December 11, 2017
Luce's WomenOn this day in 1936, Clare Boothe Luce's The Women opened on Broadway, the first of its record-breaking 657 performances. Some reviewers (usually male) were more appalled than enthralled with the eye-scratching gossip of "best-bred hellcats and social filth mongers" all dressed up in "ermined smut," but the play brought first-fame to Luce, and opportunities which her beauty, considerable ambition and adequate talent would not waste.
The biographies are awash with evidence that Luce had and knew how to use the "jungle cat" instincts of her characters. Perhaps these came from home: it is hard to tell which of the following one-feliners are from the mother and which are from The Women:
In 1986, a year before her death, Luce was careful to blame her faults on her upbringing, telling her official biographer that "Mother poisoned me." The diaries she handed over at the same time show a kind of remorse, though it is hard to separate the self-blame from the self-serving: "My heart is heavy, and I know I am worthless, shallow, insincere with everyone -- and myself." The title of the eventual biography, Sylvia Jukes Morris's Rage for Fame, is taken from a line Luce inscribed in her high school year book: "What rage for fame attends both great and small." There is no indication that Luce knew the second line of the original John Wolcot couplet -- "Better be damned than not mentioned at all" -- or knew that the whole thing was satiric.
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