Screenshot from the film To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) with Gregory Peck and Brock Peters.
Back in the day, when I was director of the theater program at Texas A&M University, we invited Mr. Horton Foote to speak to our students. Foote was a distinguished playwright whose plays were compared to the plays of Anton Chekhov. He had won two Oscars as screenwriter for two outstanding films: To Kill a Mockingbird and Tender Mercies. I was a great admirer of his plays, but I also felt indebted to Mr. Foote (“Please call me Horton,” were his first words to me) for his blessed Tender Mercies. The film had helped me to get through a hard time once when I was in a bad way in Albuquerque.
Besides, one of my student assistants, Ms. Kelly Roman Carter—today an educator in Texas—had recently directed three of his one-act plays as a student project, and offered to do whatever work needed to be done in order to facilitate his visit.
Mr. Charles Gordone, another distinguished playwright and theater man in his own right, was in the faculty of the English Department at A&M in those days. He was the first African-American playwright to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize, and had become for me a friend, a mentor, and an inspiration. Horton was all Texas and all southern gentility; Charles was mid-western and had come to us from the rough and tumble of the New York and L.A. theater scenes. Horton was soft-spoken and an exquisite gentleman; Charles spoke in a low growl that intimidated his enemies, but which was only a defense for his touching vulnerability. Since I had witnessed many encounters between giant artistic personalities turn disastrous, I resolved to do my best to keep these two luminaries apart.
Charles Gordone (1925-1995). Credit: Susan Kouyomjian Gordone.
Upon Horton’s arrival I inquired what he wished to do during his time at A&M.
“I’d like to meet Charles Gordone,” he said. (more…)