Letting Go

Luce’s professional life in the late 1950s and early 1960s remained one of ambition, purpose, and commitment. But for a time, his private life was in turmoil. In late summer 1959 Clare discovered Harry’s affair with Jeanne Campbell, after overhearing a telephone conversation between them and then asking friends, who were surprised she did not already know. Not long after she confronted him, Harry asked her for a divorce. For almost a year they battled over their future—a period of misery and anxiety for them both.

Harry wanted a divorce only partly because of his infatuation with Jeanne. As he looked ahead to the remainder of his life, he saw a bleak picture. His marriage, he had concluded, was irreparably broken. For years now he and Clare had lived mostly separately, with occasional reconciliations and periods of chaste companionship, among them the aberrantly pleasant years in Rome. He complained of the emptiness of his life—that he had no real friends other than his colleagues at Time Inc., that he was “not getting enough out of life,” a problem he attributed to a “regrettable and even serious flaw in my make-up.” There was, he wrote, “literally nobody in this big town [New York] who ever asks me to a friendly dinner or slightly social dinner, not even my good Time Inc. friends ask me…. What I get asked to is banquets or group-meetings.” The affair with Jeanne was, in short, an effort to bring some companionship and warmth into an otherwise lonely life.1

Clare was at least equally unhappy, deeply resentful of Harry’s neglect and what she considered his betrayal; but she was also fearful of life without him. Both Harry and Clare had conducted multiple affairs during their years of sexual estrangement. There was a tacit understanding between them that they would ignore these relationships as long as they were casual and brief. But as the Jean Dalrymple episode had made clear years before, Clare became almost obsessively frightened and angry when there was a real threat to their marriage. Harry’s request for a divorce therefore threw her into a psychological tailspin that made both their lives much more difficult. In many ways the battle over Jeanne Campbell raised the same issues that the battle over Jean Dalrymple had raised more than a decade before.

Clare, suddenly removed from the political world, had been working on a novel through much of 1959 in an effort to relaunch her now long-deferred literary career. She was, she later claimed, making good progress on the book, working mostly in Caribbean resorts and in Phoenix. But when Harry proposed divorce, her work on the novel abruptly stopped, never to be resumed. Instead Clare spent the better part of a year writing almost obsessively about the travails of her marriage, in dozens of letters to Harry (many of them unsent); in multiple and redundant accounts of conversations about their troubles (some of them based on real conversations and some of them fictional ones in which Clare tried to inhabit Harry’s mind and imagine his own view of their relationship); and in long private memos, filling hundreds of pages, in which she poured out her fears, hopes, resentments and, at times, self-loathing. Her titles suggest the range of her emotions: “A Memorandum on Bitterness,” “‘Go in Peace,’ or ‘Stay in Peace,’” “Suspicious of HRL’s Motives,” “A Questionnaire on Love and Warmth,” “What Happens to Me Without You,” “The Situation.” Sometimes she reproached herself for her treatment of Harry: “I have too long deeply wounded your masculine pride and your self esteem,” she wrote shortly after learning about the affair with Jeanne. “The wounds continue raw and bleeding.” But she blamed Harry as well: “You also have wounded, quite as badly, my femininity.” Late one night a few weeks later, very drunk, Harry poured out a self-pitying story of what he now described as his many years of agony and humiliation, in boyhood “and well into manhood,” a story that, Clare perceptively concluded, “formed in him the habits of extreme sensitivity to criticism, humorlessness, and lack of self confidence, which in succes, have turned him into an aggressive, overly assertive and talkative man who will not be interrupted.”* On another night she poured out her own self-loathing: “I was absolutely overcome by rage … rage with myself…. I suddenly did realize it—that out of cowardice, funk, despair, I had ruined my own life. For twenty years I had lived alone—alone as a woman—in a cage whose door was always, at all times, open.” She was obsessed at times with money and possessions, even though she had always had significant resources of her own from her first marriage and her plays. “I do not own one acre or brick of any of our ‘homes,’” she lamented. “The paintings [Harry] gave me for birthdays and Christmases … were not really gifts to me” but the property of Harry’s estate.2

Despite all the anger, all the regrets, and all the recriminations, both Harry and Clare once again found it difficult to imagine ending their marriage. When Clare said she would not fight the divorce, Harry backed away from his initial demand and said he would do nothing unless Clare “made the divorce decision mutual.” Eight months later, after “endless” discussions of their plight, Clare announced what she called a “‘unilateral decision’ that I would not consent to a divorce ‘now or ever.’” Harry—having now visited Jeanne in Paris to discuss the future of their relationship—returned to New York to tell Clare that, despite her ultimatum, he would continue the affair with Jeanne and that he “would still marry her if I were in a position to do so.” In the meantime he proposed a “legal separation” to allow him to live with Jeanne, while Clare remained officially (and financially) his wife. But a few days later, when she acquiesced and offered to allow the divorce, Harry once again changed his mind and insisted that he wanted the marriage to continue. His reasons, he said, were the immorality of divorce, “our long involvement: 25 years of marriage,” and “prudential” reasons: “my family is against it, business associates, the church, my age,” and the “damage to my public image and public responsibilities.”3

The struggle over their marriage was never private. As with almost every aspect of their lives during their long marriage, both Harry and Clare relied on others to smooth their way and facilitate their needs, even in the midst of emotional chaos. At the center of this group of retainers was Harry’s sister Beth—as always his confidante and now his intermediary between both Clare and Jeanne. Beth was always working in what she believed were Harry’s best interests (even if Harry himself sometimes disagreed with her). Her husband, Maurice “Tex” Moore, a partner in one of New York’s leading law firms and the chairman of the Board of Trustees of Columbia University, protected Harry’s legal and financial interests. Roswell Gilpatric, a lawyer in Tex Moore’s firm (and soon to be deputy secretary of defense in the Kennedy administration) was assigned at one point to mediate their marital dispute. People whom Clare called “the Timeincers” also intruded occasionally: Allen Grover, Roy Larsen, C. D. Jackson. Clare considered all of them her enemies. (“Any other vitally interested parties in this line up, which is about 10-to-1 against you and me?” she asked Harry caustically.)4

