Clare Boothe Luce / “No good deed goes unpunished”

Sounds like something Mark Twain would have said, right? According to, the phrase has been attributed to Oscar Wilde and to Clare Booth Luce but the origin is actually not known. Of course I’m sidetracked now by this woman, her many witty quotes (I have been too involved with living to write much – or well – about life) and her little-known fight for the Jewish people.

Clare Boothe Luce (March 10, 1903 — October 9, 1987)

Clare Booth Luce by Van Vechten.jpg

1932 photo by Carl Van Vechten / “a deceptively fragile blonde beauty”

A Connecticut journalist writes:

…..Luce, who passed away in 1987, is usually remembered for her accomplishments in the theatrical world and, especially, for advancing the role of women in politics. But her outspoken support of Holocaust rescue and Jewish statehood, and her key role in making the “Jewish vote” a part of American political culture, add a new dimension to the legacy of Clare Boothe Luce. —Dr. Rafael Medoff

…..Clare Boothe was a child actress, then a suffragist, before shifting to journalism in the early 1930s. She went from editorial assistant at Vogue to managing editor of Vanity Fair in just three years, then left the magazine and carved out a successful career as a playwright, a profession relatively few women had penetrated. In 1935, she married the immensely wealthy and influential publisher of Time, Life, and Fortune, Harry Luce. They made their home in Ridgefield.

Clare visited the front lines of war-torn Europe and Asia in 1940-41 as a correspondent for Life. She was a Republican, but unlike the isolationists who dominated the party prior to World War II, she criticized FDR for failing to build up the U.S. armed forces sufficiently in the 1930s to deter Nazi aggression.

–More on that later. First, more highlights of her life:


A biographer, Alden Hatch, summed her up this way:

”Brilliant, yet often foolish; idealistic, yet realistic to the verge of cynicism; tough as a Marine sergeant, but almost quixotically kind to unfortunates; with the mind and courage of a man and exceedingly feminine instincts; the complexities of her character are as numerous as the facets of her career. Probably the reason no one understands her completely is because she does not even understand herself.”

The same obituary reports how she met Henry R. Luce:

The two independent personalities had struck sparks on their first meeting, when they were seated together at a dinner party and Mr. Luce ignored her. The next time they met, at a party at the Waldorf-Astoria, his future wife resolved to pay Mr. Luce back by asking rude questions. This time he was enthralled by her. He ordered her to accompany him to the Waldorf’s lobby, where he said, ”You are the great love of my life, and some day I’m going to marry you.”

The marriage lasted, although there were rumored difficulties – perhaps inevitable in a marriage between two such strong-minded personalities. She had her separate careers and Mr. Luce had his magazines – Life, the picture magazine, was reportedly her idea.

From Jone Johnson Lewis  @AboutFemHistory /Renaissance woman today, pondering women’s history and future /, I’ve pillaged more of Luce’s quotes:

* Male supremacy has kept woman down. It has not knocked her out.

*  Censorship, like charity, should begin at home, but unlike charity, it should end there.

* There are no hopeless situations; there are only men who have grown helpless about them.

* Love is a verb.

* In the final analysis there is no other solution to man’s progress but the day’s honest work, the day’s honest decision, the day’s generous influences, and the day’s good deed.

* All autobiographies are alibi-ographies.

* They say women talk too much. If you have worked in Congress, you know that the filibuster was invented by men.

* A man’s home may seem to be his castle on the outside; inside, it is more often his nursery.

* A man has only one escape from his old self: to see a different self in the mirror of some woman’s eyes.

* Money can’t buy happiness, but it can make you awfully comfortable while you’re being miserable.

* A woman’s best production is a little money of her own.

* There is nothing harder than the softness of indifference.

* Advertising has done more to cause the social unrest of the 20th century than any other single factor.

* Communism is the opiate of the intellectuals with no cure except as a guillotine might be called a cure for dandruff.

* Nature abhors a virgin — a frozen asset.

* I’m in my anecdotage.

* I don’t have a warm personal enemy left. They’ve all died off. I miss them terribly because they helped define me.

* Lying increases the creative faculties, expands the ego, and lessens the frictions of social contacts.


Clare Boothe Luce was a witty and versatile author who

–did not hesitate to criticize the unwarlike lifestyle of General Sir Claude Auchinleck’s Middle East Command …mocking RAF pilots as “flying fairies”….  It caused such Allied consternation that she briefly faced house arrest. Coincidentally or not, Auchinleck was fired a few months later by Winston Churchill.

