Wednesday, March 04, 2009

R.I.P.: Horton Foote (1916-2009)

I know I've told this story before, but: Several years ago, a colleague at the now-defunct Houston Post wrote a story about movies that some people – celebrities, mostly – like to watch over and over and over again on videocassette. (Hey, I told you this was several years ago.) When he ran out of really well-known folks to interview, he collared me in the newsroom and asked: “What movie do you watch repeatedly?” And so I told him: “There’s something about Tender Mercies that deeply and profoundly affects me on so many levels that, yes, I’m addicted to watching it. Whenever I get depressed, I want to pop the tape into the VCR, and hear Robert Duvall say: ‘I don’t trust happiness. Never did, never will.’ God, I know exactly how he feels.”

Flash-forward a few weeks: I am at Houston’s Stages Theatre to review for Variety the opening night performance of Talking Pictures, a drama by Pultizer Prize-winning playwright Horton Foote, a.k.a. the Oscar-winning scriptwriter of Tender Mercies (and To Kill a Mockingbird). There’s a post-performance party, and I’m off in a corner, munching on fried chicken I obtained from the bountiful buffet, when I spot Foote – who I’ve met maybe once or twice before that evening – across a crowded room. I nod, give him a thumb’s up – the play actually was quite good, and deserves to be revived – and go back to eating. Much to my surprise, however, Foote cuts short a conversation he’s having with someone, walks across the crowded room, makes his way over to me and, without a hint of irony, says: “Oh, Joe, I’m so sorry you get depressed…”

Bless you, Mr. Foote. And thank you again for writing Tender Mercies. And To Kill a Mockingbird. And The Trip to Bountiful -- movie and play. And for dozens of other plays that continue to be revived at theaters throughout the world, and will survive and thrive while enthralling generations yet unborn.

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