Horton Foote: A Literary Biography

Horton Foote: A Literary Biography

Horton Foote: A Literary Biography

Horton Foote: A Literary Biography


Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for "The Young Man from Atlanta" and Academy Awards for the screen adaptation of "To Kill a Mockingbird" and the original screenplay "Tender Mercies", as well as the recipient of an Academy Award nomination for the screenplay of "The Trip to Bountiful" and the William Inge Lifetime Achievement Award, Horton Foote is one of America's most respected writers for stage and screen. The deep compassion he shows for his characters, the moral vision that infuses his social commentary, and the kindness and humanity that Foote himself radiates have also made him one of our most revered artists-the father-figure who understands our longings for home, for human connections, and for certainty in a world largely bereft of these. This literary biography thoroughly investigates how Horton Foote's life and worldview have shaped his works for stage, television, and film. Tracing the whole trajectory of Foote's career from his small-town Texas upbringing to the present day, Charles Watson demonstrates that Foote has created a fully imagined mythical world from the materials supplied by his own and his family's and friends' lives in Wharton, Texas, in the early twentieth century. Devoting attention to each of Foote's major works in turn, he shows how this world took shape in Foote's writing for the New York stage, Golden Age television, Hollywood films, and in his nine-play masterpiece,The Orphan's Home Cycle. Throughout, Watson's focus on Foote as a master playwright and his extensive use of the dramatist's unpublished correspondence make this literary biography required reading for all who admire the work of Horton Foote.


In the year 2002, Horton Foote can look back on a remarkable career of more than sixty years in the American theatre beginning in 1938. in 1995 he won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama with The Young Man from Atlanta, the climax to a series of his many works for the theatre. Although other media have their appeal and he would not willingly give them up, Foote is happiest when writing for the stage, which is his most enduring love.

Foote’s work has been awarded many prizes. in addition to the Pulitzer Prize and others, this productive writer has won the following awards: the Academy Award for the adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), the Academy Award for the original screenplay of Tender Mercies (1982), the Academy Award nomination for the screenplay adaptation of The Trip to Bountiful (1985), and the William Inge Lifetime Achievement Award (1989).

This playwright has consistently shown his unflagging compassion for others. Describing the Southeast Texas setting of an early play, he said it was true to the towns he had known: “It has its tragedies and comedies, its rich and poor, its great virtues and its terrible injustices. It has my heart.”

Although many people have written about the work of Horton Foote, I believe that a systematic examination is urgently needed; his life and plays should be better understood. the resources available are abundant—the Horton Foote Collection, the previous scholarship, his published plays, my teaching of them and attendance at performances, and my interviews with Foote, including a memorable visit to Wharton, on March 12, 1994. Two superior dissertations have appeared, by Terry Barr (1986) and Marion Castleberry (1993). Thematic studies have been published by Rebecca Briley (1993) and by Gerald Wood (Horton Foote and the Theatre of Intimacy, 1999).

Foote’s papers, a massive trove of manuscripts and correspondence, have been placed in the DeGolyer Library at Southern Methodist University. My book is the first to make extensive use of the correspondence in this collection, which is abbreviated in this text as “HFC” (Horton Foote Collection).

A literary biography is a life in the context of literary works. This book uses letters and works of a well-known playwright. There is no closure to a literary biography if the subject is still alive. a balance exists— . . .

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