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Clare Boothe Luce

Clare Boothe Luce

Playwright and U.S. congresswoman Clare Boothe Luce (1903-1987) was hailed as one of the most able and outspoken women in public life. She became ambassador to Italy in 1953, the first American woman to represent her country to another major world power. Her marriage to publisher Henry Luce gave Clare Boothe an opportunity to compete also for journalistic acclaim.

Ann Clare Boothe was born on April 10, 1903, in New York City to Anna Snyder and William F. Boothe. Although her father, a violinist, deserted the family when Clare was nine, he instilled in his daughter a love of music and literature. In 1912 Clare became understudy to Mary Pickford in David Belasco's The Good Little Devil. She subsequently obtained similar understudy parts. In 1915 Clare entered St. Mary's, an Episcopal school on Long Island, where she met the daughter of journalist Irvin Cobb. A frequent visitor to the Cobb home, Clare was awed by such celebrities as Flo Ziegfeld, Kathleen Norris, and Richard Harding Davis.

A bright student, in 1917 Boothe enrolled in the Castle School at Tarrytown, New York, from which she graduated at the head of her class. After graduation in 1919 she went to New York City to find work.

Her mother had married physician Albert E. Austin of Greenwich, Connecticut, later a Republican Congressman from Fairfield County. Soon the three journeyed to Europe, where she met Alva Smith Vanderbilt Belmont, the women's suffrage leader.

In New York Alva Belmont offered Clare a secretarial position. During her employment she was introduced to George T. Brokaw. At 43, Brokaw was a millionaire bachelor much sought after. Smitten, he courted Clare, and they were married on August 10, 1923, at a ceremony attended by 2,500 guests.

After a European honeymoon, the couple returned to a Fifth Avenue mansion where they lived with Brokaw's mother. Their daughter Ann was born in August 1924, and the family lived at the epicenter of society until Brokaw began to lose his long battle with alcoholism. Marriage became intolerable, and Clare divorced Brokaw on May 20, 1929.

Determined to apply her writing talents, Clare appealed to Conde Nast, owner of Vogue. After a brief trial she was hired, but soon went to Vanity Fair. By early 1930 Clare was hard at work, dazzling staff and readers of Vanity Fair with her sharp intelligence and barbed wit.

In 1934 Clare met Henry Luce, publisher of Time and Fortune. Although married, he soon divorced his wife and married Clare on November 23, 1935. About that time Clare produced a play, Abide with Me, which met mixed reviews. When Henry started Life magazine, Clare wrote another play, The Women, a biting satire on modern life. It opened in New York on December 26, 1936, to wide critical acclaim.

Clare dabbled in left-wing politics during the 1930s but was ultimately as repelled by Communism as she was by Fascism. In the face of war, in 1939 Clare left for Europe as a Life correspondent. She interviewed Winston Churchill and visited the doomed Maginot Line in France. She was in Brussels May 10, 1940, when the Germans crossed the border, an experience described in her book Europe in the Spring.

Clare's work as Life correspondent carried her to the Philippines, where she interviewed Gen. Douglas MacArthur. The resulting article was a Life cover story on December 8, 1941, the day the Japanese attacked in the Far East. Throughout World War II she produced many Life stories, often at peril to her safety.

Clare Boothe Luce ran for office in 1942, winning the same Republican congressional seat from Fairfield County, Connecticut, held by her step-father in 1938. Sadly, her daughter Ann Brokaw was killed in an auto accident in January 1944. This misfortune led her to take religious instruction from Rev. Fulton J. Sheen. Later that year Luce won reelection to her congressional seat, but a growing spiritual unease prompted by her daughter's death caused her to resign from politics in 1946. She at that time announced her conversion to the Roman Catholic faith.

Luce plunged into writing: screenplays, articles, a movie script, and a monthly column for McCall's. Drawn again to the political arena, she was a delegate to the Republican National Presidential Convention in 1952.

In 1953 President Eisenhower named her U.S. ambassador to Italy. Her well-known opposition to Communism and her relentless energy, as well as the rocky nature of Mediterranean diplomacy at that time, made her tenure a stormy one. But Luce was respected and admired, and at her departure in 1956 she was given the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic.

Clare and Henry Luce moved to Arizona where she took up painting. She also became absorbed with scuba diving and travelled to Bermuda, writing an article for Sports Illustrated. In 1957 she was awarded the Laertare Medal as an outstanding Catholic layperson. She also received honorary degrees from both Fordham and Temple universities.

In 1959 Clare Boothe Luce was considered for assignment as the U.S. ambassador to Brazil, but due to Senate debate over her outspoken views, she withdrew her name. She continued to speak out vehemently against Communism and joined the unsuccessful 1964 presidential campaign to elect Barry Goldwater.

Henry Luce died on March 7, 1967, and Clare was left with a substantial income from $30 million worth of Time, Inc. stock. She settled in Honolulu, Hawaii, but in 1983 moved to Washington, D.C. Taking up residence at the Watergate apartments, she served for a time as a member of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board and maintained a position in the capital's social scene until her death from cancer October 9, 1987.

Further Reading

The most timely biography to date of Clare Boothe Luce is Rage for Fame: The Ascent of Clare Boothe Luce by Sylvia Jukes Morris (1997). Another useful reference is an earlier portrait by Stephen Shadegg entitled Clare Boothe Luce (1970). Other insight may be gained by reading Luce's articles and stories that appeared in Life magazine.

