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Sylvia Jukes Morris

Explores the Fascinating Life of Clare Boothe Luce

by Joseph Montebello

When Sylvia Morris first proposed a biography of Clare Boothe Luce she had no idea it would turn into years of interviewing, following and studying her subject, or that the book would morph into two volumes, totaling more than 1,000 pages (not including notes, appendices, and indexes.)

“I was fully expecting my publisher to say I had to cut the manuscript, but instead they decided to publish two volumes,” Morris explained.

Volume one, Rage for Fame: The Ascent of Clare Boothe Luce, describes her childhood (she was born illegitimate on New York’s Upper West Side), her career as a playwright and writer, her early failed marriage to a millionaire alcoholic and her obsession with wealth and fame. It ends with her foray into politics as a congresswoman from Connecticut.

The second volume, Price of Fame: The Honorable Clare Boothe Luce, follows her second marriage and her astounding political career.

“Throughout her life she had aimed for the best of everything and usually gotten it,” said Morris.

Luce began as a caption writer at Vogue and made her way to Vanity Fair. There she met Donald Freeman, the managing editor, an unprepossessing, balding man who was besotted with her. The dazzling Luce charmed him and he sensed her creative potential and helped shape her career at the magazine.

“Donald died in an automobile accident,” Morris said. “He had been in love with Clare and, as she had a key to his apartment, she went there immediately upon learning he was dead to find his diaries, fearing what he might have said about her, and destroyed them.” She wasn’t taking any chances.

Soon after Freeman’s death Luce assumed his position as managing editor of the magazine. Additionally, she wrote a successful book of short stories and penned one of the most famous (or infamous) plays called The Women.

Clare Boothe Luce was on her way to achieving the fame and fortune she so desperately craved. Her writing brought her the former and her marriage to the successful publishing scion, Henry Luce, brought her the latter. When she entered politics a whole new world opened up for her.

In 1980, Morris, whose previous book was a biography of Edith Kermit Roosevelt, was contemplating doing a book on Clare Boothe Luce when she received an invitation to a Washington dinner party where Mrs. Luce would be in attendance.

“I was seated at her table,” Morris recalled, “but she was intent on talking to the man next to her–Alistair Horne, a military historian. She paid no attention to me at all.” But after meeting her, Morris called the next day and Luce agreed to have her write a biography. Thus began Morris’s sojourn into the world of Clare Boothe Luce–a world she inhabited for 15 years until the completion of the first volume in 1997.

Morris traveled a lot with Luce and made herself totally available to her subject.

“I went to Hawaii to stay with her. I looked through her personal papers there and then, after she died, more papers came to light and I had to wait for the will to be probated for them to be released. It was a very long business. And then they didn't have room at the Library of Congress to house them and they weren't catalogued, and it just dragged on and on. That's why it took so long, really.”

The Library of Congress has 462,000 items on Clare Boothe Luce, the equivalent of 312 linear feet, larger than most presidential collections. It appeared that Luce knew she would one day be famous and saved every scrap of paper that was sent to her and kept copies of all the letters she sent out.

Clare Boothe Luce died in 1987 at the age of 84. She had once commented to Morris: “I hope I shall have ambition until the day I die.” And indeed she did.

With these two volumes Morris has captured the spirit and essence of one of the most fascinating women of the 20th century.

Sylvia Morris will discuss Clare Boothe Luce at the Women’s Forum in Litchfield on Thursday, November 3rd, at 2:30 PM at the Litchfield Community Center.

For information about the Women’s Forum event visit the link below.