Clare Boothe Luce (April 10, 1903 – October 9, 1987) was an American editor, playwright, social activist, politician, journalist, and diplomat. Witty, perceptive and determined, she was also a prominent figure in New York society circles (see ).
Ann Clare Boothe, the illegitimate child of dancer Anna Snyder and William Franklin Boothe, was born in New York City. Although her father, a violinist, deserted the family when Clare was nine, he instilled in his daughter a love of music and literature. Parts of her childhood were spent in Chicago, Illinois, Memphis, Tennessee, and, with her mother, in France.
Boothe attended schools in Garden City and Tarrytown, New York, graduating in 1919. Her original ambition was to become an actress and she understudied Mary Pickford on Broadway at age ten, 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, a New York clothing manufacturer, on August 10, 1923 at the age of 20. They had one daughter, Ann Clare Brokaw. 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 Magazine, Fortune, Life Magazine and Sports Illustrated.
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, ultimately 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.
As a writer for stage, film and magazines, Luce was known for her skill with satire and understatement, as well as her charm with people, which she displayed in oft-quoted aphorisms such as, "No good deed goes unpunished." After the end of her first marriage, Clare Boothe resumed her maiden name, and joined the staff of the fashion magazine Vogue, as an editorial assistant in 1930. In 1931, she became associate editor of Vanity Fair, and began writing short sketches satirizing New York society. In 1933, the same year she became managing editor of the magazine, her sketches were compiled and published under the title Stuffed Shirts. Boothe resigned from Vanity Fair in 1934 to pursue a career as a playwright.
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, although received coolly by critics, and ran for 657 performances. The Women" was adapted for the screen in 1939. In 1938, Luce introduced a political allegory about American Fascism in Kiss the Boys Goodbye. With a story line about the search for an actress to play Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind, the play was named one of the ten best plays of the year. In Margin of 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 began, Luce took time away from her success as a playwright, and traveled to Europe as a journalist for her husband's Life. During a four month visit, she covered a wide range of World War II 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, 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. 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. Her final play, Slam the Door Softly, was written 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 step-father, 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. Luce won reelection to 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. As ambassador, Luce addressed the issue of anticommunism and the Italian labor movement and helped to 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 magazine, and Luce joined him by also retiring from public life.
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.
Clare Luce died of brain cancer on October 9, 1987, at the age of 84 in her Watergate apartment in Washington D.C..