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Luce, Clare Boothe

Clare Boothe Luce, 1903–87, American playwright and diplomat, whose name originally was Anne Clare Boothe, b. New York City. Witty, outspoken, glamorous, and an articulate political conservative, Luce began her career writing for Vogue and Vanity Fair in 1930, soon becoming managing editor of the latter magazine. She married publisher Henry Luce in 1935, and the following year her play The Women, satirizing wealthy New York matrons, opened to great success on Broadway. Her other hit plays included Kiss the Boys Goodbye (1938) and Margin for Error (1939). She served two terms in the House of Representatives (1943–47) as a Republican from Connecticut, and during the Eisenhower administration was ambassador (1953–56) to Italy. Her other writings include Stuffed Shirts (1933) and Europe in the Spring (1940).

See biographies by J. Lyons (1989) and S. J. Morris (2 vol., 2014).

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Luce, Clare Boothe

LUCE, Clare Boothe

Born 10 April 1903, New York, New York; died 9 October 1987

Also wrote under: Clare Boothe, Clare Boothe Brokaw

Daughter of William F. and Ann Snyder Boothe; married George T. Brokaw, 1923 (divorced 1929); Henry R. Luce, 1935

Clare Booth Luce was a playwright, journalist, politician, diplomat, and feminist. She planned a theatrical career, attending Clare Tree Major's School of the Theater, but her direction was changed by a brief stint for the woman suffrage movement and her marriage to George Brokaw in 1923. Six years later when her marriage ended, she turned to journalism, serving in editorial posts for Vogue and then Vanity Fair. In 1931 she resigned, determined to write plays, and shortly thereafter married Henry Luce, then president of Time Inc.

This second marriage did not interrupt her career. She wrote four plays for Broadway, then devoted herself to journalism and politics. She traveled and wrote for Life, campaigned for Wendell Willkie and later for Eisenhower, served two terms as U.S. Congresswoman from Connecticut in the 1940s, and competed for a Republican senatorial nomination in the early 1950s. She lost the last race, but Eisenhower appointed her Ambassador to Italy.

During these years, Luce wrote and lectured, not only on politics but also on Catholicism, to which she was converted in midlife. After the death of Henry Luce, she retired to Hawaii, where she wrote and lectured on such diverse subjects as the women's movement, the Catholic stance on abortion, and conservative Republicanism. As a writer, Luce's most significant body of work is her plays. The first, Abide with Me (1935), is a somber melodrama about a sadistic husband who is finally shot by the faithful family servant. It ran for only 36 performances. Fame came with The Women (1936), a vitriolic comedy about wealthy ladies of leisure. The play centers on the struggles of a devoted wife to regain her husband while living amidst a jungle of catty women nourished on gossip and the misfortunes of their acquaintances. The play was filmed twice, in 1939 and 1956, and was revived on Broadway in 1973. In the light of the women's liberation movement of the 1960s and 1970s, however, the play comes across as false and unworthy.

Luce made Broadway again with Kiss the Boys Good-Bye (1938), a frivolous comedy about the much-ballyhooed Hollywood search for an unknown actress to play Scarlet O'Hara, which ran for 286 performances. Luce's last play, Margin for Error, a satiric melodrama with an anti-Nazi plot, was produced in 1939. All of her plays, except the first, were later filmed.

A review of Luce's journalistic writings reveals her personal development. Her first piece, Stuffed Shirts (1931), is a brittle series of sketches lampooning various New York characters, such as the newly rich dowager, the divorcee, and the Wall Street ladies' man. Later Luce's interests became more international. Europe in the Spring (1940) is a lively account of her European travels at the time of the great German offensive. After her seven years in politics, she wrote a series of articles for McCall's magazine (1947) describing her religious conversion to Roman Catholicism after the death of her daughter Ann. In 1952 she edited a volume of essays by American and British authors called Saints for Now. Ladies' Home Journal printed the essay "Growing Old Beautifully" in 1973.

Despite the more mellow works of her later years, Luce is remembered best as a playwright with a heavy hand for sensationalism and sentimentality—two qualities with great appeal for audiences of the 1930s. Her plays are infused with social snobbery and a brisk but vituperative wit with which she characterized the wealthy, sophisticated class. It is a great irony that the hostile, unflattering portraits of her own sex, in plays such as The Women and Kiss the Boys Good-Bye, should overshadow the more constructive efforts of this feminist.

Other Works:

Come to the Stable (nominated for an Academy Award, 1949). Child of the Morning (performed 1951, 1958). Slam the Door Softly (published in Life as A Doll's House, 1970).

Bibliography:

Betts, A. P., Women in Congress (1945). Gray, J., "Dream of Unfair Women," in On Second Thought (1946). Martin, H. Henry and Clare: An Intimate Portrait (1991). Mersand, J., American Drama 1930-1940 (1941). Shadegg, S., Clare Booth Luce: A Bibliography (1970). Sheed, W., Clare Booth Luce (1982).

Reference works:

Biographical Dictionary of the U.S. Congress, 1774-1984, Bicentennial Edition (1989). CA (1974). Catholic Authors: Contemporary Biographical Sketches, 1930-1947 (1952). NCAB. Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States (1995). TCA, TCAS.

Other references:

NR (11 May 1953). Newsweek (26 Nov. 1973). Woman's Home Companion (Nov. 1955, Dec. 1955, Jan. 1956).

—LUCINA P. GABBARD

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