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Horton Foote Dies; 'To Kill a Mockingbird' Screenwriter

The seven-decade career of Horton Foote, shown in 2004, encompassed film, theater and 1950s television drama.
The seven-decade career of Horton Foote, shown in 2004, encompassed film, theater and 1950s television drama. (Photo By Rod Aydelotte -- Associated Press)
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Not long afterward, he spent a brief time in Washington and co-founded a theater workshop at the old King-Smith School of the Creative Arts. Returning to New York in the late 1940s, he began writing for television -- most notably live, hour-long dramas for NBC's weekly "Philco Television Playhouse." He was a key part of a circle of young dramatists that included Paddy Chayefsky ("Marty") and Reginald Rose ("12 Angry Men") as well as director Arthur Penn and actors Julie Harris, Kim Stanley and Geraldine Page.

He recalled this era of television as a renaissance moment for gifted authors, and it led to his work in Hollywood, where he wrote "To Kill a Mockingbird" as well as the screenplay for "Baby, the Rain Must Fall" (1965) with Steve McQueen, based on his earlier teleplay "The Traveling Lady." He later adapted a number of his stage plays to the screen, including "1918" (1985) starring Belinda Jackson and "On Valentine's Day" (1986) starring Matthew Broderick. In 1997, he won an Emmy Award for his adaptation of a Faulkner story, "Old Man."

There was a long period, starting in the mid-1960s, when Mr. Foote's subtle approach to storytelling was considered unfashionable. He withdrew into semiretirement and lived with his family on a farm in New Hampshire. He considered putting down his pen, maybe selling antiques, but his wife urged him to continue writing, and in the late 1970s he began "The Orphans' Home." Two of the nine plays were adapted for film.

Widely acclaimed, "Orphans' Home Cycle" begins in 1902 with the death of his actual paternal grandfather and the remarriage of his grandmother. The cycle ends with "The Death of Papa," in which a 9-year-old Horton Foote -- called Horace Robedaux Jr. in the play -- experiences the loss of another grandfather. He began to write the cycle of plays in 1974, the year of his mother's death. His father had died the previous year "in the very room and on the bed my brothers had been born in," he told the Christian Century in a 1997 interview.

The family saga "will take its place near the center of our largest American dramatic achievements," novelist Reynolds Price once said.

Mr. Foote married Lillian Vallis, who became his producer, in 1945. She died in 1992.

Besides his daughter Hallie, survivors include three other children, Horton Foote Jr., who is also an actor; playwright and screenwriter Daisy Foote; and Walter Foote, a lawyer.


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