There were, of course, other participants as well—most prominently the press, which began publishing speculations about Harry’s affair with Jeanne in 1959. The rumors attracted little attention until early 1960, when the story appeared in a column by the nationally syndicated gossip columnist Leonard Lyons. Harry, Lyons said, had decided to marry Jeanne. Clare publicly brushed the rumors aside and joked that “if I divorced Harry, and married the Beaver [Lord Beaverbrook], I would become Harry’s grandmother.” Harry denied the rumors too, but damningly. “Clare and I are here together,” he responded to a press inquiry when they were both in Ridgefield. “It is all very premature to say the least.” The early signs of public scandal almost certainly helped them both to begin reconsidering divorce.5

After months of fruitless discussions, Harry proposed the use of a “qualified witness” to help them mediate their differences. Their choice was John Courtney Murray, a Jesuit priest and eminent theologian with whom Harry and, more important, Clare had spent much time together. Murray had been helpful to Clare during her conversion to Catholicism and had become a frequent fixture in the Luces’ many houses—seeming, some friends said, “more at home there than the Luces were.” He had been a spiritual and moral adviser to both of them. During the marital crisis he worked steadily to avert a divorce, to the frequent irritation of both parties. But Father Murray was the only person with whom Harry and Clare felt comfortable sharing their troubles. Both of them wrote lengthy accounts for Murray of their feelings, and they used him frequently to mediate conversations that might otherwise have become unbearable. Clare poured out her misery in many letters to Murray: “All of the experiences of my life, public and private, have convinced me we live in an age fraught with violence, hatred, futility, greed, lust—in which ‘the great’ are often uglier and meaner than the small … an apocalyptic age—the age of the aborted American Century—a century reflected in the very confusions, weaknesses, greeds of its author.” Harry was less melodramatic but equally frank. “I have resigned myself to a ‘marriage of convenience’ and have given up on love.”6

In the midst of this agony, yet another group of companions and facilitators entered their lives: Gerald Heard, a writer, self-proclaimed philosopher, and sometime mystic, and his secretary and partner Michael Barrie. Clare had met them originally during her short stay in Hollywood in the 1940s, and they had been frequent visitors to Clare since then in Connecticut and more recently in Phoenix. Heard, who liked to call himself a “historian of consciousness and its evolution,” had been experimenting with various hallucinogens and other drugs that would, he hoped, help break down the barriers that separated people from their deepest feelings and instincts—a goal that predicted some of the popular literature of the later 1960s, among them Norman O. Brown’s Love’s Body and Theodore Roszak’s The Making of a Counter Culture. In 1960 Heard was particularly interested in LSD, which some psychiatrists were beginning to consider a possibly useful method of treatment.7

Clare had first tried LSD when Heard introduced her to it in 1958 in Connecticut, around the time of her withdrawal from the ambassadorship to Brazil. LSD was, she later wrote, responsible for “the serenity with which I faced that ordeal” and also for the later “burst of creative vitality” that took her to the Caribbean to start her new novel. Heard and Barrie came to Phoenix again the next year, in the midst of the Luces’ marital crisis. They were accompanied by Dr. Sidney Cohen, one of the most prominent psychiatrists studying LSD. Clare began taking frequent doses under the supervision of Cohen, who kept careful records of her behavior and her statements during her periods of hallucination. (Correspondence from the time also suggests that she became infatuated with him, although there is little evidence that the feelings were reciprocated. “I flirted with you,” she later wrote, but “you had not the slightest wish to flirt back.”) Once again she found in LSD a refuge from her misery and anxiety.8

Perhaps hoping that LSD would provide Harry with the same “serenity” that it had given her, Clare persuaded him to join the experiment during one of his trips to Phoenix. Dr. Cohen kept a meticulous record of Harry’s reactions, which were something of a letdown for both the doctor and the “patient.” After taking “100 Gamma of LSD” at 11:45, Harry sat at his desk, lit a cigarette, and began reading Lionel Trilling’s biography of Matthew Arnold, interrupting himself occasionally to discuss the relationship between Arnold and Cardinal Newman with Gerald Heard. About an hour and a half later Dr. Cohen recorded the following exchange: “CBL enters. She puts flowers near HRL and asks if he sees color vividly. HRL: ‘No.’ Reads aloud from Trilling re the religious life.” Half an hour later Harry no longer felt “in command of myself” and said he wished “this stage would pass.” But he was alert enough to begin a new conversation: “Talks about visit to Oxford last summer…. Talks about Lord Halifax…. Talks of Chartres Cathedral.” At 2:50 p.m., more than three hours after he had taken the drug, Harry finally noticed a change in his response to his surroundings. As Cohen recorded Luce’s reactions: “Now things are getting sharper, … I’m beginning to see what Clare said. The aliveness…. This perception is fantastic. Oh yes, quite wonderful. Not the visionary gleam, but quite wonderful.” At 3:50, Cohen noted, Luce “goes off to think for a while.” Luce never tried LSD again, although he retained an interest in hallu-cinogenics. When asked later about his reactions, he said he had “not particularly enjoyed it” but had found it “bio-chemically speaking interesting.”9

Years later, when her experimentation with LSD became public, Clare insisted that her use of the hallucinogen had “saved our marriage.” Nothing in her voluminous contemporary writings about her marital problems suggests that this was true. But the marriage did survive.

