|Clare Boothe Luce
playwright, journalist, U.S.
Congresswoman, the first American woman to hold a
major diplomatic post
Clare Boothe was born in New York City
on April 10, 1903, the daughter of a businessman
and a dancer. She was educated at St. Mary's
School in Garden City, New York, and Miss Mason's
School in Tarrytown, graduating from the latter
in 1919. She spent her childhood in Chicago and
Memphis, and then, after her parents separated,
with her mother in France.
As a child Clare wanted to
become an actress, and she briefly attended Clare
Tree Major's School of Theatre in New York City
before losing interest and dropping out. She
subsequently spent some time touring Europe with
In Europe, Clare met Mrs.
O.H.P. Belmont, a New York society matron and
advocate of women's suffrage, who sparked her
interest in women's rights. Belmont also
introduced her to George Tuttle Brokaw, a New
York clothing manufacturer who was 24 years her
senior. The two were married on August 10, 1923,
and had one daughter before divorcing in 1929.
Boothe became an editorial
assistant at Vogue magazine in 1930,
associate editor of Vanity Fair in 1931,
and managing edtor of Vanity Fair in
1933. She also began writing short sketches
satirizing New York society figures, which were
subsequently compiled and published under the
title Stuffed Shirts in 1933. She
resigned from Vanity Fair in 1934.
On November 23, 1935, Boothe
married Henry Robinson Luce, founder of Time,
Fortune, Life and Sports
Luce next turned her energy
towards writing plays. Abide With Me, a
psychological drama about an abusive husband on a
collision course with his terrified wife, was
panned by critics upon its release in 1935. Her
second play, The Women, a satire on the
idleness of wealthy wives and divorcees, was
coolly received by critics in 1936, but became
very popular with the public. It toured
throughout the United States and eighteen
countries, and was even adapted to the silver
screen. Her other notable plays include: Kiss
the Boys Good-Bye (1938), a comedy about
Hollywood's highly publicized search for an
actress to portray Scarlett O'Hara which was
named one of the ten best plays of the year; and Margin
for Error (1939), which treated the murder
of a Nazi agent as both comedy and melodrama,
also proved quite popular with the public.
In 1940, Luce traveled to
Europe as a journalist for her husband's Life
magazine. From there she published first-hand
observations of the German offensives in Italy,
France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and England.
These articles were subsequently collected and
published under the title Europe in the
Spring (1940). In 1941, Clare and her
husband toured China and reported to Life
the status of the country, particularly its war
with Japan. After U.S. entry into World War II,
Clare toured Africa, India, China and Burma for Life,
during which time she interviewed General Harold
R.L.G. Alexander, commander of British troops in
Middle East, Jawaharlal Nehru, Chiang Kai-Shek, and General
"Vinegar Joe" Stilwell, commander of
American troops in the China-Burma-India theater.
In 1942, using her travels as evidence of
experience in international affairs, Luce ran for
a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives as a
Republican from Connecticut.
Campaigning on a platform that alleged that President Franklin D.
Roosevelt had brought the U.S. into war
unprepared, Boothe won the election with ease. In her maiden speech she called
Vice-President Henry A. Wallace's
freedom-of-the-air policy to insure international
peace "globaloney." A member of the
powerful Military Affairs Committee,
Congresswoman Luce spoke often on behalf of
American troops fighting overseas, as well as on
issues concerning their eventual return to
civilian life. After visiting American troops in
Italy on Christmas Day 1944, she advocated
immediate aid to Italian war victims. After being
re-elected in 1944, she warned against the
growing threat of Communism internationally,
especially in China, and of the seeming soft
approach to Communism being taken by Roosevelt.
She was also instrumental in creation of the
Atomic Energy Commission. Ironically, despite her
frequent criticism of President Roosevelt's
foreign policy, she voted in his favor on other
issues most of the time.
On January 11, 1944, Luce's
only daughter Ann was killed in an automobile
accident, which caused her to suffer a nervous
breakdown and undergo psychotherapy. The
experience led her to join the Catholic Church in
1946, after which she chose to leave the House
and return to writing.
After leaving Congress in 1947,
Luce wrote a series of articles describing her
conversion to Catholicism, which were
subsequently published in McCall's;
wrote the screenplay for Come to the Stable
(1949), for which she received an Academy Award
nomination; wrote the play Child of the
Morning (1951); and edited Saints for
Now (1952), a compilation of essays about
Although she had given up her
seat in Congress, Luce had not given up politics.
In 1952 she campaigned on behalf of Republican
presidential candidate Dwight D. Eisenhower. In appreciation of her campaign work,
President Eisenhower named her Ambassador to
Italy in 1953, making her the first American
woman to hold a major diplomatic post. Her most
important contribution in this post was helping
to settle a dispute between Italy and Yugoslavia
over the city of Trieste, in October 1954. She
was forced to resign her position in 1956 due to
arsenic poisoning brought on by paint chips in
her bedroom ceiling.
After spending a
few years painting and creating mosaics, Luce was
again called upon for her diplomatic experience.
In 1959, President Eisenhower nominated her for
the position of Ambassador to Brazil. A major
Senate battle ensued over the nomination,
however, led primarily by Democrat Wayne Morse.
Although the nomination was finally confirmed by
a vote of 79 to 11, Luce resigned a few days
later after saying that Morse's actions during
the confirmation hearings were the result of him
being "kicked in the head by a horse."
Luce remained active within the
ultraconservative wing of the Republican Party
for several more years. She supported Barry
Goldwater's bid for the presidency in 1964. That
same year she announced her candidacy for the
U.S. Senate on the Conservative Party ticket, but
withdrew from the race when Republican party
leaders voiced their disapproval.
Harry Luce retired as
editor-in-chief of Time in 1964, and
Clare soon joined him by retiring from public
life herself. The couple lived in Phoenix,
Arizona, until his death from a sudden heart
attack on February 28, 1967, after which she had
a house built in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Clare Luce stayed out of the
limelight until 1970, when she released the play Slam
the Door Softly, which attracted little
In 1981, after President Ronald Reagan appointed her to the President's
Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, Luce moved
to an apartment in the Watergate complex in
Washington, D.C. She served on the board until
1983, when she was presented with the
Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Clare Boothe Luce died in her
Washington, D.C., apartment of a brain tumor on
October 9, 1987.
Women Come to the Front:
Journalists, Photographers, and Broadcasters
During World War II www.loc.gov/exhibits/wcf/wcf0010.html
New York City
World War II
President Franklin D.
Dwight D. Eisenhower
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