Horton Foote, who passed away today, was perhaps the most under-appreciated playwright of the American stage. Recipient of the Pulitzer Prize in 1995 for his play The Young Man From Atlanta, Foote was best known as the Oscar-winning screenwriter of 1962's To Kill a Mockingbird. His screenplay for Tender Mercies won the Best Original Screenplay award the following year. While Foote was the author of nearly 50 plays, several of them adapted for film, his truest work was the nine-play Orphans' Home Cycle, which chronicled rural Texas in the early part of the 20th century.
Longtime contributor Andrew Haley interviewed Horton Foote in 1995.
AH: It has been said that there are three plays in every play – the play that is written, the play that is interpreted, and the play that is performed. You work personally with all three of these areas of your plays. Where does the writer stand in the production of his script?
HORTON FOOTE: It depends on the writer. Some writers are not very interested in the process. Having been an actor and director, I find it extremely interesting and am there as much as possible.
AH: With the increased convenience to find entertainment in the living room, via cable, satellite dishes, the internet; and an anti-aesthetical Congress in power, the outlook of the future of theatre is hazy. Do you foresee the decline of the state of American theatre in the next century?
HORTON FOOTE: I think all obstacles you mention are just new challenges. In theatre it seems there are always things impossible to overcome. Somehow, we stick to it and get the work done and I trust and hope this will always be so.
AH: You write your first drafts by hand. Hemingway wrote by hand as well, with the exception of his dialogue, which he wrote by typewriter. Are there identifiable characteristics in dialogue written by hand, by typewriter, and by computer?
HORTON FOOTE: I write by hand because it makes me feel that much closer to my work. I feel that a typewriter is impersonal and the computer horrifies me!
AH: Poets, short story writers, and novelists all have dozens of magazines and publishing houses to print their work. For playwrights, the venues are not as clear. As a major figure in the present world of theatre and film, what is your advice to young playwrights on how to climb the ladder of stage writing success?
HORTON FOOTE: This has to be the most difficult question to answer. It has never been easy for a playwright to get established. I wish I could answer this with some measure of sense. All I can say is if one has to write plays one will and somehow persevere.