Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Mr. Horton Foote of Wharton, Texas

Though I've lived but 50 miles from Wharton for many years, today was the first time I made a pilgrimage there. Starting from Houston, Highway 59 whittles down from five lanes to two by the time you get to Wharton, the hometown of treasured playwright Horton Foote who died earlier this year at the age of 92. He kept writing until the end. I've seen many of his Orphans Home Cycle plays, and enjoyed the movies he wrote the scripts for, especially The Trip to Bountiful and To Kill a Mockingbird.

Sometime in the early or mid 1990s, I heard Mr. Foote speak at the Alley Theatre. There was an informal reading of one of his plays, but I don't recall the reading as much as his words. He was so warm and dignified, he made his audience feel as if we were all old friends. He encouraged those of us who were writers to keep trying to get into words whatever it was that mattered to us. He believed in the perseverance of the human spirit so deeply. He believed that creativity was mysterious and sacred. He believed in belonging to a place, and for him that place was Wharton. His small town roots always showed in his work. I'd love to see or read his first play, Texas Town, which was set in a drugstore.

He told us one story about his youth that I've never forgotten. I picture him being about age 7 or 8, so this would have been about 1923 (but he may have been older or younger). Horton was walking down a country road on the outskirts of Wharton one summer day when he met an elderly black man who addressed him by name. "Do I know you?" Horton asked. "No you don't," the man said, "but your grand-daddy used to own me." What an impression that left on the boy, and also on me.

Present-day Wharton is lovely, with lots of pecan trees and front porches, a Victorian courthouse, historical museum and plenty of antique shops. The nonprofit Plaza Theater honors Mr. Foote by calling themselves the "Footeliters", and the local community college has named their theater for him. About 10,000 people call Wharton home, and it's a friendly place. Do I sound like a shill for the Chamber of Commerce? I did enjoy the small town atmosphere. I was delighted to spot an over sized recipe for pecan pie painted on the metal walls of the pecan mill. Wharton is also known for its Brahman cattle ranches. I don't know about you, but I always enjoy seeing cows grazing, even if eating beef has become rather politically incorrect. The Tee-Pee Motel on the outskirts of town features large over sized arrows sunk in the ground, small concrete tipis and an RV park, a sight that brings to mind the bygone era of Route 66.

For more information about Horton Foote (whose actual full name was Albert Horton Foote, Jr.), see Wikipedia. And here's the link to their entry for Wharton. Now that I am retired, I look forward to taking more day trips related to literature and art. And as always, I am grateful to have this blog as an outlet for my obsessions!

photo by KAO: the Brooks-Foote House, Wharton Texas.


Issa's Untidy Hut said...

K: Great post, thanks very much for this. Don

Anonymous said...

I just love mr. foote's honesty