Monday, on what would have been their father's 95th birthday, the four children of Pulitzer- and two-time Academy Award-winning playwright and screenwriter Horton Foote celebrated the launch of the area-wide festival of his work at a party in the lobby of the Winspear Opera House. Actors and directors from many of the Foote productions that will open over the next few weeks at theaters in Dallas and Fort Worth toasted the memory of Horton Foote and buzzed about the festival, which will feature more than a dozen stage productions, screenings of films Foote wrote and an exhibit of his handwritten scripts at SMU's DeGolyer Library.
Among the guests at the Foote fete: Jim Covault, director of Talking Pictures, now playing at Fort Worth's Stage West; Joel Ferrell, directing Dividing the Estate at Dallas Theater Center, opening this Friday; Marianne Galloway, directing Foote's Pulitzer-winning drama The Young Man from Atlanta for Uptown Players, opening April 1; Terry Dobson, directing The Roads to Home for Theatre Three, opening April 7; and René Moreno, directing The Trip to Bountiful at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas, opening April 8. Plus cast members from all those shows and others.
In a lively pre-party Q&A session moderated by Art & Seek drama critic Jerome Weeks, the four Footes -- Daisy, also a playwright; Walter, a lawyer-turned-screenwriter; Horton Jr., actor and restaurateur; and actress Hallie -- shared stories about their dad, who won his Oscars for writing the films To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) and Tender Mercies (1983). In the two decades between the awards, Foote moved his family to a small town in New Hampshire, where, Daisy recalled, hardly anyone knew who he was or what he did for a living.
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"He wrote every day. It was like prayer to him really," said Daisy, who at 51 is the youngest of Foote's children. "He'd get up at 4 o'clock in the morning and start writing and not stop. When I'd come in from school with my friends, he'd come downstairs in his pajamas. He'd never gotten out of his pajamas. Because of that, a lot of people around town thought he was an alcoholic. Of course, he never drank. But they just had no idea. I was always so embarrassed. 'Why can't you be like other dads?' You know."
Foote never stopped writing in those years, but it was their mother Lillian, said the kids, who provided additional income selling real estate. She also wouldn't let Foote get discouraged about his writing. "Mother refused to let him back down from it," said Daisy, who recalled that during one slow period her dad considered becoming an antique dealer.
Those years in New Hampshire did result in some of Foote's greatest works for the stage, including the nine-play Orphan Home Cycle. He wrote more than 50 plays and dozens of TV scripts and screenplays before his death in 2008. A native of Wharton, Texas, he was dubbed by critics "America's Chekhov."
"He would have been so proud of what's going on with this festival in Dallas," said Walter Foote. "It would've meant so much to him. It's nice to see his work performed in front of Texas audiences. They get it."