One of the Great Ladies of the first half of the twentieth century. Playwright, war correspondent
, congresswoman and the first US woman ambassador to a foreign country, as well as a glittering socialite
, man eater
and sparkling beauty, she embodied every feminist aspiration we post-babies can pray for long before either term was officially coined.
Born in 1903 in New York to a mother who is variously described as a "dancer" by the more cautious biographers and as "call girl (advanced) to kept woman" by her affectionate obituarist Gore Vidal in an article in The New Yorker after her death, Ann Clare Boothe made an early decision to become rich and famous - mostly, rich. After a brief and unsuccessful stint in Hollywood she married the wealthy George Tuttle Brokaw, to whom she was introduced by Mrs. Belmont Clare, a New York society matron and women's suffrage activist with whom Boothe worked for a while. With Brokaw she had her only child, Ann. The marriage was not a success and ended in divorce in 1930.
In need of employment and still in search of fame, she looked for a job in Vogue. According to Vidal, when one was not forthcoming she simply set up shop at an empty desk in the magazine offices and did odd jobs until she became a fixture - nobody seems to ever have officially hired her. She later relocated to Vanity Fair, eventually becoming its managing editor. While at Vanity Fair she met Henry R. Luce, the proprietor and driving spirit behind Time magazine, whom she married soon after his divorce from his first wife. They were to spend the rest of his life together and Clare never remarried after his death.
Between 1934 and 1940 Boothe wrote four plays, all preformed on Broadway: Abide With Me, The Women, Kiss the Boys Goodbye and Margin of Error. All but the first were great commercial successes and The Women and Margin of Error were equally lucratively adapted for the screen. In 1940 she travelled to war-beleaguered Europe as a correspondent of Luce's Life magazine (which may have been created at her suggestion). The essays she wrote from occupied France and other countries were later collected in a book, Europe in the Spring.
After a tour of China with Harry, she went on missions for Life to Africa, India, China, and Burma. Upon her return in 1942 she successfully ran for Congress on the Republican ticket as representative for Connecticut; she served two terms. She was a right-wing isolationist in her views, among the first to warn against the dangers of Communism; she also had a seat on the Military Affairs Committee. She suffered a nervous breakdown upon the death of her daughter in a car accident and did not run for re-election in 1946. She underwent a religious epiphany and converted to Catholicism.
For a while she returned to writing, publishing articles about her religious experience as well as writing screen and stage plays. When Dwight Eisenhower ran for President in 1952 she returned to politics to campaign for him and was rewarded with the post of Ambassador for the USA to Italy. While there she had ample opportunity to exercise her anti-communist doctrine aiding the US government in blocking a union between the Christian Democratic and Communist Italian parties. She was also instrumental in the resolution of the conflict over the UN territory of Trieste between Yugoslavia and Italy (Italy got the town, Yugoslavia the surrounding territory). She was forced to resign her post early due to illness.
She kept her hand in politics, but never again held high office - an abortive appointment as Ambassador to Brazil and a candidacy for the Senate she was pressured into giving up on coming closest. In 1964 she and her husband both retired from public life and spent their time in their home in Phoenix, Arizona until Harry's death in 1967. Clare had a house built in Honolulu and lived there, writing occasionally, until 1981 when Ronald Reagan appointed her to the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. In 1983 he awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She died in Washington, D.C., in 1987.
Despite the dry-sounding and sphincter-tightness-invoking Republican career she led in the latter life, Clare Boothe Luce remained to the last a witty nonconformist all too aware of American sexual hypocrisy and more than willing to exploit it. In his aforementioned article Gore Vidal has many a saucy anecdote and irreverent epitaph from her lips. Just to give a taste, here are some of her more famous quips:
"Politicians talk themselves red, white, and blue in the face."
"If God had wanted us to think with our wombs, why did he give us a brain?"
"No good deed goes unpunished." (Yes, it was really her who said it)
Gore Vidal, Clare Boothe Luce, The New Yorker, 26 May 1997