Wednesday, March 04, 2009

OBT: Horton Foote

Playwright, screenwriter Horton Foote dies
‘Tender Mercies,’ ‘Trip To Bountiful’ screenwriter died at age 92
The Associated Press, updated 4:36 p.m. CT, Wed., March. 4, 2009

Playwright and screenwriter Horton Foote, who movingly portrayed the broken dreams of common people in “The Trip to Bountiful,” “Tender Mercies” and his Oscar-winning screen adaptation of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” died Wednesday in Connecticut, Paul Marte, a spokesman for Hartford Stage, said. He was 92.

Foote died in his apartment in Hartford where he was preparing work on a production for next fall at the nonprofit theater, Marte said.

Foote left the cotton fields of his native Wharton, Texas, as a teenager, dreaming of becoming an actor. But realizing his gifts as a storyteller, he embarked on a writing career that spanned more than half a century and earned him two Academy Awards (“To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Tender Mercies”) and a 1995 Pulitzer Prize for “The Young Man From Atlanta.”

Foote was active in the theater until the end of life. His play, “Dividing the Estate,” the comic tale of a Texas family squabbling over an inheritance, was presented on Broadway this season by Lincoln Center Theater.

The stories and lives of the people he loved in Texas became the bedrock for many of his plays, with the fictional Harrison, Texas, standing in for Wharton. Dividing his time mostly between Texas and New York, he kept the Wharton home in which he had grown up and did much of his writing there.

“I picked a difficult subject, a little lost Texas town no one’s heard of or cares about,” Foote told The New York Times in 1995. “But I’m at the mercy of what I write. The subject matter has taken me over.”

Never one for urbane and trendy topics, Foote instead focused on ordinary people and how their nostalgic recollections would mislead them.

“My first memory was of stories about the past — a past that, according to the storytellers, was superior in every way to the life then being lived,” Foote wrote in 1988. “It didn’t take me long, however, to understand that the present was all we had, for the past was gone and nothing could be done about it.”

Parents and children are treated with an even touch. While many playwrights in the 1970s and 1980s turned to the evening news and wrote issue-oriented dramas, Foote stuck with everyday people dealing with problems of the heart: children without fathers, parents without children, career failures and redemption through love.

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