By Chet Yarbrough
Written by: Sylvia Jukes Morris
Narration by: Elisabeth Rodgers, Sylvia Jukes Morris
Clare Boothe Luce’s strengths and weaknesses shine brightly in Slyvia Jukes Morris’s “Price of Fame”. Luck, beauty, and intelligence carry Ms. Luce from penury to plenty. Born out of wedlock to a musician/salesman and domineering mother, Morris writes of Luce’s extraordinary ability, drive, and ambition.
Clare Boothe Luce graduates from a Catholic school at age 16, marries a “trust baby” millionaire (George Tuttle Brokaw) at 20, births a daughter (Ann Clare Brokaw) at 21, and divorces at 29. Though not awarded “F.U.” money from the divorce, Clare Booth is rich enough, beautiful enough, and smart enough to attract the attention of a number of famous, powerful, and rich lovers. Affairs with men like Bernard Baruch, and Joseph Kennedy provide Clare Boothe’s introduction to 1930’s American movers and shakers. In 1935, Clare Boothe’s fame, fortune, and political orientation take on a new life with marriage to Henry Luce, the founder and publisher of “Time”, “Life”, and “Sports Illustrated” magazines.
What Morris clarifies in “Price of Fame” is that Clare Boothe wears the mantle of fame because of innate ability; not just public adulation. Wealth accompanies Clare Boothe’s life because of men she bedded and wedded but intelligence, drive, and ambition make her a standalone woman in male dominated societies.
Clare Boothe considers herself a Democrat until marriage to Henry Luce which seems to convince her to become a Republican. Morris does not suggest that Henry Luce dominates Clare Boothe’s political opinions but stories of Boothe’s actions imply strong and considered opinions of Boothe that comport with mid-century Republican positions.
Clare Boothe is a vociferous anti-communist who supports nationalist China, reviles the results of the Yalta conference and Stalin’s demands, abhors Franklin Roosevelt’s leadership, and demeans Harry Truman’s intelligence. During Clare Boothe’s life, particularly after marriage to Luce, Republicans are her chosen political leaders. In every presidential election, Morris notes Clare Boothe supports Republicans for President; i.e. from Herbert Hoover to Ronald Reagan.
The power of Clare Booth’s Republican credential is amplified in Morris’s report of the congressional hearing where Democratic Senator Morse refuses to endorse Ms. Luce for an ambassadorship to Brazil. In the Senator’s opinion Luce tarnishes the reputation of the Democratic party by her histrionic attacks on Franklin Roosevelt. Morse asks Luce what proof she has that President Roosevelt is the only President of the United States “…to lie the American people into war”.
Morris notes that two reputable historians’ opinions are offered by Luce as proof that Roosevelt did lie to the American people about preparing for war while acting for peace. Morse remains unconvinced by Luce’s evidence. But, Luce has the last laugh. She withdraws her nomination after being approved by a bipartisan majority vote to support her ambassadorship.
The laugh is bitter-sweet because Luce releases a statement, through a friendly reporter, that Morse suffers from a blow to the head by a horse. The story of the accident is true. The statement at once shows Luce’s sense of humor while questioning the appropriateness of her humor when a serious accident could have ended Morse’s life. The author notes that Senator Morse never supports Luce for a government appointment after this hearing.
In chapters about a maturing Clare Boothe Luce, Morris explains an underlying guilt felt by Clare Boothe about extramarital affairs, and the tragic death of her daughter. Luce converts to Roman Catholicism through the influence of a young Roman Catholic Father named Fulton Sheen. Sheen’s radio program in the 1930s reached a wide audience and the power of his reputation attracts the attention of Clare Boothe as she wrestles with recurrent depression. With a flourish in newspapers and magazines, Clare Boothe becomes a convert.
Toward the end of Sheen’s career, after being appointed as Archbishop, Morris notes that Clare Boothe sees Sheen as less of a savior and more as a fallen human being seduced by high living and luxury. Clare seems to see the folly in her own life; e.g. her human desire for sensual pleasure, her guilt for extramarital affairs, her self-perceived failure as a mother.
Morse reveals the marital difficulty of the Luces and their near divorce. For the last twenty years of marriage, infidelities and lack of intimacy are replaced with platonic companionship. They have deep mutual respect for each other but no intimacy. Respect only bandages the wounds of their long life together. They never divorce but never achieve anything that might be described as a fulfilling marriage.
Morse’s epilogue to “Price of Fame” adds credibility to her writing. Morse spent many years researching Clare Boothe and interviewed Ms. Luce many times before her death. Morse’s story clearly shows Clare Boothe is an intelligent woman who gains respect of an American public at a time when women are defined by men’s opinions rather than what they do. Clare Boothe acted the life of a liberated woman; equal to all men, and more competent than most.
After listening to Morris’s fine biography, one may not agree with Ms. Luce’s politics. But Morris shows Luce’s wit, presence, and conversation will either change a person’s mind or embarrass their intelligence. Luce comes across as narcissistic but her proven ability, like Muhammed Ali’s fighting skill, warrants excess interest in oneself.
SLYLVIA JUKES MORRIS: DISCUSSION OF “PRICE OF FAME”:
BRIEF BIO OF CLARE BOOTHE LUCE:
BUCKLEY AND CLARE BOOTHE LUCE: