Price: Jan. 23, 2015
“I hope I shall have ambition until the day I die,” Clare Boothe Luce told her biographer Sylvia Jukes Morris. Price of Fame, the concluding volume of the life of an exceptionally brilliant polymath, chronicles Luce’s progress from the early months of World War II, when, as an eye-catching Congresswoman and the only female member of the House Military Affairs Committee, she toured the Western Front, captivating generals and GIs. She even visited Buchenwald and other concentration camps within days of their liberation. After a shattering personal tragedy, she converted to Roman Catholicism, and became the first American woman to be appointed ambassador to a major foreign power. “La Luce,” as the Italians called her, was also a prolific journalist and magnetic public speaker, as well as a playwright, screenwriter, pioneer scuba diver, early experimenter in psychedelic drugs, and grande dame of the GOP in the Reagan era. Tempestuously married to Henry Luce, the powerful publisher of Time Inc., she endured his infidelities while pursuing her own, and remained a practiced vamp well into old age.
Price of Fame begins in January 1943 with Clare’s arrival on Capitol Hill as a newly elected Republican from Connecticut. The thirty-nine-year-old beauty attracted nationwide attention in a sensational maiden speech, attacking Vice President Henry Wallace’s civil aviation proposals as “globaloney.” Although she irked President Franklin D. Roosevelt by slanging his New Deal as “a dictatorial Bumbledom,” she impressed his wife Eleanor.
Revealing liberal propensities, she lobbied for relaxed immigration policies for Chinese, Indians, and displaced European Jews, as well as equal rights for women and blacks. Following Hiroshima, the legislator whom J. William Fulbright described as “the smartest colleague I ever served with” became a passionate advocate of nuclear arms control. But in 1946, she gave up her House seat, convinced that politics was “the refuge of second-class minds.”
After a few seasons of proselytizing on the Catholic lecture circuit, Clare emerged as a formidable television personality, campaigning so spectacularly for the victorious Republican presidential candidate, Dwight D. Eisenhower, that he rewarded her with the Rome embassy.
Ambassador Luce took an uncompromising attitude toward Italy’s Communist Party, the world’s second largest, and skillfully helped settle the fraught Trieste crisis between Italy and Yugoslavia. She was then stricken by a mysterious case of poisoning that the CIA kept secret, suspecting a Communist plot to assassinate her. The full story, told here for the first time, reads like a detective novel.
Price of Fame goes on to record the crowded later years of the Honorable Clare Boothe Luce, during which she strengthened her friendships with Winston Churchill, Somerset Maugham, John F. Kennedy, Evelyn Waugh, Lyndon Johnson, Salvador Dalí, Richard Nixon, William F. Buckley, the composer Carlos Chávez, Ronald Reagan, and countless other celebrities who, after Henry Luce’s death, visited her lavish Honolulu retreat. In 1973, she was appointed by Nixon to the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, a position she continued to hold in the Ford and Reagan administrations.
Sylvia Jukes Morris is the only writer to have had complete access to Mrs. Luce’s prodigious collection of public and private papers. In addition, she had unique access to her subject, whose death at eighty-four ended a life that for variety of accomplishment qualifies Clare Boothe Luce for the title of “Woman of the Century.”