Broadway Features and Reviews
Horton Foote: Portrait of the Artist As A Great Man
By Christopher Moore, Broadway Magazine
In his absorbing new biography "Horton Foote: America's Storyteller," New York Times critic Wilborn Hampton puts forth a portrait of playwright Horton Foote that is completely engaging. The long journey of Horton Foote as an artist was not without struggles at all stages, and what is remarkable is Foote's determination and innovation in his ability to survive and thrive as a theatre artist. Those who like their artists' biographies mottled with scandal and cruelness need look elsewhere. There is drama in Foote's life, as his own plays suggest, and Hampton does not mute those conflicts and tragedies. Still, what Foote's life in total shows is nothing short of how to survive for 90 years as an artist. To each of his personal, financial, or artistic challenges, Horton Foote responded with faith, love, and a remarkable creative instinct.
There is no easy road travelled for this artist. Encounters with Steve McQueen and Horton Foote's early relationship with young Tennessee Williams hint at some of the more tragic paths Horton Foote could have followed. The courtship and lifelong relationship with his wife Lillian and their personal faith emerge as constants in Foote's personal life, as does his love of family. Of course, struggle seems always constant as well in his life.
What is most intriguing about this biography is that there is never a time in which Horton Foote rests on his laurels. There is no single point at which one senses Horton Foote has “made it” as an artist, though his place in the cannon of American Dramatic Literature is assured. What emerges is that for each great triumph of Foote's artistry, time brings with it more challenges and new obstacles. Whether it is by creating a film company, or adapting a show for television, or going one more time to a casting agent’s office even when the odds are against him: Horton Foote's persistence and ability to survive as an artist are both remarkable.
Of course, Horton Foote's life intersects with many of the titans of 20th Century American literature and famous celebrities like Williams, McQueen, Harper Lee, the work of William Faulkner, Robert Duvall, Matthew Broderick, and many more. Each of these encounters leaves one with a greater sense of the personal integrity and solid character of Horton Foote. Partly this is due to Hampton's unquestioned affection for his subject. Horton Foote is presented as a great man personally.
However, it is important not to lose sight of the accomplishments of Horton Foote the Artist. As a playwright his dramatic voice has been compared to William Faulkner and Anton Chekhov. As a screenwriter, he has been responsible for some of the most iconic American films ever made. Hampton effectively communicates the artistic achievements of Horton Foote, but in a manner that is humble and befitting his subject.
When he was passed over for the Tony Award for Best Play last season, it seemed that Horton Foote needed some lions to roar on his behalf. Foote is a great American playwright who dedicated much of over 90 years of his life to living and creating great theatre. While it is impossible to undo the Tony Award snub, one suspects after reading "Horton Foote: America's Storyteller" that the artist would’ve merely shrugged at the oversight.
More intriguing to him, one speculates, is the fact that the Signature Theatre will be staging the entire Orphans’ Home Cycle this fall. Again New York has an opportunity to celebrate this great artist.
Horton Foote America's Storyteller by Wilborn Hampton. Published by Free Press. September 8, 2009. 293 pages; $28.00.
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