On Jan. 26, Jennifer Robles posted the news on Tom Huckabee’s Facebook feed that he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer the previous August. The particularly fast-moving and lethal variety of cancer had spread to myriad other body parts. Huckabee had not publicized his sickness, so many of his friends (myself included) were taken by surprise. We had two days to say our farewells before he passed away, leaving behind a motion picture legacy and fond memories among those who knew him.
Born in 1955, Huckabee attended Southwest High School, where he had expressed an interest in filmmaking and won first prize at a TCU contest for students. Through this, he fatefully met actor-filmmaker Bill Paxton, and the two men moved to Hollywood to start working in show business. Their careers and lives would intertwine, though Huckabee would spend part of the 1970s back in Texas to study film at UT and play drums for the punk band The Huns. He moved back to Hollywood in 1980 to work as a screenwriter, where he married casting director Barbara Cohen, a marriage that lasted until her death in 2006.
The later phase of his career would be documented extensively in the pages of the Fort Worth Weekly. Huckabee became the inaugural artistic director of the Lone Star Film Festival after a period of some years when Fort Worth had gone without a civic film festival. Paxton had introduced him to the late Johnny Langdon, and the two men were tasked with deciding what sort of event they were going to hold.
“I didn’t feel that Fort Worth was the place for an edgy, politically subversive festival,” Huckabee said in a 2008 interview.
Instead, he aimed for an inclusive event that featured something for everyone, like he had seen at festivals in Seattle and Chicago. “They give you a smorgasbord of things that can’t easily be seen.”
The festival terminated his employment that year, which caused Paxton and several board members to sever ties, but Huckabee insisted that he had no hard feelings toward the annual event, and the management team that took his place paid tribute to him at that year’s festival, cheering him on while he sat in the audience.
He had already moved on to directing his feature film, Carried Away, a dramedy about a young Texas filmmaker (Gabriel Horn) who returns home from California to pull his dementia-afflicted grandmother (Juli Erickson) out of a nursing home. The film won the top prize at the Oxford Film Festival in Mississippi and found life screening at homes for the elderly for some time thereafter. Huckabee then worked as a writer on Benjamin Wilbanks’ vampire comedy series Ghostbreakers and had an art show at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center. Following Paxton’s sudden death in 2017, Huckabee threw himself into memorializing his childhood friend via screenings of their 1983 film Taking Tiger Mountain and turning the lot next to his house into a sculpture garden in Paxton’s honor.
Huckabee also worked as a producer on Horn’s documentary film Picasso’s Christ, as Huckabee had been one of the first to see the artwork after Horn purchased it in 2008.
Huckabee, Horn said, “directly led me to many prominent interviews on the subject … who would eventually help in my efforts to uncover the criminals and murderer involved. Damn, I miss him so much already.”
Horn was not alone in paying his respects, with several on social media reporting that they had watched Carried Away on Amazon Prime. Stacey Lynn Gilbert wrote, “What a creative, generous, kind, and genuinely good human being he was.” Former Weekly writer Jeff Prince posted that he “found him to be an odd duck in the best sense … . He taught me patience and gratitude, and I appreciate the lessons.”
While working on various stories about Tom Huckabee and his creative endeavors, both Jeff and I noted his courtly demeanor and his willingness to give us a quote or point us toward a source. He never snapped at people even under the stress of running a film festival where things inevitably went wrong. More than a creative force, Fort Worth’s film scene lost a decent man with Tom Huckabee’s passing. It’s gratifying that his friends found ways to express this to him while he was here.