NEW YORK (Reuters) - Horton Foote, whose plays and scripts about the longing and struggles of small-town life won him two Academy Awards, an Emmy and a Pulitzer Prize, has died at the age of 92.
Foote, whose best-known works included the Oscar-winning scripts for “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Tender Mercies,” died on Wednesday in Hartford, Connecticut, after a brief illness, his daughter, actress Hallie Foote, told the New York Times.
Many of Foote’s tales were set in the fictional town of Harrison, which was based on his hometown of Wharton, Texas, a farming community about 50 miles southwest of Houston.
Foote’s works brimmed with influences and observations from Wharton and one admirer said the writer was to Texas what John Steinbeck was to California and Woody Allen is to New York.
“My brother never understood why I preferred to sit and listen to the stories of my great-aunts rather than play baseball,” Foote once told Reuters. “I can still hear those voices.”
Those voices kept him writing into his 90s and he told another interviewer, “I don’t think I would ever get much writing done if I lived full time in Wharton. I’d be too busy listening to people.”
Foote, who was born March 14, 1916, was a teenager when he left Wharton first for California and then New York with the intention of becoming an actor.
He joined a theater group in New York and came to the attention of legendary choreographer Agnes de Mille, who was so impressed by the 25-year-old Foote’s vivid portrayal of Wharton during an improvisation that she urged him to write about it.
The result was a “Wharton Dance,” a one-act play — and the realization that Foote could ensure himself of good roles if he wrote them himself.
Foote eventually put aside acting and wrote plays for Broadway and scripts for television dramas throughout the 1940s and ‘50s. He eventually tried screenplays and won his first Oscar in 1962 for his adaptation of Harper Lee’s novel “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
The second Oscar came in 1983 for “Tender Mercies,” starring Robert Duvall as a broken country music singer in need of redemption.
Foote was nominated for the 1985 film “The Trip to Bountiful,” a version of one of his plays that won an Oscar for Geraldine Page as a woman trying to reconnect with her small-town Texas roots.
Other popular movies he wrote included Steve McQueen’s “Baby, the Rain Must Fall,” based on the Foote play “The Traveling Lady,” and “The Chase,” which starred Marlon Brando, Jane Fonda and Robert Redford.
His television works included episodes for theater-oriented shows and “Old Man,” a 1997 Emmy-winning adaptation of a William Faulkner story.
Foote presented a nine-play cycle titled “Orphans’ Home” based on his family in the 1970s and in 1995 “The Young Man From Atlanta” won him a Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Whether he was writing for stage, screen or television, Foote’s works were always intimate and evocative, populated primarily by ordinary, struggling people, rather than big-shot oilmen, lonesome cowboys and other Texas stereotypes.
“I don’t ever want to be a so-called professional Texan,” he said. “I don’t go around in a Stetson hat and cowboy boots.”
Foote split his time between homes in New York, New Hampshire and Wharton, where he would write in the cottage he grew up in.
His wife, Lillian, who died in 1992, sometimes produced Foote’s plays. Their four children — actors Hallie and Horton Foote Jr., playwright Daisy Foote and director Walter Foote — all worked with him at one point.
Writing by Bill Trott; additional reporting by Julie Vorman; Editing by Jon Boyle