In the spring of 1960 Harry promised to break off his affair with Jeanne, although in fact he continued it intermittently for almost another year, until Jeanne herself ended it in favor of a relationship with—and ultimately a brief marriage to—Norman Mailer. (Clare speculated that one reason for his breakup with Jeanne was that a prostate operation in 1960 had affected his sexual performance, but by then the affair was already unraveling.) Once the decision was made to continue the marriage, however, recriminations continued for a time. Harry was intermittently bitter about the diminished prospect of what he liked to call a “free life.” “Okay,” he said with unhappy resignation during one of their many conversations about their reconciliation. “As usual, you get what you want, but I have to take the Castor Oil.” During another tense discussion he said, “I can’t win against you.” Most of all he wearied of the “incessant scenes and quarrels with Clare.” It “had to stop,” he told Father Murray. “I can’t get any work done.” Clare—emotionally exhausted—continued to express distrust. She was, she said, nothing but a “resident housekeeper” to Harry. He had chosen to continue “a marriage with me, because for a variety of prudential reasons, having nothing to do with me, it seems best on the whole for you.” In July 1960 she wrote melodramatically in her diary, “I am of this morning, faced with the total disintegration of my personality and the final, fatal collapse of my ego…. I don’t know who I am in relation to anybody in this world.” Harry, clearly, was not the only cause of her misery. After years of professional and social prominence, she was no longer a major celebrity. She was mourning not only the problems of her marriage (problems she had once compartmentalized and largely ignored) but also the end of her dazzling public life. That was in part what made the survival of her marriage so important to her. Being married to Harry was, she feared, the only distinction she would have in the years to come. And so she fought ever harder to keep the marriage going and to force Harry to commit to it.

Clare imposed conditions on her reconciliation. Harry would have to end the affair with Jeanne, “unequivocally and finally,” to “tell Beth and Tex … in my presence that the affair is over for good and that you desire to stay married to me,” that he “escort me personally through the new TIME and LIFE Building as though you were pleased and proud to show it to me,” and that he “write me a letter telling me … that you hope we can make a good life together for the rest of our lives.” “Why is that letter so important?” Harry asked when Clare complained that he had delayed writing it. It would, she said, make clear that “he was in it ‘for keeps’” 10

Little by little, as Clare put it, “the terrible storm … subsided.” Harry wrote, without anger, that “we should go on for the rest of our lives together … after all the needless amount of words, quarrels, arguments…. The decision to do so should be by a simple yes from me and a simple yes from you.” They had no illusions about a great romance. They would, Harry said, “live from day to day and from season to season,” and enjoy “Christian fellowship” and “affectionate companionship.” By the fall of 1960, while Clare was spending several weeks in Hawaii, he was able to write to her with something of the warmth that had once been a more common part of their marriage. “Darling, I do miss you so, but it seems so useless to cry about that—except just to keep telling you that there is still a dream of real companionship I cling to despite all the ravages of war and time. We will have our Peace in our time because we are making it in love.” And Clare, too, gradually found her way to a calm affection. “Your voice on the telephone this morning, so full of warmth and strength and lovingness … made me very happy…. I seem to have some sort of vision—very akin to LSD really!—that all is as it must be, ‘everything composes.’” Years later, making notes while looking back at her diaries on what she called their time of “sturm und drang,” Clare wrote:

Well, we didn’t … get a divorce. Partly perhaps because we both saw it was not the right thing morally, spiritually, ethically—or even practically. But also a little—a wonderful little—because we both saw no real chance for happiness or growth for the other in divorce. If love is a concern for the well being of the other, there was that much love—when the smoke of battle blew away anyway.11

Sometime in 1960 Clare wrote a long, introspective memorandum, addressed to Harry but evidently never delivered to him, about what she called “diminishments.” To Clare the diminishments were her loss of a serious career, her loss with age of much of her beauty, her loss of sexual fulfillment, and most of all—in this time of despair—her “loss of hope.” Harry was never one to record his own feelings honestly. He rarely spoke openly about his own “diminishments,” but he was certainly aware of them. Although he was only in his early sixties, he looked like a much older man—the result of many years of intense work, travel, and anxiety, and of a lifetime of heavy smoking. He was suffering from heart and prostate troubles. Perhaps most of all he was aware of his failure to grasp his last chance for true romantic love, a failure that he himself had decided to absorb.

Nor did he often have the comfort of family. His reconciliation with Clare was successful as far as it went. They learned to avoid rancor and to create a familiar and usually comfortable companionship, but they continued to spend much of their time apart. He remained close to Beth Moore, but he saw little of his other siblings (his sister Emmavail, who still lived in Philadelphia and who seldom saw Harry; and his much younger brother, Sheldon, who—after a brief career in Time Inc.—moved on to new business efforts far from New York). Harry had somewhat more contact with his two sons, Henry III (Hank) and Peter. He was closer to Hank, who aspired to follow in his father’s journalistic footsteps. Hank worked for a time at the Cleveland News and later joined Time Inc., where he spent much of his professional life although never rising to a position of great prominence. Harry expressed pride in Hank’s achievements, but also worried that he was too dependent on his father’s support. (Hank later became the longtime president of the Henry Luce Foundation, which Harry established before his death and to which he left the largest portion of his estate.) After attending MIT Peter joined the air force and then moved to the West to work in aviation. He saw his father relatively infrequently. Harry wrote letters occasionally to both his sons, letters that were meant to be affectionate but that revealed little intimacy. They sometimes read like essays on the state of the world. (“A wonderful old philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead, … was one of the first to point out that in the twentieth century, for the first time in human history, conditions of human life changed radically in one generation,” he wrote Peter on his twenty-first birthday.) Harry ensured that both his sons were financially secure, and in the late 1950s and 1960s he began to spend more time with Hank in particular. But after decades of only occasional attention to his sons, whom he had left behind in 1935 to marry Clare when both boys were under ten, the relationship always remained somewhat distant. Harry did develop a special interest in his grandchildren, and particularly in Christopher (known as Kit), Hank’s son. Kit traveled with his grandfather occasionally, visited him and Clare periodically in Phoenix and Connecticut, and saw him more often than most of Harry’s other relatives did. Kit had a relationship with Harry that few others did—one of uncomplicated affection.12

