Like Eugene O’Neill, the playwright Horton Foote essentially had two careers. During the first, which lasted from the early 1940s until the late 1960s, he established a reputation as a fine regional writer with a homespun flavor, occasional flashes of brilliance, and a flawless ear for the dialogue of his native East Texas. The one-act plays Foote wrote for live television in the early 1950s (The Oil Well, The Trip to Bountiful, and Death of the Old Man, among others) were immediately recognized as works that lifted the new medium to a higher level. His Oscar-winning screen adaptation of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) put him at the top of Hollywood’s A-list.

But the downward slope from that pinnacle is famously precipitous, and by 1968 the world seemed to have lost interest in what Foote had to offer. Sex and violence now ruled at the Hollywood box office. Original t ...