[Editor’s note – This interview appeared in a very different form in the November/December 1996 issue of Modern Maturity. The introduction was written specifically for this publication.]
Horton Foote died March 5th, 2009, at his daughter Hallie’s home in Connecticut where he was at work cutting his ‘Orphan’s Home Cycle’ from 9 plays into a 3-act version for Broadway in the Fall of 2009.Â Broadway theatres dimmed their lights in his honor for one minute that night.
I spent a week with Horton Foote in 1993, in Wharton, Texas, the town he had been writing about all his life, in one form or another. The calm, high-ceilinged house he lived in reflected a lifetime of collecting, at flea markets and country auctions, with a great eye and a gamblerâ€™s luck. Horton and his wife Lillian had gathered superb pieces of Americana, naÃ¯ve folk paintings and family silhouettes and mixed them with wit and sureness and a touch of the unexpected.
Coming down the steps in his trademark black suit, both arms outstretched, he was a mixture of warmth and Southern concern and for the week that followed, he had the knack of seeming to sublimate his densely packed schedule to mine. With his cherubâ€™s face and his thatch of silver hair, he was at the same time buoyant and optimistic, and deeply and intrinsically tenacious (that thread common to his finest characters.)
Directly next door, where he put up guests, sits the white bungalow-style house in which Foote was born. Unlike most of the rest of the country, thereâ€™s a sense of continuity in Wharton. It comes out in strolls around his slowly emptying town, where Foote is still a local celebrity and can tell the history of every family in every house, many of whom are kin, in varying degrees of closeness.
As deeply rooted as Foote is in Wharton, he has been equally entwined with his family: Lillian Vallish Foote, his inseparable partner of 48 years, and their 4 children: Hallie and Horton Jr. who are actors, Walter, a lawyer and Daisy, a playwright.
In August, 1992, Lillian Foote died, after a brief illness. In September, The Roads to Home opened in New York, the play on which her husband and daughter were working at the time of her illness. The following May, Hallie won an Obie for that performance, which her father wrote and directed.
Sheila Benson: Youâ€™ve written in so many forms, how do you think of yourself?
Horton Foote: I’m essentially a story teller, although the people that are hardest on me always say that I don’t have enough story. I guess what will get me going is the human condition. But what I do, through thinking and thinking and thinking and thinking, I try to get the essence of things.