As often in times of stress and uncertainty, Harry turned to religion. He was a regular congregant of the Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church when he was in New York, and developed a close relationship with his pastor, David H. C. Read. Beginning in the late 1950s he spent an inordinate amount of time helping to plan and raise funds for a National Presbyterian Church, which would be built in Washington and would help Presbyterianism to have a more prominent role in the nation’s capital. Eisenhower, himself a convert to Presbyterianism, supported the effort, which made Luce all the more eager to help. After many false starts and frustrations the new church finally opened—two years after Luce’s death. During those same years Luce funded and built a Presbyterian chapel at a university in Taiwan, in memory of his father.13

But despite Luce’s institutional loyalty to the Presbyterian Church, his private religious life was in fact restless, complicated, and at times despairing. The simple unquestioned faith of his youth was long gone, replaced by a much more intellectual, and almost academic, interest in religion. He began searching for what he called a “New Religion, the search for God, without Christianity,” although he could never articulate what such a religion would mean, except to describe it as part of “the great liberal tradition.” He was fascinated by Christianity in the same way he was fascinated by politics, business, culture, and many other areas of life. He spurred his editors to pay more attention to religion as a significant force in society, worth examining, and his magazines did cover religion more consistently than most other major press organizations. He developed intellectual relationships with major theologians: Reinhold Niebuhr, Henry Sloane Coffin, Henry Van Dusen, Paul Tillich, and many others; and he argued with them, in letters and in print, not usually about matters of theology but about the connection between faith and politics. At the same time he developed a strong curiosity about evangelical Christianity. In part that was because he considered its followers primarily “less well-educated” people and hoped he might learn something about their faith. Characteristically he reached out to the most prominent (and respectable) figure in the evangelical community, Billy Graham, whom he often invited to write for Life, and with whom he met occasionally. They maintained a regular correspondence. Luce was attracted to Graham in part because of his “old-fashioned religion” and his “extremely conservative politics,” which he saw as an antidote to what he called the “agnostic materialism” of the New Deal and the British Labour Party.14

In the early 1950s, after Clare’s conversion, he had developed a strong interest in the Catholic Church and in 1952 even signed a “Declaration of Intent,” in which he promised to convert to Catholicism if John Courtney Murray were ever assigned to “an area of China including Shantung Province.” The unlikelihood of that event suggests that he was not entirely serious, but his flirtation with—and defense of—the Catholic Church continued for years, as his long relationship with Murray made clear.15

Mostly, however, Luce wrestled not with denominationalism but with the meaning of faith—and the difficulties of sustaining it. “We urgently need a ‘restatement’ of Christian faith,” he wrote, “in terms of the new kind of universe which science has been revealing and which even the common man apprehends as reality.” How, he asked, could science and religion coexist? Luce read widely on this subject, discussed it with Hocking and other religiously oriented philosophers, and came to agree with the liberal French theologian-scientist Pierre Lecomte du Noüy, who wrote that “men are ‘Collaborators with God in charge of evolution.’” In conversations with Murray he became interested in “natural law and/or the moral law,” which he saw as a primarily Catholic concept that was disappearing from Protestantism. “In a sense,” he wrote approvingly, Murray “worships the goddess of reason.” At the same time he began to express contempt for what he called the “shallowly pietistic attitudes of much of ‘official’ Protestantism,” and for the difficulty Protestants had in accepting the tough military challenges of the Cold War. What Luce called “the eggheads” of the Protestant and Catholic communities often derided his attempts to popularize theology in his magazines. But Luce rarely responded to criticisms of his religious views, in part because he himself was constantly questioning them—so seriously that at times he confessed that he was suffering from “a loss of faith or belief in God.” As early as 1955 he worried that “theology is failing us badly … [and] has not got anywhere near to real coping with the real new human situation.” In 1959 he went even further: “What a man says to God is less important than that he should say something, an actual person to an Actual Person…. The doubt tyrannizing over all doubts of our time is whether any dialogue is possible.”16

As during earlier personal crises, Luce turned to his company and his magazines as a refuge from the storms raging around him. But by now the distance between him and his editors had grown so great that he began considering other, noneditorial plans for the company.

By the early 1960s Time Inc. had grown considerably even from its formidable size in the early 1950s. Sports Illustrated was expanding rapidly. Its staff had grown significantly. As a result the company’s headquarters in one of the original Rockefeller Center buildings had become inadequate. Sports Illustrated and Fortune were already mainly housed in other buildings, a development Luce disliked because it made it harder for him to stay in touch with his editors. Even the staffs of Time and Life were feeling crowded. And so a search began for new quarters.17

