Clare Boothe Luce Biography


(History of the World: The 20th Century)

0111206368-Luce_C.jpg (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Article abstract: As a journalist, playwright, and political appointee, Luce became an eminent example of how women could overcome gender stereotypes that limit their goals.

Early Life

Ann Clare Boothe was born on April 10, 1903, in New York City. Her mother, Ann Clare Snyder Boothe, was the daughter of Bavarian Catholic immigrants and was a former chorus girl. Her father, William F. Boothe, was a Baptist minister’s son who played the violin and worked as an executive for the Boothe Piano Company. Young Clare was related to the theatrical Booth family, Edwin and John Wilkes Booth. After the Lincoln assassination, however, some family members changed the spelling of their name to camouflage the relationship.

When Clare was eight, her father abandoned his family and business to become a musician. Clare’s mother worked to provide her only child with the kind of education normally given to children of much wealthier families. She lived with friends, put Clare to work as a child actress, and invested in the stock market. Unwilling to let Clare attend public schools, Ann Boothe sent her daughter to private schools when she could afford it. She supplemented her daughter’s intermittent formal education with home schooling and with trips abroad, and instilled in her a lifelong love for books. Clare graduated from Castle School in Tarrytown in 1919.

After her graduation, Clare ran off to Manhattan, where she stayed in a boarding house and worked in a candy factory. Having taken the pseudonym Joyce Fair as a child actress, Clare took the name Jacqueline Tanner as a factory worker. An attack of appendicitis forced her to return to her mother’s home for surgery. After Mrs. Boothe married a wealthy physician, Albert E. Austin, Clare lived with her mother and stepfather in Sound Beach, Connecticut. In 1919, she left the United States to visit Europe with her parents. On the return voyage, Clare met Mrs. O. H. P. Belmont, a wealthy Manhattan socialite, who introduced her to millionaire George Brokaw. In 1923, Clare Boothe and George Brokaw were married; she was twenty, and he was forty-three.

Life’s Work

Clare Boothe’s high-fashion Manhattan marriage ended in 1929 when she sued George Brokaw for divorce, claiming mental cruelty. The generous divorce settlement enabled her to move into a fashionable Beekman Place penthouse with three servants and a governess for her daughter. It also enabled her to begin a new life that was to include remarkable success in publishing, playwrighting, politics and diplomacy.

Following her divorce, Boothe went to work in New York’s publishing industry. By 1933, she was managing editor of Vanity Fair. She also began writing on her own, and after only a year as a Vanity Fair editor, resigned to devote her full attention to writing plays. A rapid and prolific writer, Boothe had her first major success with The Women, which opened on Broadway on December 26, 1936. Although it was much more successful than her first play, Abide with Me, it was not considered great theater by critics. The author herself assessed it modestly, but audiences enjoyed the satire, which features a cast of thirty-eight women. Two motion picture versions and a television special were made of the play, which has been produced throughout the world. Described as a satire about men without a single man in the cast, it also satirizes the pretensions of bored, wealthy women.

Clare Boothe had become a highly successful independent woman by 1935, the year she married Henry Luce, cofounder of Time magazine. Together, the couple collaborated in developing Life magazine, soon to become one of the world’s most popular magazines. Her work in the publishing business prompted Clare Boothe Luce to stay well informed about political developments throughout World War II. Although she had been a supporter of Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal Democrats, by 1940 she was ready for new leadership in the White House. She decided to support the Republican Party’s candidate, Wendell Willkie, making some forty speeches and appearances on his behalf. Although her candidate lost, Luce had gained important experience as a political activist.

In 1941 and 1942, Luce traveled as a Life magazine correspondent to China, the Philippines, Egypt and the Far East. Her description and analysis of the war in Europe, Europe in Spring, appealed to Republican party leaders, who convinced her to run for Congress in 1942 from Connecticut’s Second District, a seat held previously by her late stepfather, Albert Austin. She won the nomination easily, but had to work hard to oust the Democratic incumbent,...

(The entire section is 1943 words.)