The 1960 presidential election presented a quandary for Henry R. Luce, head of Time Inc., the largest publishing business in the world. A Republican whose aid had previously propelled Wendell Willkie and Dwight D. Eisenhower to the Republican nomination, he now had to choose between Richard Nixon and a man he admired but who stood for the opposing party – John F. Kennedy.
Luce had been a longtime friend and correspondent of Joseph P. Kennedy, the patriarch of the Kennedy clan. In 1940 the elder Kennedy suggested that Luce write a preface for his son’s book, Why England Slept. Luce was greatly impressed by the manuscript and agreed to do so writing:
“I cannot recall a single man of my college generation who could have written such an adult book on such a vitally important subject during his Senior year at college. In recent months there has been a certain amount of alarm concerning the ‘attitude’ of the younger generation. If John Kennedy is characteristic of the younger generation – and I believe he is – many of us would be happy to have the destinies of this Republic handed over to his generation at once.”
When JFK began his ascent in the 1950s, Luce urged his editors to put Kennedy on the cover of TIME magazine and the two men had occasional lunches together when Luce was in Washington. On the day of Democratic National Convention, July 15, 1960, while Luce and Joseph Kennedy watched JFK’s acceptance speech on television, the elder Kennedy thanked the publishing magnate for everything he had done to help his son.
On August 5, 1960, candidate Kennedy visited the Time-Life Building and was accompanied by Luce to a rapturous reception by the staff. However, Henry Luce continued to vacillate over the choice of president, eventually endorsing Nixon via LIFE magazine. Nevertheless, when Kennedy won in a close election Luce enthusiastically embraced the new president traveling to Washington for the inauguration ceremony where he sat in the president’s box for the swearing in.
The 1961 republication of Why England Slept gave Luce a chance to revise his foreword:
“Imagine that as a young man in college you wrote a book of judgement on the behavior of a contemporary empire. . . . Imagine that 20 years later when you are still young, you become President of the United States at a time when America faces grim possibilities of destruction and surrender. . . . Imagine, then, that you re-read the book you wrote in college and find that you would not be embarrassed by having it exposed again; this surely would be an extraordinary experience. Perhaps nothing like it ever happened before in the lives of all the leaders of men.”
This post is by Alex Gelfand, Project Archivist, Henry R. Luce Papers
Processing of the Henry R. Luce Papers is made possible through the generous support of the Henry Luce Foundation.