Archive for March 11th, 2009

Adios, Paul Harvey. Farewell, Horton Foote

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

2 of my heroes and mentors died recently, both in their 90s and both immeasurable in their impact on me.

When Paul Harvey began his “The Rest Of The Story” programs back in the 1970s, I sent him some unsolicited true stories “with a twist.” A few weeks later, he called. For the next few years, I regularly forwarded him the raw material (always with 2 sources of authentication) for his son Paul Jr. to craft into finished scripts. Soon after, I’d receive a check signed by his wife Lynn (or – as he called her – “Angel”), but only for those stories he actually read on the air. Sometimes, he would use as few as 1 out of every 4 or 5 ideas I researched for him. Gradually, I got a little better at guessing which ones he would like. But what I learned was that I might not know which ones were right for him, but he always did.

My first meetings with Horton Foote were similarly frustrating. I knew him mainly as the author of the screenplay of “To Kill A Mockingbird” when he came to Dallas in the early 1980s, to cast “Tender Mercies.” I made it from the 1st audition to a 2nd, and ultimately to a 3rd and 4th, before losing “my” role to an LA-based actor. I was crushed at the time. But then, a couple of years later, he came back to town to shoot a new movie, “The Trip To Bountiful.” This time, I got a personal call to the audition – the ONE audition. It seems that he had remembered the kid from Texas who’d been not quite right for the Tender Mercies part, but who exactly fit the role of “Billy Davis” in the new project. Like Paul Harvey, Horton Foote’s gift was knowing the difference between a thing that’s almost right, and one that’s perfect.

Both men knew and understood their audiences, but more – they understood themselves. They trusted their own instincts, rather than committee reports or popularity polls. Add to that their talent, work ethic (neither ever really retired), and basic decency, and it’s no wonder they were so successful.

Nor is it any surprise that they will be so terribly missed. Giants always are.