Thursday, March 5, 2009

Pulitzer Prize-Winning Playwright Horton Foote Is Dead at 92

Broadway marquee lights will be dimmed for one minute tonight in honor of Horton Foote, a remarkable light on the Great White Way who died yesterday. I was fortunate to have interviewed him in 1992 for an article for The Washington Post and found him to be accessible and down-to-earth, seemingly without ego despite his decades of accomplishments.

Mr. Foote may be best known to non-theatregoers for his play The Trip to Bountiful, which was made into a feature film that won two Academy Awards in 1985 and for which he was nominated for best adaptation. He personally won Oscars for his screenplay for “To Kill a Mockingbird” (1962), based on the novel by his lifelong friend Harper Lee, and the original script for “Tender Mercies” (1983), which he wrote for his friend Robert Duvall (who incidentally made his film debut playing Boo Radley in “Mockingbird.”) His Pulitzer was for The Young Man From Atlanta, which also was nominated for a Tony Award.

His play Dividing the Estate had a Broadway run earlier this season and will be produced at Hartford Stage this spring. In 2009-10 Hartford Stage also will co-produce, along with Off-Broadway's Signature Theatre Company, the world premiere of Mr. Foote's The Orphans' Home Cycle, a collection of nine Texas-set plays.

In presenting Mr. Foote with the National Medal of Arts in 2000, President Bill Clinton stated, "Believe it or not, the great writer Horton Foote got his education at Wharton — but not at the Wharton Business School. He grew up in the small town of Wharton, Texas. His work is rooted in the tales, the troubles, the heartbreak, and the hopes of all he heard and saw there. As a young man, he left Wharton to become an actor and soon discovered the easiest way to get good roles was to write the plays yourself. And he hasn't stopped since."

Mr. Foote’s death followed a brief illness, but other than that he had worked right up until the end. He had even moved to Hartford temporarily to work on the Cycle plays. He would have been 93 on March 14.

God bless you, Mr. Foote.

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