foote horton screenwrite playwright

BURNED-OVER DISTRICT, NY. Horton Foote, the playwright and screenwriter from Wharton, Texas, died last week at the age of 92. Foote, whose finest works include The Trip to Bountiful and Tender Mercies, once said of Robert Duvall that his acting is never general but always particular—an artistic eulogy fitting the playwright as well. In remembrance, over the weekend we watched Tomorrow (1972), which Foote adapted for stage and screen from a William Faulkner story. A product of that most fecund of all cinematic eras, the early ‘70s, the movie stars Duvall, for my money the best film actor of his generation, in an absolutely heartbreaking performance as a Mississippi cotton farmer who takes in an abandoned pregnant woman. It is set in the South but it does not despise the South.

Horton Foote, by the way, owned and sometimes lived in the house in Wharton in which he had grown up. If you could not take Wharton out of the boy, neither could you take the boy out of Wharton.

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Bill Kauffman
Bill Kauffman was born on November 15 (also the birthday of Bobby Dandridge) in the otherwise forgettable year of 1959. He was an all-star Little League shortstop for the Lions Club Cubs but soon thereafter his talents eroded. After an idyllic childhood in his ancestral home of Batavia, New York, birthplace of Anti-Masonry, he was graduated from Batavia High School in 1977. He earned, more or less, a B.A. from the University of Rochester in 1981 and went therefrom to the staff of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the only dairy farmer in the U.S. Senate. Two and a half years later he left Moynihan’s staff a bohemian Main Street anarchist who loved the Beats, the New England transcendentalists, early 20th century local colorists (Sarah Orne Jewett his Maine gal), cowpunk music, and the crazy old America. Neil Diamond and Karen Carpenter, too, but don’t tell anyone. He bummed around out west for a while, sleeping in bus stations and writing derivative poetry in Salt Lake City flophouses (nah, he’s not a Mormon, just a BYU fan) before an ill-starred year in graduate school at the UR. He took a seminar with Christopher Lasch and thought on it. In the spring of 1985 he flew west to become an assistant editor with Reason magazine. He had great fun in Santa Barbara with that crew of congenial editors drinking far into the night at Eddie Van Cleeve’s Sportsman’s Lounge, but in ’86 he flew east to become the magazine’s Washington editor. Always homesick, Kauffman persuaded his lovely and talented wife Lucine, a Los Angelena, to move back to Batavia in 1988 in what he called a “one-year experiment”—the year to be measured, apparently, in Old Testament terms. They’re still there—or, more accurately, five miles north in Elba (apt name for an exile!), where Lucine is Town Supervisor. She may well be the highest-ranking Armenian-American elected official in the country, at least until the voters of California send Cher to the U.S. Senate. Take that, Turks! Lucine and Bill have a daughter, Gretel, 17, who writes and acts and plays piano and French horn. Their lab mutt, Victoria, whose tail graces the accompanying photo, is now departed, to their sorrow, but a cat, Duffy, darts in and out of the house when the mood strikes. Bill is the author of nine books: Every Man a King (Soho Press/1989), a novel, which was recently rescued from the remainder bin by a New York Sun article proclaiming it the best political satire of the last century (the Sun thereupon set); Country Towns of New York (McGraw-Hill/1994), a travel book about God’s country; America First! Its History, Culture and Politics (Prometheus/1995), a cultural history of isolationism which Benjamin Schwarz in the Atlantic called the best introduction to the American anti-imperialist tradition; With Good Intentions? Reflections on the Myth of Progress in America (Praeger/1998), his worst-seller, a sympathetic account of critics of highways, school consolidation, a standing army, and the Siren Progress; Dispatches from the Muckdog Gazette: A Mostly Affectionate Account of a Small Town’s Fight to Survive (Henry Holt/2003; Picador ppb. 2004), a memoirish book about his hometown which won the 2003 national “Sense of Place” award from Writers & Books; Look Homeward, America: In Search of Reactionary Radicals and Front-Porch Anarchists (ISI/2006), which the American Library Association named one of the best books of 2006 and which won the Andrew Eiseman Writers Award; Ain’t My America: The Long Noble History of Antiwar Conservatism and Middle American Anti-Imperialism (Henry Holt/ Metropolitan/2008), which Barnes & Noble named one of the best books of 2008; Forgotten Founder: Drunken Prophet: The Life of Luther Martin (ISI/2008), a biography of a brilliant dipsomaniacal Anti-Federalist who warned us this was gonna happen; and Bye Bye, Miss American Empire (Chelsea Green/2010), a cheerful account of dissolution. Bill is a regular contributor to the Wall Street Journal and a columnist for The American Conservative. He has written for numerous publications, including The American Scholar, the Los Angeles Times Book Review, The Nation, Chronicles, the Independent and The Spectator of London, Counterpunch, Orion, University Bookman, and Utne Reader. He is vice president of the Genesee County Baseball Club, which owns the Batavia Muckdogs of the New York-Penn Baseball League. Come summertime, he can be found in the 3rd base bleachers at Dwyer Stadium. He is also active in the officerless (of course) John Gardner Society. Bill is more handsome than the photo on this site would suggest. See books written by Bill Kauffman.


  1. Bill,
    Thanks for this. “Tomorrow” is a fantastic film, and “A Trip to Bountiful” is as well. They deserve careful attention. No cardboard characters or stupid dialogue. Although, it might sound cliche, the word “authentic” comes to mind.

  2. “Tomorrow” is one of my favorites, really true to the spirit of Faulkner (which is no small feat for a film). The pacing is one of the keys: slow like a summer day in Mississippi.

  3. I was blessed to meet Horton Foote once. He came to Brigham Young University in 1995 as I was finishing up my time there, having finished my Masters and taking some timing off before going on to get my Ph.D. elsewhere. BYU had just finished producing a series of Foote’s plays, ending with “The Roads to Home,” a series of three, one-act vignettes of–as I remember them–astonishingly acute observational power. Foote stood at the end of the play, received a prolonged ovation, and then took questions from the students for over an hour. I couldn’t think of anything to ask him; I was so thrilled to be in presence of a living legend. I did have the presence of mind to run up to him afterward and thank him for “Tender Mercies,” probably the greatest–because the most local, the most intimate, the most homespun–story of the power (and limits) of Christian conversion that I’d ever seen. He was tired, but thanked me kindly.

    Rest in peace, Mr. Foote. He knew his place, and did well by it.

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