In December 1934, at a ball thrown in honor of the Broadway musical “Anything Goes,” Henry Luce was struck by what he called a “coup de foudre” (love at first sight). The object of his affection was Clare Boothe, a wealthy divorcée born on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in 1903. The two had met twice before that year, and Clare found Luce rather rude. But their third encounter changed her opinion of her future husband.
Then in her early thirties, Clare Boothe was already well known around New York. She had worked on a number of magazines, among them Vanity Fair, which she edited, but she left her job to pursue other writing projects. After an intense conversation at the “Anything Goes” ball, Henry Luce confessed his love for her. The couple married in 1935, two days after the Broadway premier of Clare’s first play, “Abide With Me.”
The life of the new “power couple” became frequent fodder for the press. Clare Luce’s glamorous image spawned a number of anecdotes and aphorisms. In one infamous incident, which she denied ever happened, Clare held a door for Dorothy Parker, the well-known satirist. As Parker walked through, Clare Luce is said to have sneered “age before beauty.” Parker shot back with “pearls before swine.” Clare Luce is also the person most frequently cited as the source of the adage “no good deed goes unpunished.”
Back when she was working for the publisher Condé Nast, Clare had suggested that they publish a picture magazine. When she met Luce, he had been working on a similar proposition and their discussion about this new publication helped bring them together; LIFE Magazine made its appearance in 1936. Although Clare may have expected to become an active participant in its management, the hostility to her involvement from senior staff at Time Inc. disabused her of that notion.
While recovering from this slight, she began writing what became her most popular play. “The Women,” completed in 1936, became a Broadway hit and a widely successful 1939 movie. The continual popularity of the play is evident by the remake of the movie in 2008 staring Meg Ryan.
Clare Boothe Luce’s involvement in Broadway was not limited to writing. She was an active investor and promoter of a number of theater projects. Her financial contribution to the play “Arsenic and Old Lace” led to a return of 500% while an investment in Orson Welles’ Mercury Theatre ended in a loss.
Stay tuned for Part II: Clare Boothe Luce – The Congresswoman.