Horton Foote and to Kill a Mockingbird Research Paper

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Horton Foote and "To Kill a Mockingbird"

Horton Foote

Some aspects of a literary work are often revealed through the author's biography. Horton Foote is no exception, as his biography reveals a thoughtful Southern writer who could brilliantly capture life's conflicts, triumphs and defeats. Both honored and criticized, Foote remained a considerate chronicler of humanity whose work is still admired decades after publication and whose life is an inspiration.

Horton Foote (March 14, 1969 -- March 4, 2009) was a southerner, born and raised in Wharton, Texas (Hopwood). The remaining facts of his personal life are simple and straightforward. Barred from military service during World War II due to a hernia, Foote wrote in his early life but also held various menial jobs, including night elevator operator and bookstore clerk (Hampton). When working as a bookstore clerk, he met Lillian Vallish (Hampton), they married in 1945 and Foote remained married to her until her death in 1992 (Hampton). Foote fathered four children with Lillian and never remarried after her death (Hopwood). His four children are: Hallie, an actress; Horton, Jr., an actor, director and restaurant owner in New York City; Walter, a lawyer; and Daisy, a playwright (Hampton). Dying of "after a brief illness" at the age of 92 in Hartford, Connecticut (Hampton), Horton maintained a quietly unremarkable personal life. However, the depth and breadth of his work and character reveal a remarkable human being.

As early as the age of ten, Foote had a "calling" to become an actor and his parents assented to his dream by allowing him to study acting, first in Pasadena, California at the age of 16, and then in New York City at the age of 18 (Hopwood). Though Horton had some minor stage roles, more favorable reviews about his writing eventually led him to concentrate on writing (Hopwood). Foote initially concentrated on writing for the stage, both traditionally and experimentally (Hopwood), beginning a writing career that would span more than 7 decades.

Though Foote first wrote for the stage, his work eventually encompassed several other media, as well. Beginning in the late 1940's, was also involved in the "Golden Age of Television," writing for such memorable series as "Playhouse 90" the "Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse" and the "United States Steel Hour" (Hopwood). In addition, Foote wrote for film, penning his Oscar-winning screenplay from Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird in 1962, his Oscar-winning screenplay of Tender Mercies in 1983 and his Oscar-nominated screenplay of The Trip to Bountiful in 1985 (Hopwood). Foote's work was not confined to television and movies, however, as he continued to write extensively for the theater, authoring plays such as a nine-play cycle called Orphan's Home in the 1970's and his Pulitzer Prize-winning play, The Young Man from Atlanta, in 1995 (Hopwood). Finally, he penned the autobiographical works, Farewell, in 1999, and Beginnings, in 2001 (Hopwood). Clearly, Foote was a prolific writer who was unbounded by a single medium and authored significant works for 7 decades. One indication of his works' significance is the number of honors bestowed on him, including but not limited to: "two Academy Awards, an Emmy, a Burkey Award, the Screen Laurel Award from the Writers Guild of America, the Lucille Lortel Award, and his induction into both the Theatre Hall of Fame and the American Academy of Arts and Letters" (Castleberry, Horton Foote Biography - Lifetime of Artistic Achievement and Excellence). In sum, Foote was rightfully called "one of America's living literary wonders" (Hampton).

Explanations for Foote's remarkable achievement in writing point to "his honest examination of the human condition, and why some people survive tragedies while others are destroyed" (Hopwood), as well as his "unique writing style" (Castleberry, Horton Foote Biography - Lifetime of Artistic Achievement and Excellence). Foote explained his primary themes in a 1986 interview: "I believe very deeply in the human spirit and I have a sense of awe about it because I don't know how people carry on." He added: "I've known people that the world has thrown everything at to discourage them, to kill them, to break their spirit. And yet something about them retains a dignity. They face life and they don't ask quarters.'" (Hampton). An excellent example of those themes is presented in The Trip to Bountiful, which Foote originally wrote as a play featuring Lillian Gish, then as a screenplay featuring Geraldine Page's Oscar-winning performance. Simply described by Foote as being "about an old lady who wants to go home" (Hampton), The Trip to Bountiful, is a touching portrayal of nostalgia for small town life, with "a moment of poetry as Mrs. Watts sits on the porch of the old farmhouse and talks about how she almost expected to see her own parents come walking through the door, just as if all those years had never passed, just as if her own lifetime was a dream, and she was a young girl again" (Ebert). Though merely one of Foote's estimated 60 plays, The Trip to Bountiful, captures recurring Foote themes that made him a legendary author.

