Thursday, March 05, 2009

Farewell, Horton Foote

I just learned that Horton Foote died yesterday. A wonderfully gifted writer with a seemingly simplistic style that belied much deeper themes and complex characters, Foote wrote the Oscar-winning screenplays To Kill a Mockingbird and Tender Mercies and the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama The Young Man From Atlanta. I am only familiar with several of his works, but The Trip to Bountiful is my favorite.

I had an opportunity to meet him several years ago at a book signing in Houston. His Texas home in Wharton was south of Houston about an hour or so and I suppose he came up from there to talk and sign books at a Houston bookstore in conjunction with the publication of Charles Watson's, Horton Foote: A Literary Biography (University of Texas Press, 2003). Also, if my memory is correct, The Trip to Bountiful, in which his daughter Hallie was performing, was being presented in Houston at that time. Yes, the Houston Chronicle article on Foote, in the first link of this post, just confirmed that for me. Whatever it was that brought him to town, I was glad of it and made sure I was there well in advance of his arrival.

When I got to meet him and have some books signed, he was such a kind and gracious man to exchange a few words with. When I showed him my copy of Tomorrow & Tomorrow & Tomorrow, his eyes lit up and he asked in an excitable tone that caught me off guard: "Where in the world did you get this?" He looked up at me, eagerly awaiting my answer. He really wanted to know. "Down the street, actually, at another bookstore almost twenty years ago," I answered.

I don't know that he had ever seen this book before, though it's hard to imagine he hadn't. He held it and really looked it over, and said something to the effect that it was really something or really rare--I'm not sure what exactly. But I was thrilled that I had brought something that elicited such a reaction as that. I almost gave it to him, but couldn't make myself do it. I had really been planning on getting his signature in that book.

Published by the University Press of Mississippi (Jackson, 1985), the word Tomorrow is repeated three times to represent three different pieces: William Faulkner's 1940 story of the same title, Horton Foote's 1960 teleplay for CBS's Playhouse 90, and the 1972 screenplay for the film version that starred Robert Duval as Fentry. Duval contributed an essay for this collection, in which he states: "I still point to Fentry as my favorite part." This was before Lonesome Dove and Mr. Duval may have updated that statement to replace Fentry with Augustus "Gus" McCrae.

Mr. Foote signed my books and I asked him about Wharton and if he kept in touch with Robert Duval. He said he did and had talked to him on the phone not long ago. I commented that I'd love to have him sign the book as well. Mr. Foote smiled and said yes, that would be nice and that maybe it would happen one day.

I thanked him, we shook hands, and I moved on. For awhile, I watched others talk with him and observed what kinds of interesting things they brought for him to sign. I never heard another exclamation to equal the one my little paperback got. Little could I have known when I bought the book in 1985 that it would provide such a treasured memory for me.

Horton Foote lived 92 years. The few minutes of those 92 years that he gave me will last a lifetime. The world lost a class act and a true artist.

Farewell, Horton Foote.

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