March 26, 2013

Horton Foote (1916-2009)

Horton Foote, Jr., distinguished Texas dramatist, was born Albert Horton Foote, Jr., on March 14, 1916, in Wharton, Texas. Horton Foote was the son of Albert Horton Foote and Harriet Gautier Brooks Foote and a descendent of the first lieutenant governor of Texas, Albert Horton. He grew up in Wharton with his two brothers Tom Brooks and John Speed. Foote finished high school at age sixteen, then lived a year in Dallas with his grandmother while working as an usher at the Majestic Theater and taking elocution lessons. Foote had dreams of being an actor, so he moved to California and enrolled in acting school at Pasadena Playhouse in 1933. After completing acting school, Foote lived in New York City as a struggling thespian while taking acting classes from Tamara Daykarhanova, Andrius Jilinsky, Maria Ouspenskaya, and Vera Soloviova. Jilinsky, Soloviova, and Daykarhanova had studied with Constantin Stanislavsky and taught his “system” called “method acting.” Foote’s classmate Mary Hunter Wolf formed the American Actors Company to promote American talent in the theater and he joined in 1939. He began writing plays, the first of which was a one-act entitled Wharton Dance. His first three-act play was Texas Town. Only the Heart was Foote’s first play on Broadway at the Bijou Theatre in 1944. While working at Doubleday Book Store in Penn Station, he fell in love with Lillian Vallish and they married in 1945. After the American Actors Company disbanded in 1945, Foote became disappointed by the commercialism in post-World War II New York theater, so he and Lillian moved to Washington, D.C., and together they managed the acting school and theater productions at King-Smith School for the next four years.

Foote returned to New York City in 1949 and was hired as a television writer for the children’s program The Quaker Oats Show, which debuted October 15, 1950. After fifty-four episodes, Foote focused on writing television plays. The Trip to Bountiful aired in 1953 on Goodyear Television Playhouse and was so well-received that it moved to Broadway and has been the most produced play of Horton Foote’s work. Twenty-four television plays written by Horton Foote aired between 1951 and 1964. In 1955 Foote moved to Nyack, New York, and began raising a family with Lillian. Although he was brought up in the Methodist Church, he and Lillian converted to Christian Science shortly after his mother and sister converted in Texas. That same year Foote’s first screenwriting credit was the Cornel Wilde film, Storm Fear. The Chase, Foote’s only novel, was published in 1956 and was based on an earlier play. In 1961 Alan Pakula asked Foote to write the screenplay for Harper Lee’s novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. The film was released a year later, and Foote won an Oscar for the screenplay. Baby the Rain Must Fall, starring Steve McQueen and Lee Remick, premiered in 1965 and was filmed entirely in Columbia and Wharton, Texas. In the mid-1960s, Foote moved to New Boston, New Hampshire. He continued to write for Hollywood. His screenplay Tomorrow, based on a short story by William Faulkner, premiered to critical acclaim in 1972 and starred Robert Duvall. Next, Foote wrote the book for the musical adaptation of Gone With the Wind, which was produced in Los Angeles, London, and Dallas from 1973 to 1976.

After Foote’s parents passed away in the mid-1970s, he gathered all the family papers from Wharton and poured over them in his New Hampshire home. The various stories and conflicts of his family inspired him to write The Orphans’ Home Cycle, a collection of nine plays about three families in fictional Harrison, Texas. The plays in chronological order are Roots in a Parched Ground (1902); Convicts (1904); Lily Dale (1910); The Widow Claire (1912); Courtship (1915); Valentine’s Day (1917); 1918 (1918); Cousins (1925); and The Death of Papa (1928). HB Playhouse began producing the The Orphans’ Home Cycle plays in the late 1970s, and Foote moved back to New York City. HB Playhouse did not pay for plays, so Foote supported himself by writing for television again. Titles included Flannery O’Connor’s The Displaced Person; William Faulkner’s Barn Burning; and Keeping On. Foote continued to write and direct for the theater, but he also continued to make films. During the 1980s, Foote lived in his childhood Wharton home and filmed three of the The Orphans’ Home Cycle works (1918, Courtship, and Valentine’s Day), as well as The Trip to Bountiful, Tender Mercies, and The Habitation of Dragons in Texas. Convicts, the second work in The Orphans’ Home Cycle, was released as a film in 1990 and Foote’s screen adaptation of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men was released in 1992. After his wife Lillian passed away in 1992, Foote lived with his daughter Hallie, and her husband in Pacific Palisades, California. Foote continued to write for theater, television, and film for almost two decades while receiving critical acclaim for his body of work. Most notable are the Pulitzer Prize-winning play The Young Man From Atlanta (1995) and the Emmy-winning Old Man, based on a story by William Faulkner. In early 2009, Horton stayed in Hartford, Connecticut, with his daughter Hallie and her husband, Devon Abner, while he worked on completing the scripts for The Orphans’ Home Cycle for the Hartford Stage Company.