Luce had begun thinking about moving as early as 1945, and in 1951 he dabbled with the idea of moving the entire company to a twenty-seven-acre plot in Westchester County. Plans were secretly under way for a “$5,000,000 ‘campus type’ building.” The move, Billings noted, was “partly dictated by the threat of A-bomb destruction in mid-Manhattan,” a reflection of the anxiety that the Korean War and the deterioration of American-Soviet relations had created. But a more important consideration for Luce was “the decentralization trend of the times.” Reader’s Digest, the only magazine with a larger circulation than Life, had been very successful on a large suburban campus, and Luce was briefly attracted to that example. But the staff rebelled. Billings noted that “The country is no place … to do a good high-pressure news job. You vegetate. You end up smoking a pipe.” When Eero Saarinen, the renowned architect Luce had chosen for the project, reported that the site was inappropriate for its proposed purpose, the idea quietly died.18

Luce then, implausibly, began to look for a large area in Manhattan where he could build something like a campus in the city, with parks and a swimming pool and tennis courts and with low buildings scattered across the site. “The ideal headquarters,” he argued, “cannot be in any skyscraper slab.” He identified a space near the United Nations building on the East Side of Manhattan, but the plan proved to be much too expensive. Once again Luce began to look outside New York, to a small town in Pennsylvania midway between Philadelphia and Wilmington. Billings called it a “fool idea,” and the opposition of the staff killed this plan as well.19

In the end Luce decided to move the company only a block away from its current site—an area just west of Sixth Avenue, between Fiftieth and Fifty-first Streets where Rockefeller Center, Inc., had decided to expand. He reached an agreement with the Rockefellers to jointly build and own the building. Although he was disappointed that his more visionary proposals had failed, he was resigned to erecting a conventional office building and was pleased that it would at least meet the need for additional space. Despite his distaste for large “office slabs,” he insisted that the new headquarters should be functional and efficient and not excessively expensive. He conceded that what the company “was not buying was a building of which we can be especially proud.” Eventually Luce did express pride in the new headquarters, but his first reaction was closer to the truth. The building, designed by the modernist architect Wallace Harrison, was large, efficient, and undistinguished. The company moved into it in 1960.20

By the time of the company’s transition into the new building, Luce was planning a transition of his own. Early in 1959, only months after his recovery from his heart attack, Luce invited Hedley Donovan, then the managing editor of Fortune, to his home and told him that he was considering retirement. As Donovan later recalled the conversation: “He said in a somewhat apologetic way that he had to bring up something ‘rather personal.’ He wondered if I would be interested, ‘not right away, in a few years or so,’ in being the next Editor-in-Chief of Time Incorporated.” Donovan was a tall, handsome, sandy-haired Minnesotan, a Rhodes scholar, and a mildly conservative man who shared most of Luce’s political views but little of his intensity. He was a nineteen-year veteran of Time Inc., and was forty-five at the time of their meeting. There was no announcement of the transition, and Donovan was left uncertain when or even whether it would occur, perhaps with good reason. (Shortly after his heart attack Luce had told his longtime assistant that “I’ll never retire. I’ll die at my desk.”) But not long after the meeting with Donovan, Luce announced a sweeping reorganization of the senior staff, followed several months later with Donovan’s elevation to editorial director of all the magazines, the position Billings had occupied in his last years with the company until his retirement in 1955. (Had Billings not left, Luce once confided to Mary Bancroft, he, not Donovan, would have been Luce’s successor—something he had never told Billings, who retired still believing that Luce had little interest in or respect for him.)21

Although Luce made no public announcement of his retirement until almost five years after he told Donovan of his plans, he began preparing for his departure well before he left. One way he did so was to organize a lavish celebration of Time’s (and thus of Time Inc.’s) fortieth anniversary in 1963. (Clare asked him why a fortieth anniversary party and not a fiftieth; he answered that he did not expect to “be around” ten years later.) After months of preparation that cost several hundred thousand dollars and occupied the time of dozens of Time Inc. employees for weeks, eighteen hundred people gathered in the Waldorf-Astoria ballroom. The New York Times wittily (and slightly acidly) described the audience as “tycoons, pundits, cinemactresses and political sachems.” It was indeed a great event for people watching. Among the guests were Lyndon Johnson, Walter Reuther, John Dos Passos, Douglas MacArthur, Gene Tunney, Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, Gina Lollobrigida, Rosalind Russell, Bob Hope, Henry Ford, Norman Thomas, Henry Wallace, Everett Dirksen, Adlai Stevenson, Francis Cardinal Spellman, Dean Rusk, and Paul Tillich—who gave a keynote address that proved a bit too serious for some members of the audience. Most of the guests were people who had appeared on the roughly two thousand covers of Time since 1923. Luce explained the event, and the guest list, as a reflection of Time’s history, which “has told its story in terms of people, whereas 40 or 50 years ago the journalistic emphasis was on social or economic forces.”22

The glamorous celebration of the fortieth anniversary coincided with the first signs of serious erosion of Time Inc.’s profitability. Life, the great revenue driver of the company for two decades, was in trouble. In 1959 the magazine recorded its first deficit, the beginning of a long and rarely uninterrupted financial deterioriation. The problem was not circulation, which was approaching seven million, its all-time high. The problem was advertising. Life charged the highest advertising rates of any magazine of its kind, and many advertisers now found that they could reach larger audiences for not much more money by promoting their products on television. Life showed profits in only a few years after 1959. Luce watched this decline with concern but also, as always, with confidence that the answer lay in raising the quality of Life’s contents. Once again he set out to write a new prospectus for the magazine that he had helped create in 1936 and that had rewarded him so richly. “So what would be the purpose of Life in the Sixties?” he asked. “My answer: Life is and shall be designed to be the magazine of national purpose. In his first statement as President-Elect, Jack Kennedy called for ‘A Supreme National effort.’ Amen.” More specifically Luce listed the issues he thought Life should address: “win the Cold War,” “create a better America,” help to “bring about a great humane civilization.” The production of Life would be “magazine-making at its highest and most skill-demanding level.”23

The declining profitability of Life after 1959 put pressure on the company to find new generators of revenue. Time continued to prosper, but it could not alone sustain the aspirations of the company. Fortune was healthy too, but had never produced large profits. Sports Illustrated was still running deficits and would not show a profit until the mid-1960s. Luce, who had never been very enthusiastic about diversifying the company’s investments, was now ready to consider new ventures. But he did not stray far from Time Inc.’s traditional mission.

