While not the most riveting read, the book nevertheless benefits greatly from Hampton's encyclopedic knowledge of his subject. We follow Foote from his childhood in Wharton, Texas to drama school in Pasadena, California, then struggling to find a niche in New York, writing in the "golden age" of television, and finding resurgent success on the stage, to which Foote devoted much of his life up until his passing. (A complete staging of Foote's nine-play Orphans' Home Cycle, a co-production of Hartford Stage and the Signature Theatre Company, comes to New York next month.)
While Hampton successfully weaves in anecdotes from Foote's personal life, there's little to tell beyond the mundane happenings of raising a family, leaving scandalmongers little satisfaction. In fact, the most salacious bits of this tome are reserved for passages about Foote's contemporaries, such as Tennessee Williams, Lillian Hellman, and Agnes DeMille. Indeed, one of Hampton's arguments as to why Foote and his work has been so undervalued -- as compared to Williams and other writers of the twentieth century -- is that the public is simply more drawn to the troubled and inscrutable artist.
Hampton does a particularly good job of fitting Foote into the larger context of what has colloquially come to be known as "The Greatest Generation." For instance, Hampton reveals that during the Three Mile Island nuclear accident, Foote personally telephoned trusted friend Walter Cronkite to get an assessment of the severity of the situation -- because daughter Daisy was attending nearby Dickinson College.
Stories like that one make it even more remarkable that Foote was able to lead the modest and unassuming life that he did. Indeed, Horton Foote: America's Storyteller provides a glowing example of how an artist really can have it all without burning out too quickly.