Horton Foote, Favorite Playwright and Screenwriter of Texas
Horton Foote (1916-2009) captured the deep soul of humanity through stories set in small towns. Though his characters are ordinary people, he personally came from a very respected lineage as a descendant of an early governor of Texas.
Wilborn Hampton, a New York Times theater critic, published an excellent biography of the iconic writer in 2009 entitled Horton Foote: America’s Storyteller. A more recent biography is Blessed Assurance by Marion Castleberry. It includes an introduction by Hallie Foote, Horton Foote’s daughter.
Foote started his career as an actor in Pasadena, California, then learned the playwriting techniques of the Russian masters, and, ultimately, was the only writer to be personally approved by author Harper Lee to write the adapted screenplay for the classic book, To Kill A Mockingbird. His adapted screenplay for the film won him an Academy Award and a permanent reputation as a revered writer around the world. He won many other major awards in film, television, and theater as well. Additionally, the Directors Guild of America named an annual playwriting award after Horton Foote.
While best-known today for To Kill A Mockingbird, other major works include A Trip To Bountiful and Tender Mercies. A Broadway revival of A Trip To Bountiful (2013), starring Cecily Tyson, yielded full-house standing ovations in New York and Los Angeles and became a Lifetime television movie in 2014. Tender Mercies starred Robert Duvall who played “Boo Radley” in the film of To Kill A Mockingbird. The play version was reimagined, produced, and launched in 2022 and toured the United States. It featured Richard Thomas as Atticus Finch, the lead character.
Another notable connection to Horton Foote is actress Eva Marie Saint. Film director Elia Kazan “discovered” Eva Marie Saint when she appeared in the Horton Foote play The Trip To Bountiful and then cast her in On the Waterfront, along with Marlon Brando, earning her an Academy Award. Soon after, she gained iconic fame playing the glamorous agent opposite Cary Grant in Alfred Hitchcock’s North By Northwest.
Still another is the writer’s cousin, Shelby Foote, who was featured frequently as a commentator in the Ken Burns Civil War series (PBS). In that same series, Horton Foote performed the voice of Jefferson Davis. (Read more about the series at this link: Civil War.)
Horton Foote’s ancestor’s portrait hangs in the Texas State Capitol in Austin. Catch a tour and chat with the tour guide about this detail. Ask the guide to show you where it is and the story behind why he only governed Texas for a little less than a year. (See photo on this page.) This is the third stop on Texas Author Adventures Trail Part One.
Wharton, Texas, southwest of Houston, was the quaint hometown of the playwright. His home is not open to the public, but the library at Southern Methodist University in Dallas has a portion of his archives available for researchers.