For years the magazines had published occasional books. Fortune produced anthologies of notable articles. Life published “picture histories” of great events such as World War II and turned the magazine’s excerpts of Churchill’s memoirs into a book. Timecreated Three Hundred Years of American Painting, and Sports Illustrated tried to market books on golf and bridge. None of these efforts was particularly successful until the company decided to create a book-club-like system for marketing the company’s publications. It started as the Life World Library but early in 1961 became an independent department of the company: Time-Life Books. Luce was somewhat skeptical of the project, complaining occasionally that “these books are going out with my name on them, and I won’t have time to read them.” But the new unit proved profitable enough to banish his doubts. By 1964 it was producing profits of more than six million dollars a year.24

Luce placed considerable hope in the company’s Time-Life International division. Launched shortly after World War II, it had grown steadily through the 1950s with editions of Time and Life tailored to various parts of the world. In some cases it was published in local languages—Spanish, Italian, Japanese—and was producing modest but growing profits. By the late 1960s it was generating about 10 percent of the company’s substantial revenues, but the high costs of production and marketing ensured that it produced far less than 10 percent of its profits. A few overseas editions continued for decades, but Time-Life International was disbanded in 1968.25

Time Inc. could get only so much leverage from recycling its editorial products in various forms, and this limited diversification did little to compensate for the great loss of earnings created by the decline of Life. But Luce remained cautious about moving into wholly new fields, and few people in the upper echelons of the company were willing to challenge him. The company remained profitable, and the magazines remained popular, but for the first time in its history Time Inc. was on a downward arc. Only after his death did the company begin seriously to diversify.

Luce did not slow down during his last years as editor in chief. As always, he traveled frequently, around the United States, to Europe, to Asia. He continued actively to oversee his editors, not as obsessively as he had sometimes done in the past, but enough to send a steady flow of often-unwelcome memos to the desks of his employees. His 1960 appointment of Otto Fuerbringer as managing editor of Time was controversial among the staff, who considered him—correctly—to be more rigidly conservative and autocratic than his predecessor, Roy Alexander. (Among many of his editors—and especially among those who had lobbied furiously against his appointment—he was known as the “Iron Chancellor.”) Luce was not much troubled by Fuerbringer’s politics. He liked him most of all for his efficiency and his extraordinary editorial skills. He had much the same appeal to Luce as such earlier controversial editors as Laird Goldsborough and Whittaker Chambers, whose ideological enthusiasms sometimes exceeded his own but who created good copy quickly and effectively.26

Fuerbringer’s semi-Teutonic rigidity was the source of many of the criticisms Luce received from the Kennedy administration. Lyndon Johnson, once he became president, seldom complained to Luce about his coverage in the magazines (although he sometimes complained bitterly to others, among them John Steele, the Time Washington correspondent). Instead Johnson used his trademark tool: shameless flattery. He sent Luce frequent notes of praise, called him periodically on the telephone, invited him to informal dinners and private meetings, and praised him for his speeches and essays. He quoted Luce’s speeches to others (always making sure that someone informed Luce that he had done so). He lavished him with thanks—“deep appreciation,” “delighted with your praise,” “forever in your debt”—for even the most trivial communication. He solicited Luce’s suggestions for the president’s speeches. He issued a proclamation in 1965 declaring “World Law Day,” and made sure to write Luce about his role in creating it. When Luce was unable to attend the ceremony, the president said very publicly, “Who will send Mr. Luce’s pen to him?”27

Luce himself had admired Johnson since the 1950s, expressed delight when he became vice president, and gave unexpected praise to the president’s Great Society legislation. “Ours is a secular society,” Luce said in a speech in Washington in 1965. “We set our sights on the Great Society, where there will be even more good…. How to bring joy into the world? How to make the Great Society a thing of glory—to build as if to the glory of God—ad majorum dei gloriam? It seems impossible, but there are hints of this vision.”28

The 1964 campaign was a difficult one for Luce, because it led him to question his loyalty to the Republican Party. In 1960 he had admired John Kennedy but had endorsed (even if somewhat tepidly) Richard Nixon, largely because he saw relatively little difference between the two contenders and because Nixon was a Republican. But in 1964 Luce was troubled by the anger and bitterness that Barry Goldwater’s supporters showed at the party’s convention in San Francisco. He tried to explain it by arguing that “the prime significance of the Goldwater candidacy is dissatisfaction with the Republican Party, and the main reason for that dissatisfaction was that the Republican Party had been a loser, not a winner.” But he could not accept the party’s current “theory that the Republicans would have a good chance to win if they nominated a ‘real,’ that is a conservative Republican.” In this “moment of time,” he said, the Republicans had “very little chance to win…. Johnson has, I think, touched the more responsive nerve.” He confided to Donovan that “I haven’t, for some time, felt that the Republicans had anything noteworthy to say.” Periodically Luce read a Goldwater speech or watched a campaign event and tried to persuade himself that the candidate was getting “better.” He praised Goldwater for a “good serious speech on foreign policy” and a call for party unity that Luce described as “completely satisfactory…. [He] has largely purged himself of his previous failure to conciliate the so-called ‘moderate Republicans.’”

