Thomas Hal Phillips

Thomas Phillips, photo courtesy of the author

Thomas Phillips, photo courtesy of the author

Major Works

Books

  • The Loved and the Unloved 1955, 1998
  • The Golden Lie 1951
  • Search for a Hero 1952
  • The Bitterweed Path 1950, 1996
  • Kangaroo Hollow 1954
  • Red Midnight 2002

Movies

  • Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry
  • Walking Tall II
  • O. C. and Stiggs
  • Ode to Billy Joe
  • Tarzan’s Fight for Life
  • Huckleberry Finn
  • The Brain Machine
  • Minstrel Man
  • Nightmare in Badham County
  • Nashville

Short Stories

  • “Lone Bridge
  • “Mostly in the Fields”
  • “The Shadow of an Arm”
  • “A Touch of Earth”

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Thomas Hal Phillips: A Biography

By Matthew Rowe (SHS) 2001

Phillips signing books at the Southern Literary Festival at MSU.  Photo by N. Jacobs

Phillips signing books at the Southern Literary Festival at MSU. Photo by N. Jacobs

Thomas Hal Phillips was born on October 11, 1922, on an old farm near Corinth, Mississippi, to W. T. Phillips and Ollie Fare Phillips.  He was one of six children (Lloyd 370) and attended Alcorn Agricultural High School near the town of Corinth or  Kossuth, where he lives today.  There he wrote for the school paper, played football, and argued for the debate team. After his graduation from high school, he went to Mississippi State College and majored in social science.  He graduated with a B. S. degree  from Mississippi State College in Starkville, Mississippi, in 1943 and served with the United States Navy as a lieutenant (junior grade . during the Second World War.  After leaving the military, he studied creative writing at the University of Alabama, receiving an M. A. in 1948 (Lloyd 371).

The Loved and the  UnlovedWhile at the University of Alabama, Thomas Hal Phillips wrote The Bitterweed Path as his thesis for his master’s degree.  It is a coming of age story and this became his first published book.  Published in 1950, this book has been successful and is considered to be very well written. His next book, The Golden Lie, was published in 1951.  It has not been as successful as The Bitterweed Path, because, according to some critics,  it is not as complex as The Bitterweed Path.  In 1952, Search for a Hero was published and won critical acclaim.  His next book, called Kangaroo Hollow, was first published in England in 1954, and only recently (2000) has been published in America.  In 1955 his last book The Loved and the Unloved was published to mixed reviews.  It also has been reprinted just recently in this country.  Phillips published a novel called Red Midnight in 2002 about a young boy in the South who has lost his mother .  It was his first published novel in forty years.  The novel is the story of a young man discovering himself during the years after the Second World War in Mississippi.Red Midnight

From 1948  until 1950 Phillips taught creative writing at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.  After publishing his five books, he became the  Public Service Commissioner of the northern district of Mississippi, following his brother in the position.  He served in this position until he resigned to manage his brother Rubel Lex Phillips’s unsuccessful campaign bid for governor of Mississippi (Lloyd 371).

Thomas Phillips, photo courtesy of the author

Thomas Phillips, photo courtesy of the author

Since the sixties, Thomas Hal Phillips has worked on numerous screenplays — primarily as a writer but also in non-writer positions.  Among the films that he has worked on are Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, Tarzan’s Fight for Life, Huckleberry Finn, Minstrel Man, The Brain Machine, Nightmare in Badham County, Walking Tall II, Buffalo Bill, and Ode to Billy Joe. He also worked on the Emmy Award winning Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. Furthermore, he has been associated with Robert Altman’s Thieves Like Us, California Split, and Nashville, for which he created and then played  the part of a presidential candidate named Hal Phillip Walker, whose voice is heard but whose face is never seen on screen (Phillips). Also in his Hollywood career, Phillips served as executive producer, associate producer and location scout.

Several of Thomas Hal Phillips’s  short stories received critical notice.  The short story “Mostly in the Fields” (Virginia Quarterly Review, 27 [1951], 546-55) became part of his book Search for a Hero. “A Touch of Earth” (Southwest Review, 34 [1949], 340-47) was included in Martha Foley’s Best American Short Stories of 1949.   “The Shadow of an Arm” (Virginia Quarterly Review, 16 [1950], 578-86) was one of the O. Henry Prize Stories of 1951, and  “Lone Bridge” was published in the Southwest Review, 36 [1951], 104-10) (Lloyd 372). From 1947 to 1953 Phillips received several grants including the Julius Rosenwald Fellowship in fiction, the Eugene F. Saxton Award, the Fulbright Fellowship and a Guggenheim Fellowship as well as the O. Henry Prize for a short story mentioned above.

