See biography by J. Lyons (1989).
Clare Boothe Luce.
Learn more about Luce, Clare Boothe with a free trial on Britannica.com.
Clare Boothe Luce.
Learn more about Luce, Clare Boothe with a free trial on Britannica.com.
Clare Boothe Luce (10 April 1903, New York City – 9 October 1987, Washington DC) was an American editor, playwright, social activist, congresswoman, journalist, and ambassador. Witty, perceptive, and determined, she was also a prominent figure in New York social circles.
Boothe attended schools in Garden City and Tarrytown, New York, graduating in 1919. Her original ambition was to become an actress. She understudied Mary Pickford on Broadway at age 10, then briefly attended a school of the theater in New York City. While on a European tour with her mother and stepfather, Dr. Albert E. Austin, Boothe became interested in the Women's suffrage movement.
Boothe married George Tuttle Brokaw, heir to a New York clothing fortune, on August 10, 1923, at the age of 20. They had one daughter, Ann Clare Brokaw born Apr 21, 1926. According to Boothe, Brokaw was an alcoholic, and the marriage ended in divorce in 1929. On November 23, 1935, Boothe married Henry Robinson Luce, the wealthy and influential publisher of Time, Fortune, and Life.
Luce was well-acquainted with other members of New York society and was a close personal friend of actress Dorothy Hale. After Hale's dramatic death by suicide in October 1938, Luce commissioned Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, who also had been a friend of Hale's, to do a portrait of the ill-fated thespian. Kahlo, in response, painted "El Suicidio de Dorothy Hale," a lurid depiction of Hale's death that reportedly shocked and horrified Luce.
On January 11, 1944, Luce's daughter Ann, while a senior at Stanford University, was killed in an automobile accident. As a result of this tragedy, Luce explored psychotherapy and religion, joining the Roman Catholic Church in 1946. She ultimately joined the Dames of Malta. She and her husband "Harry" experimented with LSD under the tutelage of Gerald Heard and Sidney Cohen in the late 1950s.
In 1935, after her second marriage, Clare Boothe Luce's first play Abide with Me, a psychological drama about an abusive husband and his terrified wife, opened on Broadway. Her 1936 play The Women was a satire on the idleness of wealthy wives and divorcees. It was immensely popular with the public, though received coolly by critics; it ran for 657 performances. The Women was adapted for the screen and released by MGM in 1939. In 1938, Luce introduced a political allegory about American Fascism in Kiss the Boys Goodbye. With a storyline about the search for an actress to play Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind, the play was named one of the 10 best of the year. In Margin for Error (1939), Luce presented the murder of a Nazi agent as both a comedy and a melodrama. It was well received, and, along with the two earlier successful plays, confirmed Luce's status as a leading American playwright.
In 1940, after World War II had begun, Luce took time away from her success as a playwright and traveled to Europe as a journalist for her husband's Life Magazine. During a four-month visit, she covered a wide range of battlefronts. Her observations of Italy, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and England in the midst of the German offensive were published as Europe in the Spring in 1940. This anecdotal account describes "... a world where men have decided to die together because they are unable to find a way to live together."
In 1941, Luce and her husband toured China and reported on the status of the country and its war with Japan. After the United States entered World War II, Luce toured Africa, India, China, and Burma, compiling reports for Life. Luce endured the frustrations and dangers familiar to most war correspondents, including bombing raids in Europe and the Far East. Luce's unsettling observations eventually led to changes in British military policy in the Middle East.
During this tour, she published interviews with General Harold Alexander, commander of British troops in the Middle East; Chiang Kai-Shek; Jawaharlal Nehru; and General Joseph Warren Stilwell, commander of American troops in the China-Burma-India theater. While in Trinidad and Tobago, she faced house arrest by British Customs due to Allied discomfort over contents of a draft Life article.