Horton Foote passed away in his sleep on March 4, 2009 at the age of ninety-two. Unfortunately, he did not get to see his last two works completed. The Orphans’ Home Cycle was staged in its entirety at Hartford Stage Company in the 2009-10 season and moved to Signature Theater in New York in 2010. Foote’s screenplay for Main Street, a film starring Colin Firth and Orlando Bloom, was completed in 2010 and released in the fall of 2011. Frank Rich, the New York Times chief theater critic in the 1980s, described Foote as “a major American dramatist whose epic body of work recalls Chekhov in its quotidian comedy and heartbreak and Faulkner in its ability to make his own corner of America stand for the whole.” Foote’s theatrical honors include a Pulitzer Prize for The Young Man From Atlanta (1995); Lucille Lortel Awards for The Orphans Home Cycle (2010) and The Trip to Bountiful (2006); and an OBIE award for Dividing the Estate (2008). His screenwriting honors include Oscars for To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) and Tender Mercies (1983); an Emmy for Old Man (1997); an Independent Spirit Award for The Trip to Bountiful (1986); and the Writers Guild of America awards for To Kill a Mockingbird (1963) and Tender Mercies (1984). Foote was also a member of the Theatre Hall of Fame, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Fellowship of Southern Writers, and a recipient of the National Medal of Arts in 2000 by President Bill Clinton. Horton and Lillian Foote had four children: Barbara Hallie, Albert Horton Foote III, Walter, and Daisy. In 1992, DeGolyer Library at Southern Methodist University acquired Horton Foote’s extensive personal papers. The library held an exhibition on Foote’s career during the 2011 Horton Foote Festival in Dallas, Texas, which presented seventeen works by Horton Foote. Source 

29° 18.689
-096° 05.556

Wharton City Cemetery

March 19, 2013

Peter Hansborough Bell (1812-1898)

Peter H. Bell, governor of Texas, was born on May 12, 1812, in Spotsylvania County, Virginia. He engaged in business in Petersburg until he left Virginia to fight for the independence of Texas. As a private in the cavalry company of Henry W. Karnes, he fought in the battle of San Jacinto, for which service, on June 6, 1838, he was issued a donation certificate for 640 acres of land. For serving in the army from May 1, 1836, to January 23, 1839, he was granted another 1,080 acres. He was also issued a headright certificate, dated June 7, 1838, for one-third league of land for army service before May 1, 1836. Bell was appointed assistant adjutant general on May 10, 1837, and inspector general on January 30, 1839. He joined the Texas Rangers under John C. (Jack) Hays in 1840 and held the rank of major in the Somervell expedition of 1842. In 1845 Bell was captain of a company of rangers but resigned that commission to enter the United States Army at the outbreak of the Mexican War. Under the command of Gen. Zachary Taylor, Bell won distinction at the battle of Buena Vista. As lieutenant colonel he commanded the part of Hays's regiment designated for service in Texas on the Rio Grande. He was experienced in frontier affairs, and the operations of his battalion inspired confidence in the people so that the line of settlement pushed southwestward rapidly.

   Bell was elected governor of Texas in 1849 and again in 1851. A few months before the expiration of his second term in 1853 he resigned to fill the vacancy in the United States Congress caused by the death of David S. Kaufman. He remained in Congress from 1853 to 1857. On March 3, 1857, Bell married Mrs. Ella Reeves Eaton Dickens, the daughter of a wealthy North Carolina planter, William Eaton, and the widow of Benjamin Dickens. Bell moved to her home at Littleton, North Carolina. At the outbreak of the Civil War he was offered a commission as colonel of Confederate forces by Jefferson Davis, but he refused to serve and spent the war years on his wife's plantation. In 1891 the Texas legislature voted Bell a donation and a pension in appreciation for his services to the republic and the state. Bell County was named in his honor. Bell died on March 8, 1898, and was buried in the cemetery at Littleton. His and his wife's remains were removed to Texas in 1930 and reinterred in the State Cemetery at Austin. In 1936 the state of Texas erected a memorial to Bell, which stands at the southwest corner of the courthouse grounds in Belton. Source

30° 15.926
-097° 43.628

Republic Hill
Texas State Cemetery

March 12, 2013

Harry Henry Choates (1922-1951)

Harry Choates, Cajun musician, was born in either Rayne or New Iberia, Louisiana, on December 26, 1922. He moved with his mother, Tave Manard, to Port Arthur, Texas, during the 1930s. Choates apparently received little formal education and spent much of his childhood in local bars, where he listened to jukebox music. By the time he reached the age of twelve he had learned to play a fiddle and performed for tips in Port Arthur barbershops. As early as 1940 he was playing in Cajun music bands for such entertainers as Leo Soileau and Leroy "Happy Fats" LeBlanc. Choates, who also played accordion, standard guitar, and steel guitar, preferred to play on borrowed instruments and may never have owned a musical instrument of his own.

