Happy Birthday, Horton Foote

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Guest Blogger:
Wilborn Hampton, author of Horton Foote: America’s Storyteller (Applause Books)

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Birthday presents can sometimes have long-reaching effects. As his 17th birthday approached, Horton Foote was an acting student at the Pasadena Playhouse. His grandmother was visiting him from Texas, and when she asked what he wanted for his birthday, Foote replied he wanted to see Eva Le Gallienne in a production of Ibsen’s “Hedda Gabler” that was playing in Los Angeles. Foote’s grandmother ended up taking him to see the great actress in three Ibsen plays that weekend, including “A Doll’s House” and “The Master Builder.” Long after he had given up acting for writing, Foote said seeing Le Gallienne in those plays changed his life forever and laid the foundation on which he would build his own dramas.

On his 96th birthday today, Foote’s memory is still thriving on stages across America. A production of “Dividing the Estate” just ended a hugely successful run at the Old Globe Theater in San Diego, and an evening of three of his one-acts will be staged in New York this summer under the title “Harrison, Tx.” His family and friends are now working to establish a Horton Foote Legacy that envisions turning Foote’s house in Wharton into a literary center. Along with the Horton Foote Prize, two cash awards given every two years for outstanding and promising new plays, Foote’s gifts to the American theater continue to flow three years after his death.

Listen to Wilborn Hampton on the Book Expo America podcast

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Horton Foote: America’s Storyteller by Wilborn Hampton

From his film adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird, which received an Oscar, his drama The Trip to Bountiful, and his screenplay of Tender Mercies to his Pulitzer Prize-winning play, The Young Man from Atlanta, and his complete nine-play opus, The Orphans’ Home Cycle, Foote’s work has touched millions. He has long been regarded by other playwrights and screenwriters, actors, and cognoscenti of the theater and cinema as America’s storyteller; critics compare him to William Faulkner and Anton Chekhov. Yet Horton Foote’s compelling character and rich life remain largely unknown to the general public. His is the story of an artist who refused to compromise his talents for the sake of fame or money or opportunity – who insisted on writing what he regarded as truth, even when for many years almost no one would listen.

In the first comprehensive biography of this remarkable writer, Wilborn Hampton introduces Foote to the countless Americans who have admired his work. Hampton, a theater critic for theNew York Times, offers a colorful, compulsively readable account of a life and career that spanned seven decades.