A highly productive author, Foote's character was equally impressive. For example, Benedict Herrman acted in a television production of Foote's The Night of the Storm in 1961 at the age of ten and remembers Foote as "gracious, friendly, real... And genuinely interested in telling the story" (Herrman). In addition, his friend, Marion Castleberry memorializes him as "a national treasure and a remarkable human being -- the like of whom we will never see again" (Castleberry, Memorials | Horton Foote Society). Finally, the director of SMU's DeGolyer Library, to which Foote donated all his 200 boxes of papers and related materials, remembered Foote as "simply a good and gentle man" (Southern Methodist University).


Horton Foote remains a legendary writer for the theater, television, movies and print. His simple personal life belies an astonishing body of work in all these media. Beginning as an actor, Foote eventually moved to the writing that would remain striking portrayals of small town life that speaks to Americans from many walks of life, due to his "ability to make his own corner of America stand for the whole" (Hampton).

Works Cited

Castleberry, Marion. "Horton Foote Biography - Lifetime of Artistic Achievement and Excellence." n.d. Horton Foote Society Web site. Web. 29 March 2012.

-- . "Memorials | Horton Foote Society." 5 March 2009. Horton Foote Society Web page. Web. 29 March 2012.

Ebert, Roger. "The Trip to Bountiful." 31 January 1986'. Roger Ebert Web site. Web. 29 March 2012.

Hampton, Wilborn. "Horton Foote, Playwright and Screenwriter who Chronicled America, Dies at 92." 4 March 2009. New York Times Web site. Web. 29 March 2012.

Herrman, Benedict. "Memorials | Horton Foote Society." 15 February 2010. Horton Foote Society Web site. Web. 29 March 2012.

Hopwood, Jon C. "Horton Foote - Biography." n.d. Internet Movie Data Base Web site. Web. 29 March 2012.

Southern Methodist University. "Prize-Winning Playwright Horton Foote Donated His Papers to SMU." 5 March 2009. Southern Methodist University Web site. Web. 29 March 2012.

"To Kill a Mockingbird"


The film of To Kill a Mockingbird faithfully represents Harper Lee's remembrance of small-town southern life, with its slow movement, gentility and darker forces of xenophobia and racism. Initially reluctant to write an adaptation, Horton Foote was persuaded to write it by reading the book at his wife's urging and by meeting the young, previously unknown writer, Harper Lee. The themes are enduring and masterfully presented through the eyes of a child who is initially innocent and blissfully ignorant but gradually confronts some difficult issues of 1930's southern life.


Film Description and Reasons for Choosing the Film

To Kill a Mockingbird was chosen for this paper because it is an Oscar-winning, enduring depiction of significant life themes and is among this author's favorite films. The film is the fictional account of life in 1932 rural Alabama, as seen through the eyes of Scout, a six-year-old "tomboy" (Fleetwood). Scout lives with her brother, Jem, and her father, Atticus Finch, and is cared for by the black housekeeper, Calpurnia. Scout tells of events during several years of her young life, all of which reveal small town southern living. Atticus also explains certain aspects of the film, such as the title:

Atticus: "I remember when my daddy gave me that gun… he said that sooner or later he supposed the temptation to go after birds would be too much…but to remember it was a sin to kill a mockingbird"

Jem: "Why?"

Atticus: "Well, I reckon because mockingbirds don't do anything but make music for us to enjoy. They don't eat people's gardens, don't nest in the corncrib, they don't do one thing but just sing their hearts out for us" (Peck).

Circumstances around the Screenplay and How Horton Foote Became Involved

The screenplay circumstances united a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and a famously prolific writer who shared similar small town southern backgrounds (Baker). The book won the 1961 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (Pulitzer.org) and by that time, Horton…

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