Around 1946 he organized a band that he called the Melody Boys. Perhaps in honor of his daughter, Linda, he rewrote an old Cajun waltz, Jolie Blonde (Pretty Blonde). He recorded the song in Houston in 1946 for the Gold Star label, owned by Bill Quinn, who mistakenly spelled the title Jole Blon. Jole Blon became a favorite in the field of country music and a standard number in Texas and Louisiana clubs and dance halls. It marked Gold Star's first national success and the only Cajun song to reach Billboard's Top 5 in any category. A year after Choates's recording, Moon Mullican, a Texas-born singer and piano player, made an even bigger hit with the song. Jole Blon, which Choates performed in the key of A instead of the traditional G, featured slurred fiddle notes and has been sung with both Cajun French and English romantic lyrics as well as nonsense lyrics with references to the "dirty rice" and "filé gumbo" of Cajun cuisine. Choates, who suffered from chronic alcoholism, sold Jole Blon for $100 and a bottle of whiskey. He and his Melody Boys recorded more than forty songs for Gold Star in 1946 and 1947, including Basile Waltz, Allans a Lafayette, Lawtell Waltz, Bayou Pon Pon, and Poor Hobo, but none of those records earned Choates the success he achieved with Jole Blon. He also recorded for the Mary, DeLuxe, D, O.T., Allied, Cajun Classics, and Humming Bird labels during his brief career. Choates remained popular fare on Cajun French radio stations in Jennings, Crowley, and Ville Platte, Louisiana. Choates, who could sing in French or English, became famous for his "Eh...ha, ha!" and "aaiee" vocal cries. A real crowd pleaser, he frequently played his amplified fiddle while dancing on the floor with his audience and stood on tiptoe while reaching for high notes. He merged traditional French Cajun music with the western swing music pioneered by such musicians as Bob Wills. He played jazz and blues as well as country music, including instrumental tunes like Rubber Dolly, Louisiana Boogie, Draggin the Bow, and Harry Choates Blues. As songwriter, instrumentalist, singer, and bandleader he raised Cajun music to national prominence. One observer has characterized Choates as "a Cajun Janis Joplin." Like her, he achieved a great deal of notoriety for his raucous lifestyle. Often performing while intoxicated and oblivious of his personal appearance, he wore a formerly white hat which, according to one of his band members, "looked like a hundred horses had stomped on it and then it had been stuck in a grease barrel."

Choates was virtually illiterate and incurred the ire of musicians' union locals for ignoring contracts. Consequently, after the union in San Antonio blacklisted him and forced a cancellation of his bookings, his band broke up. By 1951 Choates had moved to Austin where he appeared with Jessie James and His Gang, a band at radio station KTBC. His estranged wife, Helen (Daenen), whom he had married in 1945, filed charges against Choates for failing to make support payments of twenty dollars a week for his son and daughter. Authorities in Austin jailed him pursuant to an order from a Jefferson County judge who found Choates in contempt of court. After three days in jail, Choates, unable to obtain liquor and completely delirious, beat his head against the cell bars, fell into a coma, and died, on July 17, 1951, at the age of twenty-eight. Although some of his fans believe his jailers may have killed him while attempting to calm him, Travis County health officer Dr. H. M. Williams determined that liver and kidney ailments caused his death. The James band played a benefit to raise money for Choates' casket. His grave was left unmarked until 1980, when there was a surge of interest in him. Beaumont disk jockey Gordon Baxter secured funds to bury him in Calvary Cemetery, a Catholic cemetery in Port Arthur. Baxter and music historian Tim Knight of Groves raised money in 1979 and 1980 to purchase a granite grave marker with the inscription in Cajun French and English: "Parrain de la Musique Cajun" - "The Godfather of Cajun Music." His recordings have been preserved on Jole Blon, an album by D Records of Houston that contains the Gold Star issues, and The Fiddle King of Cajun Swing, a compilation of Choates's works released by Arhoolie Records of El Cerrito, California, in 1982. Rufus Thibodeaux, a well-known Cajun fiddler, recorded an album entitled A Tribute to Harry Choates in the mid-1960s on the Tribute label. In 1997 Choates was inducted into the Cajun French Music Association Hall of Fame. He is also honored as a music legend in the Museum of the Gulf Coast's Music Hall of Fame in Port Arthur. A Texas Historical Marker was dedicated in his honor at Calvary Cemetery in 2007. Source

