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Knowing Foote,‘Mockingbird’

December 19, 2010
By KATHRYN SPIRA, For The Leader-Herald

I was introduced to Horton Foote Jr. when I lived in New York City and was working at Chumley's Restaurant and Bar where he was a regular.

In researching Foote, Herman and I both found it confusing because Horton and his father were both called "Jr."

Horton's father was the famous Oscar winning screenwriter of "To Kill a Mockingbird," "The Trip to Bountiful" and "Tender Mercies." His son, the Horton I knew, was an actor and worked on several projects with his father, as did his siblings.

I have to admit I had never seen the movie until this past week, partly because the 50th anniversary of the book's publication has been in the news. In fact, it has gained the distinction of librarians across the country voting it the best novel of the 20th century.

I was absolutely blown away by the film.

It actually tackles both the difficult subjects of racism in the south and the family secret of the neighbor who is mentally ill. Both the "crazy" neighbor Boo Radley and the African American defendant that Atticus Finch (played by Gregory Peck) defends for rape are feared by the southern populace. But Harper Lee treats the feared outcasts with dignity and grace.

What winds up happening is the black defendant and the character of Boo Radley (played by Robert Duvall in his screen debut) both become almost hero-like. In fact, Boo saves Atticus's children Jem and Scout (the narrator) from the real villain Mr. Ewell, a typically ignorant, poor white trash icon.

I have never lived in the south and never witnessed the bigotry depicted in the movie. However, I've met people in all walks of life in the many cities I've lived in and countries I've traveled to. I've seen prejudice in other forms and can well imagine those things may have been in the south.

Even today, racial profiling and terrible remarks I've heard about our president still exist.

The Horton Foote Jr. I knew liked amber beer, chicken wings and I specifically remember he liked his burgers "bloody rare." I remember reeling back and saying, "Horton, how can you eat meat that rare?"

To which he would reply, "It's the only way it goes down good."

I also remember he had designs on a fellow waitress named Rachel. And he would often quiz me on what her likes were.

So I'm glad after all these years I got to see what all the fuss was about over the movie. I must agree it's well-deserved.

Kathryn Spira, a native of Cleveland who pursued an acting career in New York City and Los Angeles, now pursues free lance writing from Caroga Lake in Fulton County. Previous columns may be accessed at her website, www.kathrynskorner.com

 
 

 

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