Horton Foote, Author


(Image credit: Findagrave.com)

Albert Horton Foote, Jr.  was born in 1916 in Wharton, Wharton County, Texas which is located about halfway between Rosenberg and El Campo on Highway 59, heading southwest from Houston.  His parents were Albert Horton Foote, Sr. and Harriet Gautier Brooks Foote, both of whom native Texans.  Horton was the oldest of three brothers including Tom Brooks Foote and John Speed Foote.  The brothers were all named for ancestors, with Horton being named for ancestors on his father’s side.  Horton’s great great grandfather Stephen Daniel Foote had come to Texas from Virginia just before the Civil War.  His paternal Texas roots were deep.

His great grandmother was Corrie Horton who was the granddaughter of Albert Clinton Horton, the first Lieutenant Governor of Texas.  Albert Clinton Horton had been a member of Alabama State House Of Representives from 1829-30 and 1833-34.  Upon moving to Texas in 1835, he enlisted as a colonel in the Texas Army during the Texas Revolution.  After Texas became a republic, A. C. Horton served as a member of the Texas Senate for a few years.  During the revolution, Horton served under Fannin.  He led engagements against the Mexican Army but was separated from Fannin at the time of the Goliad massacre of Fannin and his men.  Horton and his men approached Goliad but hearing the musket fire, retreated.  Horton later found out that Fannin and his men had been killed.  Horton’s actions probably saved his men from almost certain death, but it is said that he felt remorse nevertheless for not having taken part in the battle.  Horton ran again for public office after serving as Lieutenant Governor, but was unsuccessful, possibly influenced by the Goliad incident.  He eventually retired to private life.  Horton died in 1865 and is buried in the Matagrorda area.

Young Albert Horton Foote, Jr. was first drawn to acting, referring to the profession as his “calling.”  At age 16 he began to study acting at the Pasadena (California) Playhouse in the early 1930s.  The transition to writing was a natural progression, and he began writing more and more as the 1940s unfolded.  He received more aclaim for his writing than for his acting, so he finally devoted himself to writing as a career.  He was quite active in television in its early days and wrote scripts for theatrical series including Playhouse 90 and the Philco Television Playhouse.  His plays began to be produced on Broadway.  One of his early screen adaptations was To Kill a Mockingbird, from the 1960 novel by Harper Lee.  Foote was nominated for an Academy Award, but was not in attendence at the Oscar ceremony when he won the award for best screenplay adapted from another medium.  This was also his first time to work with actor Robert Duvall who made his film debut playing the character Boo Radley.  Foote is said to have recommended Duvall for the part.  The two would work together again, including Duvall’s portrayal of lead character Mac Sledge in Foote’s 1983 film Tender Mercies.  Foote’s screenplay again was nominated and won an Academy Award for best screenplay written directly for the screen.

His work was once more recognized for the 2014 television film The Trip to Bountiful, starring Cicely Tyson and other actors.  Few people probably were aware that this work had earlier been produced for television in 1953, starring Lillian Gish, Eileen Heckart and others.

His film and television credits date from 1951 and extend to 2015 listing dozens and dozens of projects.  He acknowledged that a number of his works were either autobiographical or are based upon personal experiences of members of his family.  Common themes were his characters’ desire to belong, how they deal with personal tragedies and the longing and need for a home.  Foote also wrote The Orphan’s Home Cycle, a trilogy of plays each composed of three one-act plays.  The work has been well received and also has autobiographical elements.

Foote was not always pleased with the treatments his work received but was confident in his craft.  He also was well aware of the capricious nature of what is popular, and how it may quickly change.

Horton and his wife Lillian Vallish Foote were the parents of four children, one of whom is a playwright (Daisy Brooks Foote) and another is a director (Walter Vallish Foote).  Horton was the cousin of writer Shelby Foote and Actor/Director Peter Masterson and his daughter actress Mary Stuart Masterson.

After a long and successful career, Foote died of natural causes in 2009 at the age of 92.  Foote was living in Connecticut at the time of his death, but he was interred in Wharton City Cemetery in his home town of Wharton, Texas.

He was honored with the Academy Awards, the Pulitzer Price for Drama and an Emmy Award.  He was the inaugural winner of the Austin Film Festival’s distinguished screenwriter award and was awarded the American National Medal of the Arts in 2000 by the National Endowment of the Arts.  He was honored with the Wlliam Inge Award for Lifetime Achievement in American Theater in 1989, a Gold Medal for Drama from the Academy of Arts and Letters in 1998 and numerous others.

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