BEST FRIENDS FOR LIFE
by Steve Goldfinger
He was born in China in 1898, the son of Presbyterian missionary parents. He died 69 years later, leaving behind an estate worth a hundred million dollars. Along the way, he was voted the most brilliant member of his Yale graduating class. An ardent anti-communist, he urged Kennedy to attack Cuba, even saying to him, “If you don’t, I’ll be like Hearst,” meaning he’d use his magazines to push him to it. He was a strong proponent (and rare user) of LSD. His physical awkwardness, lack of humor, and discomfort with any conversation that was not strictly factual was starkly at odds with his glamorous wife’s social poise, wit, and fertile imagination.
Henry Luce embarked on a career in journalism, and before he bought Life magazine in 1936, he and a partner had already taken on both Time and Fortune. His yen to own Life was based purely on its name and how well it would couple with that of Time. His wife Clare saw a grand opportunity to found an entirely new media genre: photojournalism. Before they purchased it, Life magazine had been a declining vehicle for the kid of light-hearted, sophisticated, clean humor that it’s readers had outgrown. Under the Luces, its new mission statement opened with “To see life, to see the world…” How it succeeded!
Within four months, Life’s circulation rose from 380,000 to over a million, and it eventually exceeded eight million. It became the most popular magazine of its time. Renowned photographers captured riveting images for the eyes of the nation: the D-Day landings, aerial views of the remains of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, faces of the Nazis at the Nuremberg tribunal, and, most famous of all, the iconic kiss the sailor planted on that nurse in Times Square to celebrate the end of World War II. And as more print invaded the magazine in the form of essays and memoirs, viewers became readers. Life’s continued popularity brought great acclaim and great profits for more than three decades before it began its gradual fade in the 1970s. Issues became less frequent and staggered to total cessation in 2000. Rising costs were one reason. Television was undoubtedly another.
In contrast to Henry’s somewhat colorless persona, Clare Boothe Luce led a stunning public life. She was an early feminist, an actress, a successful playwright, and then a war reporter, journalist, politician, congresswoman, and ambassador. Attending opening night of one of her plays were Albert Einstein and Thomas Mann. Among the quips attributed to her are, “No good deed goes unpunished” and “Widowhood is a fringe benefit of marriage.” While ambassador to Italy, she was poisoned with arsenic. Initially suspected to be Russian espionage retaliation for her outspoken anti-communism, the cause was eventually found to be arsenate in the paint flaking off her bedroom ceiling. “Broadway’s New Faces, 1952” famously portrayed her illness at Toothloose in Rome. Clare Boothe Luce died in 1987. By the end of her life, she had become a fervent supporter of Barry Goldwater and a Nixon appointee to the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.
Arguably the most influential and envied power couple of their time, Henry and Clare Boothe Luce made numerous friends for life. They were also the best friends for ,