–was hired by Alva Belmont to work for suffrage and the National Woman’s Party in 1919

–abandoned ideological feminism for the safer advancement offered by marrying money. She wed George Tuttle Brokaw, millionaire heir to a New York clothing fortune, on August 10, 1923, at the age of 20. They had one daughter, Ann Clare Brokaw (1924 – 1944). According to Boothe, Brokaw was a hopeless alcoholic, and the marriage ended in divorce in 1929.[10]

On November 23, 1935, Clare Boothe married Henry Robinson Luce, the publisher of Time, Life and Fortune. She thereafter called herself Clare Boothe Luce, a frequently-misspelled name that was often confused with that of her exact contemporary Claire Luce, a stage and film actress. As a professional writer, Luce continued to use her maiden name.

On January 11, 1944, her daughter and only child Ann Clare Brokaw, a senior at Stanford University, was killed in an automobile accident. As a result of this tragedy, Luce explored psychotherapy and religion, joining the Roman Catholic Church in 1946. She became an ardent essayist and lecturer in celebration of her faith, and was ultimately honored by being named a Dame of Malta.

Much of Luce’s famously acid wit (…”Widowhood is a fringe benefit of marriage” / “A hospital is no place to be sick”) can be traced back to the days when, as a wealthy young divorcee in the early 1930s, she became a caption writer at Vogue and then, associate editor and managing editor of Vanity Fair. She not only edited the works of such great humorists as P. G. Wodehouse and Corey Ford, but contributed many comic pieces of her own, signed and unsigned. Her humor, which she retained into old age, was a saving grace that ameliorated the ruthlessness with which she pursued publicity and power.

A writer with considerable powers of invention and wit, Luce published Stuffed Shirts, a promising volume of short stories, in 1931. Scribner’s magazine compared the work to Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies for its bitter humor. The New York Times found it socially superficial, but praised its “lovely festoons of epigrams” and beguiling stylishness….

Luce also published many magazine articles. Her real talent, however, was as a playwright. After the failure of her initial stage effort, the marital melodrama “Abide With Me” (1935), she rapidly followed up with a satirical comedy, The Women. Deploying a cast of no fewer than forty actresses who discussed men in often scorching language, it became a Broadway smash in 1936 and, three years later, a successful Hollywood movie.

…The obsessiveness of Luce’s “rage for fame” (a phrase by John Wolcot that she applied to herself as a schoolgirl [24]) did not allow her the time and solitude she needed to mature as a writer, and her literary precocity soon lost its bloom.

When she published her second book, Europe in the Spring (1940), an acutely observed report on the “phony war” preceding the conquest of France, her first-person style caused Dorothy Parker to dub it “All Clare on the Western Front.”[25]

After the war, Luce’s conversion to Catholicism made her for some years a religious proselytizer, and she later mourned that theological writing had killed her creative originality. It could be argued that her increasing tendency to orate on political platforms, where rhetoric was cheap, was a contributing factor. Nevertheless, she had some success in 1949 with her scenario for Come to the Stable, a popular 20th Century Fox movie about Benedictine nuns establishing a monastery in Connecticut. Luce’s plot was nominated for an Academy Award that year in the Best Story category. Several other ambitious Hollywood scripts, including a big-budget project for Howard Hughes at RKO entitled “Pilate’s Wife”, came to nothing. Luce’s play Child of the Morning, about the murder of a saintly girl (1951), received mixed reviews in its Massachusetts tryouts and never made it to Broadway.[26] In 1952 she edited a volume of divine lives, Saints for Now, recruiting as contributors such distinguished authors as Evelyn Waugh, Thomas Merton, Whittaker Chambers, and Rebecca West. She wrote her final play, Slam the Door Softly, in 1970.

Another branch of Luce’s literary career was that of war journalism. From her first teenage encounter with the battlefields of World War I, she had always been drawn to matters military–not to mention military officers, with whom she had many affairs.

… She described the widening battleground of World War II as “a world where men have decided to die together because they are unable to find a way to live together.”

Luce never wrote her autobiography despite a contract to do so. She did, however, select a posthumous biographer, and willed her enormous archive of personal papers to the Library of Congress.

— Politically, Luce was a Republican who became steadily more conservative in later life

— In her youth she flirted briefly with the Democratic liberalism of Franklin D. Roosevelt

— Served two terms as a Congresswoman from Connecticut in the early 1940s

— her moderate views, especially toward blacks, immigrants, and women denied professional careers, contrasted with those of most of men in her party

–first American woman appointed to a major ambassadorial post abroad

— A charismatic and forceful public speaker

— she campaigned for every Republican presidential candidate from Wendell Willkie to Ronald Reagan

Back to Clare Boothe Luce and the Holocaust by Dr. Rafael Medoff :

Luce’s foreign policy knowledge and experiences abroad helped her win election to the U.S. House of Representatives, in 1942, from Fairfield County’s 4th Congressional District. She was one of just eight women to serve in the House that term. Her election was another important step forward in bringing women into American political life, although even some of Luce’s supporters often remarked on her looks and charm rather than her skills or character.