In 1947, after her second term in the US House expired, Luce wrote a series of articles describing her conversion to Roman Catholicism under the influence of Fulton J. Sheen. These were published in McCall's magazine. In 1949, she wrote the screenplay for the film Come to the Stable, about two nuns trying to raise money to build a children's hospital. The screenplay was nominated for an Academy Award. Luce returned to writing for the stage in 1951 with Child of the Morning. In 1952, she edited the book Saints for Now, a compilation of essays about various saints written by authors including Whittaker Chambers, Evelyn Waugh, Bruce Marshall, and Rebecca West. She wrote her final play, Slam the Door Softly, in 1970.
In 1942, Luce won a Republican seat in the United States House of Representatives representing Fairfield County, Connecticut, the 4th Congressional District. She filled the seat formerly held by her late stepfather, Dr. Austin. An outspoken critic of the Democratic President's foreign policy, Luce won the respect of the ultraconservative isolationists in Congress and received an appointment to the Military Affairs Committee.
However, her voting record was generally more moderate, siding with the administration on issues such as funding for American troops and aid to war victims. Recent scholarship indicates that this may have been a result of her amorous relationships with the "Baker Street Irregulars" - a group of culturally elite spies sent by Churchill to Washington to influence American political views. Luce won a second term in the House in 1944 and was instrumental in the creation of the Atomic Energy Commission and began warning against the growing threat of international Communism.
Luce returned to politics during the 1952 presidential election, when she campaigned on behalf of Republican candidate Dwight Eisenhower. Luce's support was rewarded with an appointment as ambassador to Italy, confirmed by the Senate in March 1953. Meeting Pope Pius XII, she allegedly instructed him to be tougher on communism in defense of the Church, prompting the Pontiff to a quiet reply, "You know, Mrs. Ambassador, I am a Catholic too." As ambassador, Luce addressed the issue of anticommunism and the Italian labor movement and helped settle the dispute between Italy and what was then Yugoslavia over the United Nations territorial lines in Trieste. Not long afterward, Luce fell seriously ill with arsenic poisoning caused by paint chips falling from the stucco that decorated her bedroom ceiling, and was forced to resign in 1956.
Luce maintained her association with the conservative wing of the Republican party. She was well known for her anti-Communist views, as well as her advocacy of fiscal conservatism. In 1964, she supported Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona, the Republican candidate for president, and considered a candidacy for the United States Senate from New York on the Conservative party ticket. However, also in 1964, "Harry" Luce retired as editor-in-chief of Time, and Luce joined him by also retiring from public life. In 1979, she was the first female to be awarded the Sylvanus Thayer Award by the United States Military Academy at West Point.
In 1981, newly inaugurated President Ronald Reagan appointed Luce to the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. She served on the board until 1983, the year President Reagan awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Luce's most significant legacy exists in the bequest she left to the Foundation created by her husband, The Henry Luce Foundation. Since its first grants in 1989 the Clare Boothe Luce Program has become the single most significant source of private support for women in science, mathematics and engineering. To date grants of more than $120 million have supported some 1,550 women. Grants are made to colleges and universities, not directly to individuals. For more information about the Clare Boothe Luce Program and grant application procedures, refer to http://www.hluce.org/cblprogram.aspx.
Even after her death, the ideas of Clare Boothe Luce - both in the theatrical and political realms - continue to exert a strong influence. In 2002, The Roundabout Theatre Company staged a revival of her comedy The Women, which was later broadcast by the PBS series Stage on Screen. The three stars of this production were Cynthia Nixon, Kristen Johnston and Rue McClanahan. In 2008, a new film version of the play was released, written and directed by Diane English, and starring Meg Ryan, Annette Benning, Eva Mendes, Debra Messing, Jada Pinkett Smith, Carrie Fisher, Cloris Leachman, Bette Midler, and Candice Bergen.
In the arena of politics, Luce's name lives on in the form of the Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute, a non-profit think tank that seeks to advance American women through conservative ideas and espouses much the same philosophy as the late Clare Boothe Luce, both in terms of foreign policy and domestic policy.