Born in 1931, Duvall was a navy brat. His family traveled frequently, affording him exposure to the rich diversity of American accents, speech patterns, and mannerisms. Both of his parents were Southerners, and from his youth, he was attracted to their regional traditions and values. He also developed an abiding respect for the values of discipline and self-reliance demanded by the family’s Christian Science faith. His high regard for hard work, self-discipline, self-reliance, familial solidarity, and for the rural values of the South and West have often determined his choice of roles and his endeavors as a film writer, director, and producer.
After amateur experience in college and in the army, Duvall studied acting with Sanford Meisner at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York. His first major stage role was as Eddie Carbonne in A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE. The small but pivotal role of Boo Radley in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD gave Duvall his first film exposure and also marked the beginning of a close personal and professional association with a fellow Southerner, writer Horton Foote. Appropriately, Foote wrote the screenplays of TOMORROW and TENDER MERCIES which, like TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, provided Duvall with inarticulate but emotional Southern characters redeemed from lonely isolation by the power of love. Among other memorable characterizations which, in a different way, reflect Duvall’s conservative values, are Bull Meechum in THE GREAT SANTINI and Lieutenant Colonel Kelgore in APOCALYPSE NOW.
Although this book suffers from sloppy proofreading, the absence of a bibliography or any note on sources, and the author’s often excessively adulatory attitude toward her subject, it nevertheless provides a comprehensive analysis of Duvall’s career.