“She is representing our Fourth District down there and giving the boys something to ogle to boot,” a friendly Connecticut newspaper columnist offered. Her opponents could be cruder. According to the diaries of then-Vice President Henry Wallace, President Franklin Roosevelt once half-jokingly referred to Luce as “that loose woman.”

 ….Luce had little interest in Jewish affairs or Palestine until she went to Washington. She later attributed the kindling of her concern about the Jews to Pierre van Paassen’s 1943 book The Forgotten Ally…

Luce “resolved to do what I can to right that wrong.” …she served as a co-sponsor of the Bergson Group’s Emergency Conference to Save the Jewish People of Europe.

….”As a well fed person can never truly understand the sensation of starvation,” Luce wrote, “so it is impossible for most of us well-established citizens to grasp the plight of a people who have neither a roof over their heads nor even a homeland they can call their own…Alone they do not have the strength to regain what is rightfully theirs. They must have the active help of those who, even though they have never experienced homelessness, can at least understand, from the lesson of their forefathers, the commendable desire for independence and freedom under a national flag.”

In April 1944….she charged that the British policy of choking off Palestine-bound Jewish immigration transports from Europe was to blame for the fact that “Jewish blood stains the blue Mediterranean red.”

Netanyahu predicted Luce’s speech would “go down in history as one of the great expressions of the American conscience.” The Revisionists distributed tape recordings of her speech to radio stations around the country, and mailed the text to thousands of newspaper editors and Jewish community leaders. Netanyahu also reprinted excerpts from her speech in large ads in the New York Times and New York Post.
The following month, Luce introduced a congressional resolution calling for creation of temporary havens in the U.S. for refugees. “For 11 years now Americans have been deploring” the persecution of the Jews, but “while we deplored and lamented, millions of refugees were savagely murdered,” she said. “Others escaped death only to wander as refugees across the face of a world which was sympathetic but coldly inhospitable. They have life but no place to live.”

“Because I am a woman, I must make unusual efforts to succeed. If I fail, no one will say, ‘She doesn’t have what it takes’; They will say, ‘Women don’t have what it takes’.”

It was not Luce’s budding interest in Jewish affairs that brought her to the attention of the national Republican leadership. Rather it was her charismatic personality, her record of accomplishment in multiple fields, and her graceful manner that made Luce an almost irresistible candidate for the “new face” of the GOP.

Republican leaders admired Luce’s communication skills, especially her knack for turning a clever political phrase. Her description of postwar liberal visions of a universal world order as “globaloney” instantly became part of the political lexicon. And it helped make her the party’s choice for keynote speaker at the June 1944 Republican convention. She was the first woman to be given that honor by either party.
Luce’s remarks would immediately precede those of the only living ex-president, Herbert Hoover. He had long been fond of Luce; after she won re-election, Hoover sent her a tongue-in-cheek note that read, “That was a grand victory; I wish we had more men like you.” He reviewed her convention address in advance and found it “beautiful and powerfully affecting.” Hoover hailed her as “the Symbol of the New Generation.”

 ….Luce returned from Chicago to the accolades of her party for her riveting and glass ceiling-smashing keynote address. More than a few politicians have used their convention speeches as political launching pads. (Barack Obama is a notable example.) Luce, however, had no such aspirations.

…..she entered the foreign service, serving as U.S. ambassador to Italy. In 1981, Luce was appointed by President Ronald Reagan to the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, and in 1983 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, a crowning honor for her life of public service.

Dr. Rafael Medoff is director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, and co-author, with Prof. Sonja Schoepf Wentling, of the forthcoming book ‘Herbert Hoover and the Jews: The Origins of the “Jewish Vote” and Bipartisan Support for Israel.’

About carolkean

novelist, reviewer, editor, book critic for Liberty Island and Perihelion Science Fiction; native prairie/guerilla gardener; champion of liberty, indie authors & underdogs; one of the top two reviewers in Editors &Preditors Poll 2015; Amazon Vine, NetGalley Top Reviewer
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4 Responses to Clare Boothe Luce / “No good deed goes unpunished”

  1. John L. Monk says:

    Reblogged this on John L. Monk and commented:
    Clare Boothe Luce. This woman’s writing, makes me green with jealousy. A real mover and shaker, she nixes the “his” right out of “history”.
    2 quotes (go to the site to see more):
    * All autobiographies are alibi-ographies.
    here’s another…
    * Censorship, like charity, should begin at home, but unlike charity, it should end there.


    • carolkean says:

      John, you’re the first person to “reblog” me. 🙂 Funny how such an honor can sound so base. Thank you, John and David, and again, David, your history-with-a-twist has inspired me.


  2. What a remarkable person. She shot from the hip… and those one-liners. I’m with John, I love the ‘alibi-ographies’, but ‘globaloney’ is a cracker, too. Great post, Carol


  3. John L. Monk says:

    David dies for stuff like this.


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