Phillips with teacher Nancy Jacobs at MSU

Phillips with teacher Nancy Jacobs at MSU

Thomas Hal Phillips died in Kossuth, Mississippi,  in 2007.  Red Midnight, published in 2002, was his last work.

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Reviews

A Review of The Loved and Unloved

by Matthew Rowe (SHS)

Matthew Rowe (SHS Researcher)

Matthew Rowe (SHS Researcher)

The Loved and the Unloved by Thomas Hal Phillips is a very well-written book about a boy coming of age and of his crime.  Phillips keeps the reader  in suspense with his great ability to foreshadow impending events.  It is a book filled with insights and descriptions that will keep you reading until the very end.  The Loved and the Unloved relates the story of a crippled, teen-age boy named Max Hopper, who lives on a tenet farm in Mississippi in the early 1900’s. There is much tension between Max and the Vance Acroft, the son of the owner of the large farm on which Max’s parents are sharecroppers.   The story is told in the first person by Max as he sits in prison on death row. Phillips builds the suspense as a horse kills Max’s  brother on the Acroft’s farm.  Once his brother is killed,  Max’s father tries to sue Mr. Acroft because the boy was killed in Acroft’s  barn.  However, the lawsuit fails, and Max’s father leaves, leaving Max to take care of the family.  Out of necessity, Max goes to work at the sawmill to earn money.  Max likes the landlord’s daughter, and she appears to like him despite their obvious social/class differences. . However,  things happen which lead  to a terrible crime.   As the compassionate executioner commits suicide to avoid executing the unloved , the reader is caught in the tragic story.

You will have to find more out for yourself by reading the Love and the Unloved.

I liked this book because of the great detail and insight.  The insight that Max receives from Mr. ten Hoor, an elderly man at the place Max’s mother works, shows how older people can show the way to enlightenment to young people, and how young people take it.  The detail that Thomas Hal Phillips uses when the characters  react to events in their lives adds meaning to the book and helps you to understand what is going on and prepares you for what may happen.

I think that this book is for everyone and should be read by almost everyone. Nevertheless, someone who reads this book needs some degree of maturity because of some violence and racial issues.This book shows how people used to be and what their actions caused.This would be a good book for someone to learn from and to see how people of the South have changed from the early 1900’s and how far we have or have not come in today’s society.

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An Interview with Thomas Hal Phillips – April 21, 2001

By Matthew Rowe (SHS)

“When did you start writing?”

Thomas Phillips, photo courtesy of the author

Thomas Phillips, photo courtesy of the author

“I really don’t really know. I started very early–ten or eleven years old.  It just appealed to me, so I just started writing.”

“What inspired you to write?”

“ My English teacher, who was a creative writer, he had a group of five or six students that he taught on the side, and then he worked with them.   That was my biggest inspiration early on when I was 14 or 15 years old.”

“What book inspires you the most?”

“’Look Homeward Angel’ by Thomas Wolfe, my favorite American novelist.”

“What book would you recommend teens to read?”

Read the great writers in American and French.  If you’re fourteen to fifteen years old , then you should read those books.”

“Did you like doing Nashville?”

“Yes, I did like doing that.  I did the political part of that.”

“How much time did you spend on that?”

“I was associate producer,  but I was not carried as that but I really was.  I did location and casting and a lot of things.  It was February in Nashville, and then in May we stayed there until September. It was quite a long stay for us.”

“What is your favorite movie that you have worked on?”

Nashville was my favorite.”

“What was your favorite part of it?”

“Well, I played the presidential candidate.   It gave me a real important part; that’s why I like it so much.”

“You think you’ll do any more writing?”

“Yea, I got a book that’s at the publisher’s now.”

“What’s the name for it?”

“Red Midnight.”

“What is it about?”

“It’s set in Alcorn County.   It’s about a little boy. It’s about a youngster whose mother was a French bride and whose father was an American.  It’s the story of him.”

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Related Websites

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Bibliography

  • Hurley, Cheryl. “Thomas Hal Phillips.” Corinth Information Database. 24 October 1992. Available HTTP: www.tsixroads.com/corinthMLSANDY?mw004.html
  • Lloyd, James B., Ed. Lives of Mississippi Authors. 2827-2967. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1981.370-372.
  • Phillips, Thomas Hal. Personal phone interview. 21 April 2001.
  • “Thomas Hal Phillips Corinth, Mississippi.” Shop Mississippi. Online. Internet. 1
    April 2001. Available HTTP: www.Shopmississippi.com/thomashalphillips.html

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