This Day In Literary History
On March 14th, 1916, the famous American playwright and screenwriter Horton Foote was born. He was born Albert Horton Foote, Jr in Wharton, Texas. When he was ten years old, he determined to become an actor.
By the age of sixteen, Foote had convinced his parents to let him go to acting school. So, he moved to California, where he studied at the Pasadena Playhouse.
Two years later, he moved to New York City to continue his studies and begin his acting career in the theater. He scored several minor roles that got him noticed, but good parts were few and far between.
Foote decided that the best way to get good parts was to write his own plays, so he took up play writing. His first play, Wharton Dance, debuted in 1940. It was the first of many plays that were set in his Texas hometown.
Wharton Dance and Foote's other early plays would be produced Off-Broadway, Off-Off-Broadway, and at many local theaters. He often acted in his own plays. In 1944, he debuted on Broadway with his play Only the Heart.
Although Horton Foote had originally become a playwright to help his acting career along, he found that he got far better reviews for his writing than his acting. So, he decided to become a full time playwright, and spent the rest of the 1940s writing for the theater. He wrote both mainstream and experimental plays.
By 1948, Foote found a new dramatic medium that he could write for, which would allow him to support himself and subsidize his theatrical career. It was called television, and in its golden age, live TV theater was hugely popular.
Foote wrote his first "teleplay" for the Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse in 1948. He would also write for other celebrated live drama series, including The United States Steel Hour and Playhouse 90, where Rod Serling made his name as a playwright before he created the legendary TV series, The Twilight Zone.
Besides writing original teleplays, Foote also adapted classic novels as teleplays. His skill at adapting novels as teleplays would lead him to become a screenwriter. He would also adapt his own plays for the screen and write original screenplays as well.
In 1962, Foote adapted Harper Lee's classic novel To Kill A Mockingbird as a feature film. The movie, which starred Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch and featured an incredible performance by 8-year-old Mary Badham as Scout Finch, is rightfully considered one of the greatest films of all time and one of the greatest novel adaptations of all time.
Foote personally recommended a young actor named Robert Duvall for the part of Boo Radley, and Duvall's stunning performance made his name as an actor. Gregory Peck would win the Best Actor Oscar for his role as Atticus Finch.
Horton Foote also won an Academy Award for Best Screenplay Adaptation, but he didn't go to the Oscars ceremony because he was sure that he wouldn't win. It was a mistake that he wouldn't make again.
Years later, in 1984, Foote won another Oscar, for Best Original Screenplay for Tender Mercies, which featured his old friend Robert Duvall as a broken down, has-been country singer struggling to rebuild his troubled personal life. This time, Foote attended the ceremony and accepted his Oscar in person.
Actress Tess Harper, who co-starred as Rosa Lee in Tender Mercies, famously described Horton Foote as "America's Chekhov," saying that "If he didn't study the Russians, he's a reincarnation of the Russians. He's a quiet man who writes quiet people."
The year after his original screenplay for Tender Mercies won him a second Oscar, he was nominated for a third Oscar for his screenplay adaptation of his own play, The Trip to Bountiful, which he wrote in 1962.
Throughout his incredible theatrical career, Horton Foote wrote nearly 60 plays. He was most famous for The Orphans' Home Cycle, a trilogy of plays that were each comprised of three one act plays.
All these works were written between the early 1960s and mid 1990s. They were set in Foote's Texas hometown and took place between the turn of the 20th century and the early 1930s.
In 1995, Foote brought back characters from The Orphans' Home Cycle for a new play called The Young Man From Atlanta that would win him the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Horton Foote died in March of 2009, ten days short of his 92nd birthday. The following year, the last feature film he wrote was released. It was called Main Street.
Quote Of The Day
"I've redone plays of mine and made changes. A play is a living thing, and I'd never say I wouldn't rewrite years later. Tennessee Williams did that all the time and it's distressing, because I'd like the play to be out there in its finished form. And then you also have new interpretations. At the same time, you do realize how much you are at the mercy of your interpreters." - Horton Foote
Today's video features the first part of a 3+ hour interview with Horton Foote. Enjoy! Note: you can watch the whole interview on YouTube.