29° 54.817
-093° 55.649

Calvary Cemetery
Port Arthur

March 5, 2013

Leander Harvey McNelly (1844-1877)

Leander H. McNelly, Confederate Army officer and Texas Ranger captain, was born in Virginia in 1844, the son of P. J. and Mary (Downey) McNelly. His family seems to have sojourned briefly in Missouri about 1855 before moving from Virginia to Texas in the fall of 1860. P. J. drove a herd of sheep overland to western Washington County while the rest of his family sailed to Texas. For the next five years Leander herded sheep for a neighbor, T. J. Burton. During Gen. Henry H. Sibley's New Mexico campaign, McNelly served as a private in Capt. George Washington Campbell's Company F of Col. Thomas Green's Fifth Texas Cavalry until he was detached to Sibley's escort company. In 1863, after taking part in the battle of Galveston, he served as a volunteer aide-de-camp on the staff of General Green, who was then commanding the Texas cavalry brigade of the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department. For what Theophilous Noel characterized as "his daring gallantry," Green promoted McNelly to captain of scouts and on November 25, 1863, recommended him for a captain's commission. In Green's southern Louisiana campaign of 1864 McNelly played major roles in the battles of Brashear City and Lafourche Crossing. He was seriously wounded at the battle of Mansfield in April 1864, and command of his company devolved upon his lieutenants, William D. Stone and Thomas T. Pitts, who led the unit with distinction at Pleasant Hill, Blair's Landing, and Grande Écore.

After recovering from his wound, McNelly returned to his command in May in time to participate in the battle of Yellow Bayou. He was then ordered into the Bayou Lafourche country of southern Louisiana to scout and harass the enemy. On July 1, 1864, after Green's death at the battle of Blair's Landing, Louisiana, McNelly was transferred to Gen. John A. Wharton's cavalry corps and on July 6 was ordered with his company east of the Atchafalaya River "to procure and transmit to these Headquarters the latest and definite information of the enemy's movements in that section." In 1864 McNelly commanded a scout company on Bayou Grosse Tete west of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. In Noel's words, his company "betook themselves to the swamps and canebrakes where they confined their operations until the enemy commenced their retreat." Typical of McNelly's exploits was the capture of 380 men in the Union garrison at Brashear City, Louisiana, by his party of fifteen or twenty scouts. After a period of "hunting up Jayhawkers on the Calcasieu," McNelly was transferred to Gen. George G. Walker's cavalry corps and ordered to Washington County, Texas, to arrest deserters.

After the war he turned to farming near Brenham and there married Carey Cheek. They had two children. He later worked for a time in the General Land Office. During the Edmund J. Davis administration, McNelly served as one of the four captains of the State Police from July 1, 1870, until the force was disbanded on April 22, 1873. In February 1871, after arresting four white men for the murder of a freedman in Walker County, McNelly was wounded by friends of the accused. In July 1874 a thirty-man company of volunteer militia from Washington County was mustered into the Texas Rangers as the seventh company of the Frontier Battalion. McNelly was appointed its captain and assigned to duty in DeWitt County, where the Sutton-Taylor feud was then raging. After four months of attempting to suppress civil violence there, McNelly reported that the presence of his men had been beneficial but that he was sure fighting would flare again as soon as the troops were withdrawn. In the spring of 1875 he was commissioned to raise a new company for service in the area between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande known as the Nueces Strip. This area, wrote historian Walter Prescott Webb, "stood out as something special in the way of brigandage, murder, and theft. It had more than its share" of such outlaws as John King Fisher and Juan N. Cortina. Thomas C. Robinson served as McNelly's first lieutenant, J. W. Guyon as his second lieutenant, and John B. Armstrong as his sergeant. The forty-man company saw two years of active duty, 1875-76. Nineteenth-century ranger historian Wilburn Hill King wrote that the company was "active, vigilant, daring, and successful in dealing with lawless characters" in the border region. But McNelly's methods were questionable.

His men were known to have made a number of extralegal border crossings in violation of Mexican territorial sovereignty, for which he was removed from command of the company and replaced by Jesse Lee Hall. After his removal, at the request of DeWitt county judge H. Clay Pleasants, McNelly served as an unofficial ranger during the trials of several leading defendants of the Sutton-Taylor feud in October 1876. Thereafter he retired to his farm at Burton, where he died of tuberculosis on September 4, 1877. He was buried at Burton. Remembered as "a tallish thin man of quiet manner, and with the soft voice of a timid Methodist minister," McNelly nevertheless was party to many illegal executions and to confessions forced from prisoners by extreme means. To the present day his tactics remain a subject of controversy on the border, where many remember him best for his torture and hanging of prisoners. Nevertheless, citizens of South Texas erected a monument, paid for by public subscription, to his memory. Source

30° 12.843
-096° 34.585

Mount Zion Cemetery