But Luce was never comfortable with Goldwater. “The trouble, of course, is not what Goldwater said or failed to say,” Luce wrote of a speech the senator made in Hershey, Pennsylvania. “The trouble is what he had previously said, and the impression which he has given as to what manner of man he is by what he has said.” Shortly before the election he explained to Leo Burnett that “[a]fter months, or perhaps more accurately a year, of patient listening to Senator Goldwater’s case, we did not find it sufficiently convincing.” By then Luce was no longer editor in chief. But his resistance to Goldwater was shared by Donovan, and for the first time in many years Life provided no endorsement. Not long after the Republican convention, Luce’s son Hank and his wife joined Harry and Clare for a night at the theater. As their car traveled through Central Park, Clare—an active Goldwater supporter—asked Hank whom he was supporting. Hank replied that he was voting for Johnson and then asked, “Dad, who are you for?” Hank recalled later, “I never got an answer,” just “a conspicuous silence.” He always felt certain that his father either did not vote at all or voted for Johnson.29

Luce’s political ambivalence in these years reflected his uncertainty and confusion about what he considered the new character of American society. He was both interested in and puzzled by the emergence of the New Left—and he turned, improbably, to Father Murray as his guide. The New Left was based on “selective pacifism,” Murray argued, and “might not be against all wars. In fact they might support wars of liberation in other parts of the world.” Luce had no fixed opinions of his own about the New Left and peppered those around him—Clare, his colleague Robert Elson, Murray, and others—with questions. Luce had many blind spots, certainly, but he was seldom afraid of change; and in the early years of the New Left, he remained more or less open-minded toward it—with one conspicuous exception: Vietnam.30

The struggle for Vietnam was the last great crusade of Luce’s life. It did not consume him in the way that World War II or the Chinese Revolution had, to be sure. But he believed in a non-Communist South Vietnam, in peacetime and in war, with unflagging commitment; and he tried to make his magazines support his views despite roiling controversy—in the country and in Time Inc. itself—about the wisdom of the war.

Luce’s interest in Vietnam stretched back to the early 1950s and his dismay at the collapse of the French effort to defeat the Communist forces of the Vietminh. Not only had he hoped that the French would stave off Communism in Vietnam; he had also once again dreamed of a larger war that might provide an opportunity to overthrow the Chinese Communists as well. The failure of these hopes only intensified his interest in South Vietnam once it became an independent nation as a result of the 1954 Geneva conference which partitioned the country into a Communist North Vietnam and a non-Communist South. In 1957 Luce joined the American Friends of Vietnam, which supported the South Vietnam government. Luce contributed a modest amount of Time Inc. stock to the organization. He promoted the leadership of Ngo Dinh Diem, the president of South Vietnam, and his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu and argued that they “have contributed notably to the fight of their people against both Colonialism and communism.” That same year Luce presided over a dinner for Diem on behalf of the International Rescue Committee. In his letter of invitation he wrote that Diem “is one of the great statesmen of Asia and of the world. He has held back the flood of Communism which threatened to engulf his country…. In honoring him, we pay tribute to the eternal values which all free men everywhere are prepared to defend with their lives.” Such sentiments were widely shared in the mid-1950s, after Diem was invited to address an enthusiastic joint session of Congress and began to be called “the Churchill of Southeast Asia.”31

Luce felt especially comfortable supporting the Vietnam War because he was, for the first time, fully aligned with the views of a wartime administration. His experience in World War II had been blighted by the mutual hostility between himself and Roosevelt. The Truman administration had ignored his impassioned pleas to save China and had supported the Korean War far more cautiously than Luce had hoped. But he harbored no such grievances toward the government during the Vietnam War. Eisenhower had strongly supported the American Friends of Vietnam in the 1950s and had provided lavish financial support to the Diem regime. Kennedy, who may or may not have hoped to extricate the United States from Vietnam, nevertheless supported the struggle publicly, expanded the American military presence there, and solicited Luce’s advice. And Johnson, who first introduced combat troops into South Vietnam and eventually created an army of well over five hundred thousand, saw in Luce an ally who could help justify his policies to the world. To ensure Luce’s cooperation, Johnson urged Henry Cabot Lodge, then serving as U.S. ambassador to Vietnam, to invite Luce to Saigon. “I hope very much that you can come,” Lodge wrote flatteringly. “I know you will find much here that will interest you, and I know that it would help me to get the benefit of your thinking.” Luce did not accept Lodge’s invitation; but his support for Johnson, Lodge, and the war remained undimmed. He ensured that his magazines continued to support—and even sometimes went beyond—Johnson’s Vietnam policies. His aggressive vision of the war, rooted again in his hopes for overthrowing the Communist regime in China, was expressed in Time: “No one talks seriously about a full-scale land war on China’s mainland. But there can be no doubt whatever that China is the real enemy in Asia, and the greatest threat anywhere to world peace…. And there is room for argument that a more positive U.S. military policy toward Viet Nam would be to risk a confrontation with China in the right place at the right time.”32

Johnson continued to seek Luce’s help until near the end of his presidency: “I’d like old HL to come out of retirement down there in Arizona,” Johnson told the Life correspondent Hugh Sidey in early 1967. “I’d like him to get in there and fight for me.” Johnson, Sidey recalled, “doubled up his fist and punched the air a couple of times. ‘I’d like him to help carry the battle.’” Sidey’s letter conveying Johnson’s message was sitting on Luce’s desk in Phoenix in February 1967 on the day before he died. Less than a year later Hedley Donovan began leading the magazines toward a more skeptical view of the war.33

