of a Texas Childhood," tells the story of his early years. After studying acting briefly in Dallas at age 16, he went on to California's Pasadena Playhouse, where his teachers and fellow students couldn't understand his thick Texas accent.

"I took my lunch money and studied with this woman who taught me the basics of phonetics," Foote told The Dallas Morning News in 1999. "And so I went back home that summer, and I learned later that my brother was charging his friends 10 cents to hear me talk."

Choreographer Agnes DeMille encouraged the budding actor to try his hand at writing, and his first play went onstage in 1940. Soon he proved the master of the realistic play. Generally his scripts dealt with ordinary people in recognizable, if stressful, family situations. The dialogue was always spare and elegant, but frequently the plot went in a slightly quirky direction that kept audiences guessing. His nine-play cycle "Orphans' Home" epitomized his style - and detailed the lives of several generations in a Texas family.

Baylor University now hosts an annual theater festival named for the playwright, and Contemporary Theatre of Dallas plans to produce "The Trip to Bountiful" next season.

Foote was married to Lillian Vallish Foote from 1945 to her death in 1992. They had four children, most of whom were active in the theater. Daughter Hallie Foote starred in "Dividing the Estate" on Broadway and elsewhere.





'We're Not Here to Entertain' Is Not Here to Break the Cycle of Punk's Failures

Even as it irritates me, Kevin Mattson's We're Not Here to Entertain is worth reading because it has so much direct relevance to American punks operating today.


Uncensored 'Native Son' (1951) Is True to Richard Wright's Work

Compared to the two film versions of Native Son in more recent times, the 1951 version more acutely captures the race-driven existential dread at the heart of Richard Wright's masterwork.


3 Pairs of Boots Celebrate Wandering on "Everywhere I Go" (premiere)

3 Pairs of Boots are releasing Long Rider in January 2021. The record demonstrates the pair's unmistakable chemistry and honing of their Americana-driven sound, as evidenced by the single, "Everywhere I Go".


'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.


Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".


PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.


Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.


Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.


Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.


Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.


A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.