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 on Clare Boothe Luce

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.