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The Voice of an American Playwright: Interviews with Horton Foote

Edited by: Gerald C. WoodBy author: Marion Castleberry
Product Code: P454
ISBN: 9780881463972
Product Format: Paperback
Publisher: Mercer University Press
Availability: In stock
Price: $22.00

This book establishes that Horton Foote’s characters and themes come from Wharton, Texas, a region influenced more by the Deep South than the cowboy tradition of West Texas. But these interviews also establish that such stories are not place-specific. They are universal stories about going away and the eternal search of emotional and spiritual homes. Foote’s stories are revealed as reflecting the dislocation, loneliness, racial tension, and gender and class divisions of the United States. But he explains that these topics are embedded in his plays and films, not part of a rhetorical approach to writing. He writes in the realist tradition. He was first and last a playwright. Even his work for the Golden Age of television was designed to stage his one-act plays. Key were gifted actors like Kim Stanley, Lillian Gish, Joanne Woodward, James Broderick, Robert Duvall, as well as pioneering television producer Fred Coe and directors like Vincent Donehue and Arthur Penn. Foote also discusses in detail his work in such classic films as To Kill a Mockingbird, Tender Mercies, and The Trip to Bountiful. While film is obviously collaborative, he brought the same approach to theater when working with artists like Vincent Donehue, Herbert Berghof, Peggy Feury, Harris Yulin, James Houghton, and Michael Wilson. This collection describes his belief in independent film, struggles to stage his magnum opus, The Orphans’ Home cycle, the crucial role of his wife Lillian as confidante and producer, and all his talented children, including actor Hallie and writer Daisy. In every interview, Horton Foote demonstrates his kind, engaging, and sensitive view of life and art.
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Review by: Henry Carrigan, ForeWord Reviews - December 1, 2012
In 1962, a young Texas playwright named Horton Foote adapted one of the South’s greatest novels, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, and won an Academy Award for Best Screenplay. Already a prolific playwright in his own right, Foote gained national prominence with this award, and he soon etched screenplays for movies such as Baby, the Rain Must Fall and Hurry Sundown. By the early 1980s, the awardwinning movies Tender Mercies and The Trip to Bountiful propelled his career even more rapidly. When Foote died in March 2009, the theater lost an eloquent voice whose insights into human nature grew out of his own upbringing in a South divided by racism and poverty. In this welcome and thoughtful collection, editors Wood (vice-president of the Horton Foote Society) and Castleberry (founding president of the Horton Foote Society), gather twenty-five interviews from over the course of their subject’s life and allow us to hear again Foote’s eloquent, kind, engaging, and thoughtful voice. The topics of the interviews range over his work in film and television, his thoughts about his faith, Christian Science, his deep love for his wife and collaborator, Lillian, and his family, and his struggles to stage his magnum opus, The Orphans’ Home cycle. In some of the interviews, Foote offers helpful thoughts on writing, editing, and rewriting. “I have this thing about putting drafts in a drawer. I think a drawer is very magical and sometimes there is no point in forcing it. I’m a great believer in the ‘refrigeration process’. Put it away and sometimes something happens to it; sometimes it sprouts, sometimes it diminishes.” Foote loved younger playwrights and helped them whenever he could, counseling them to “just search your heart and see what you really want to write about, and then write about it…. You just have to listen to your inner voice.” Foote also reflects on the nature of the “tender mercies” that are so often a central theme in his plays: “I had a long, hard time struggling with the word grace … I think there is God’s grace. It’s a gift … and I think it comes to us in many forms, in many ways.” Wood and Castleberry’s lovingly crafted collection of interviews offers a tribute to one of America’s greatest cultural treasures, reminding us of our deep loss of a great artist but celebrating a man whose tender mercies we’ll never forget.

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