Replacing the Romantic Plantation: Horton Foote’s Dramatic Engagement from Gone with the Wind (The Musical) to Convicts
Harold Rome’s musical version of Gone with the Wind was staged in 1972-3 in London, and, though not financially successful, it had a creditable onstage run. Texas playwright Horton Foote adapted Margaret Mitchell’s very popular novel for this project, bringing with him a solid record of dramatic writing, including the Oscar-winning screenplay for To Kill a Mockingbird. This paper describes Foote’s involvement with this musical production and his own personal situation during this time, showing how this experience contributed to his subsequent accomplishments. He was in fact a distant relative of Harriet Beecher Stowe, whose Uncle Tom’s Cabin affected the South much more violently than any other novel has, and his own descent from a wealthy Texas planter gave him a unique perspective on the burst of British enthusiasm for Confederate culture. Foote’s personal under-standing of the lasting impact of slavery upon his home region conflicted with the Gone with the Wind project’s sentimental vision and motivated him to develop his own dramatic description of the plantation and its unromantic reality in his play Convicts, the second drama of his great nine-play Orphans’ Home Cycle. In this play, the most significant music is that of the legendary blues guitarist Leadbelly. This essay describes the sometimes-ludicrous history of the London show and goes on to explain Foote’s subsequent confrontation of negotiations between his great-great-grandfather ‘Governor’ Albert C. Horton (1798-1865) and Louisa Picquet, a former slave, who strove to purchase her still-enslaved mother from Horton. The outcome of this transaction inspired Foote to create Soll Gautier, the half-crazed plantation owner in Convicts, a savage character no one would associate with moonlight and magnolias.
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