Authors: Clare Boothe Luce

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American journalist and playwright

Author Works

Nonfiction:

Stuffed Shirts, 1931

Europe in the Spring, 1940

The Mystery of American Policy in China, 1949 (address)

The Twilight of God, 1949 (pamphlet)

Little Rock and the Muscovite Moon: Challenges to America’s Leadership, 1957 (address)

American Morality and Nuclear Diplomacy, 1961 (address)

The Crisis in Soviet Chinese Relations, 1964 (pamphlet)

Drama:

Abide with Me, pr. 1935

The Women, pr. 1936, pb. 1937, revised 1966

Kiss the Boys Good-bye, pr. 1938

Margin for Error, pr. 1939

Child of the Morning, pr. 1951

Slam the Door Softly, pb. 1970 (one act)

Edited Text:

Saints for Now, 1952

Biography

Clare Boothe Luce (lews), one of the most talented and versatile women of the twentieth century, was born into genteel poverty to Ann Snyder, a former chorus girl, and William Franklin Boothe, a violinist and itinerant businessman. Her father moved his family from city to city until he deserted Ann Clare Boothe and her younger brother, David. With the aid of friends and scholarships, Clare attended private schools: St. Mary’s Cathedral School in Garden City, New York, and Miss Mason’s School, “The Castle,” in Tarrytown, New York, graduating in 1919. For a brief time, she studied acting at Clare Tree Major’s School of Theatre in New York City. Her original ambition was to be an actress.{$I[A]Luce, Clare Boothe}{$S[A]Boothe Luce, Clare;Luce, Clare Boothe}{$I[geo]WOMEN;Luce, Clare Boothe}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Luce, Clare Boothe}{$I[tim]1903;Luce, Clare Boothe}

After graduation, she took a job in Dennison’s paper factory for eighteen dollars a week. With this money, she studied typing and shorthand (stenography). During this period, she began to write short stories and poetry. She wrote Stuffed Shirts, a collection of lampoons on New York society, focusing on social faux pas and social triumphs of the wealthy during the 1920’s. Set mostly in New York and Newport, Rhode Island, this satire became a hallmark of much of the author’s subsequent writing.

She married the wealthy George Tuttle Brokaw, with whom she had her only child, Ann Clare. The marriage ended in divorce in 1929. Boothe then went on to Vogue magazine as a captions writer for picture features. From there, she moved to Vanity Fair magazine, where she developed her skills as an editor and where she met her husband Henry Robinson Luce, whom she married in 1935. He had founded Time magazine and the business periodical Fortune. Later, at his wife’s suggestion, he would found Life magazine as well as Sports Illustrated.

In the same year as her marriage, Clare Boothe Luce’s first play, Abide with Me, opened on Broadway. An unsuccessful play with autobiographical overtones, it portrays a wealthy alcoholic married to a young, terrified wife. Luce won international fame the next year with The Women. The drama satirizes a small group of wealthy Park Avenue wives who reveal human frailties and double standards. Her exposure of selected feminine types presents a clinical study of an isolated group. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer recast the play into a rather unsuccessful musical as The Opposite Sex in 1956. The next play, according to the playwright’s intentions, presented a political allegory about American fascism, but the public saw it only as a satire on the Hollywood hype over the search for an unknown actress to portray Scarlett O’Hara in the 1939 film Gone with the Wind.

As a war correspondent for Life, Luce published her first nonfiction book, based on her travels and observations abroad, Europe in the Spring. Because Germany had invaded France, among other nations, she warned Americans about the dangers of complacency. The same year, she wrote Margin for Error, a play centering on a confrontation between a Jewish policeman and a Nazi consul. Luce wanted to present the Democrats’ rebuttal to national Socialism. This anti-Nazi play was written two months after Germany invaded Poland.

Although Luce was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Motion Picture Story for Come to the Stable (1949), many critics consider the plot to be mediocre. It is a sentimental tale about two nuns trying to find a home for crippled children in Bethlehem. Based on the life of St. Maria Goretti, an Italian martyr, Child of the Morning is a devotional comedy about a teenager in Brooklyn who decides not to be a nun.

Her drama Slam the Door Softly was first published in Life magazine as an answer to Henrik Ibsen’s Et dukkehjem (pr., pb. 1879; A Doll’s House, 1880) In her work, she voices her feminist views. Luce’s richly varied career, in addition to writing and editing, encompassed that of congresswoman and diplomat. In 1941 she ran for the congressional seat vacated by her late stepfather, Dr. Albert Austin. She won the election, becoming the first woman representative from Connecticut. Named to the Committee on Military Affairs, she attacked President Franklin Roosevelt’s foreign policy. She spoke for American troops, showing concern for their eventual return to civilian life. She won reelection to a second term in the House of Representatives in 1944.

Depite all her fame and numerous honors, the key event in her life came in the form of tragedy: Her nineteen-year-old daughter, Ann Brokaw, then a student at Stanford University, was killed in a car crash. Luce suffered a nervous breakdown, sought therapy, and found solace in her conversion to Roman Catholicism (1946). She wrote a series of articles in McCall’s magazine and two more plays, and she edited Saints for Now, a collection of essays about various saints by well-known authors.

Returning to politics, she campaigned for Dwight D. Eisenhower for president, and when he won, she was rewarded by being appointed the first woman ambassador to Italy. In 1981 she was appointed to the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. She served in that capacity under three presidents.

Although critics found her to be an antifeminist, she actually fostered the cause of American women by assuming positions that helped to shape the world of women in the twentieth century. Biographer Alden Hatch wrote of her: “Brilliant, yet often foolish; idealistic, yet realistic to the verge of cynicism; tough as a Marine sergeant, but almost quixotically kind to unfortunates; with the mind and courage of a man and exceedingly feminine in instincts; the complexities of her character are as numerous as the facets of her career.” (quoted from her obituary in The New York Times, October 10, 1987).

BibliographyBaldrige, Letitia. Of Diamonds and Diplomats. New York: Lanewood Press, 1969. Luce appears in Baldrige’s popular memoir of life at the White House.Fearnow, Stephen. Clare Boothe Luce: A Research and Production Source Book. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1995. Offers a detailed look at Luce’s dramatic works. A survey of her plays and the world’s reception of them, the book provides a thorough treatment of her published and unpublished writings as well as an annotated bibliography of reviews and criticism.Morris, Sylvia. Rage for Fame: The Ascent of Clare Boothe Luce. New York: Random House, 1997. Describes Luce’s rise from obscurity by what Morris calls the sheer force of brains and sex appeal. There is little sympathy here for the subject, but gossipy details abound. Morris used Luce’s diaries to craft this biography.
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