I am frequently asked what my favorite book is; or what my favorite movie is. My favorite book is a difficult question to answer, and one I try avoid answering at all costs. My favorite movie has always been easy, it is TENDER MERCIES. Robert Duvall won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Mac Sledge, a down on his luck country western singer. Horton Foote won the Academy Award for the original screenplay. The year was 1983. Something about that screenplay has always resonated with me. I still love the movie.
I had the honor of meeting Horton Foote for the first time in July, 1996. He was being honored at the Sewanee Writer's Conference, and he gave a lecture on playwriting, titled, "How To and How Not To: Some Lessons Learned Along the Way."
The lecture is included in a fine book published in 2000 by LSU Press, edited by Wyatt Prunty, titled SEWANEE WRITERS ON WRITING. The book also has lectures given by Russell Banks, Ernest Gaines, Donald Justice, Alice McDermott, and Marsha Norman, to name but a few. I have seen and heard many fine writers talk about their craft, but this was the finest I had ever heard.
I waited in my seat until others had thanked him and shaken his hand. I then approached him and told him that I thought TENDER MERCIES was one of the finest screenplays ever written, and thanked him for the joy he had brought into my life with his work. He smiled, looked me in the eye, and said, "Good Lord, son, let's sit down and talk a moment."
The next few minutes flew by as we talked about Robert Duvall, Tess Harper, Betty Buckley, Wilford Brimley, and the making of the film. Eventually his ride arrived and I watched him leave the auditorium. I gave thanks for the opportunity to shake his hand and meet him. A part of me was at peace now.
Eight years later I asked Romulus Linney if he thought Mr. Foote would grant me an interview for the show. Romulus said that nothing would be easier, that he would send me Horton's phone number, and all I had to do was call him. Romulus was right.
On November 9, 2004 I was in New York where I took a cab to Mr. Foote's home, carrying my recording equipment with me (which is quite heavy). I found Mr. Foote's building and announced myself to the doorman. He called Mr. Foote and up I went.
When I got off the elevator I saw a door open with the face of a friendly man peeking out of it. It was Horton Foote. As I set-up my equipment we talked about New York, and a screenplay he is currently working on with Robert Altman. I kept reminding myself that he was 86.
When the interview was over he asked me if I would be interested in having pie after Thanksgiving dinner. I packed my equipment and tried to figure out how I could possibly make it back to New York to have Thanksgiving dessert with him and his family.
I decided that in this life we are given many gifts, and on that day my gift was the invitation. I thanked him for his offer and explained that I had family plans in Akron, Ohio.
He understood. That was his gift to me.
In Part One of the interview we discuss TENDER MERCIES and THE TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL. THE TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL was written as a TV play in 1953. Geraldine Page won the Academy Award for Best Actress when the film was made in 1985.
In Part Two, we discuss TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, along with several other topics. At the start of this piece I wrote I avoided mentioning my favorite book at all costs. I will tell you that TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD has always been in the top five.