But while Luce’s positions may have pleased the government, they created another ugly battle within Time Inc. itself, one that raged for years and caused more rancor than at almost any previous moment in its history. The controversy centered at first on a brilliant young reporter whom Luce liked and admired: Charles Mohr, a Time correspondent who had served in Washington, India, and beginning in 1962, Vietnam. After less than a year in Indochina, Mohr was beginning to have doubts about the optimistic reports that the military was providing and about the ability of the Vietnamese army to resist the growing strength of the Communist National Liberation Front, which became known to Americans as the Viet Cong. But back in New York, Fuerbringer treated Mohr’s memos from Vietnam the same way Chambers had treated Teddy White’s from China. Mohr’s dark and sometimes brooding dispatches became in Time optimistic reports on the great progress the Americans and South Vietnamese were making. In the summer of 1963 Mohr was asked to write an article on Madame Ngo Dinh Nhu, the wife of Diem’s powerful brother. He used the occasion to reveal the corruption, incompetence, and insulation of the Ngo family and their inability to make progress against the Communists. But when the story appeared in Time, it bore little relation to what Mohr had written. “The history of Vietnam is full of heroines,” Time said. “Today the most formidable and in some ways the bravest woman in South Viet Nam … is Mme. Ngo Dinh Nhu.” The story did include some of Mohr’s criticisms of the regime, but after Fuerbringer’s intrusion, even the criticisms were muted and sometimes openly rejected.

Not content with reshaping Mohr’s story, Fuerbringer commissioned a piece for Time’s Press section a few weeks later that attacked the journalistic culture in Saigon, which, of course, included Time’s own reporters. “Have they given their readers an unduly pessimistic view of the progress of the war and the quality of the Diem government?” the article asked. The reporters, it charged, “are in love with their work, so in love, in fact, that they talk about little else. They have a strong sense of mission.” They were “such a tightly knit group that their dispatches tended to reinforce their own collective judgment, which was severely critical of practically everything.” A battle broke out in New York with the publication of the article. Richard Clurman, chief of correspondents, demanded a retraction; otherwise, he predicted, Mohr and others would quit. Fuerbringer refused. Clurman, at Luce’s request, flew to Saigon to evaluate the reporters on his own. He returned even more insistent on challenging Fuerbringer’s characterization of the journalists. To his surprise Luce agreed and ordered a story “saying we were wrong.” But at the last minute, without telling anyone, the imperious Fuerbringer changed the wording before publication and removed the statement of error. Luce was furious, but he took no action against his managing editor. Mohr promptly resigned in the fall of 1963 and moved to the New York Times.34

On April 16, 1964, Luce announced his retirement as editor in chief—at a moment when, as the New York Times reported, Time Inc. was “the largest magazine publishing business in the world.” He offered no reason for his decision, other than “it just seemed like a good moment.” He told reporters that he would continue to work more or less full-time, but on a wider range of projects, few of which he could yet identify other than a possible memoir. For the moment, however, he seemed to revel in the attention he received and the importance that the press attributed to his career and his departure. “The entire Time enterprise,” the Times wrote, “might be regarded as reflecting the missionary zeal of its founder for informing and uplifting the human race.”35

Hedley Donovan, Luce’s successor, received relatively scant attention. “Would Luce really retire?” some of his colleagues asked. Luce had named himself editorial chairman, and there was much speculation about what the title meant. Had he simply promoted himself so he could continue to manage the company more remotely? The lavish dinner Time Inc. held in May to mark the transition provided no answers. It was designed to honor both Luce and Donovan. But most of the speeches passed over Donovan without much notice and focused on Luce’s achievements and legacy. Even Donovan himself felt the need to make the event about Luce. “Harry Luce has worked a kind of managerial miracle in this company,” he said in his own remarks. “These magazines are going to continue, in many important ways, to be Harry’s magazines.” But in the months that followed, and to the surprise of many of the editors, Luce did actually retire from the company. He corresponded frequently with Donovan and other editors, and he continued to write and report for the magazines occasionally. He did not, however, challenge Donovan’s authority and rarely criticized his successor’s decisions—although everyone continued to feel Luce’s presence and almost certainly felt somewhat constrained from moving too far beyond the magazine’s long-established norms.36

Luce’s brief retirement was a relatively happy time for him. He was not much less active than he had been during his years as editor in chief. He traveled constantly, both in the United States and abroad, still facilitated at every point by Time Inc. employees. He even tried to arrange a trip to mainland China to meet with Mao and Zhou. Richard Clurman, his partner in this effort, wrote enthusiastically: “Your going to China and seeing Mao strikes me as perhaps the biggest potential coup in all of journalism today.” But in the end the trip proved impossible to arrange. He made dozens of speeches on issues he cared about and accepted honorary degrees. He spent more of his time in Phoenix with Clare than he had in the past, and he even began to purchase and renovate a new home in Hawaii, where Clare had longed to live for years. He returned often to New York, where he began, for the first time in many years, to enjoy a social life with friends. His doctors warned him that he was jeopardizing his health—“smoking cigarettes, bounding around the world, etc.”—and predicted that “these things would shorten his life.” Luce responded cavalierly: “I am taking off six years for the abuse that I give myself, but I am adding three or four years for what modern science now knows.”37

Luce’s principal activity in the years after retirement was working on his memoir, which friends and publishers had been urging him to write for years. He spent many mornings in Phoenix working on it at a desk in his bedroom. Although he had been a writer all his life, he had never before tried to write a book and seemed to have trouble deciding how to organize so much material and express so many ideas. And so he wrote in discrete chunks, sometimes borrowing heavily from speeches he had made and articles he had written, presumably hoping that he would be able to integrate them at some later point. What he produced was a series of short and sometimes sketchy essays that reflected many of his lifelong interests and beliefs. (Not much in the manuscript was about himself, so calling it a memoir was a misnomer from the start.) He wrote about people he admired (Willkie, Eisenhower, Dulles, MacArthur, Churchill, but surprisingly little on Chiang Kai-shek), and he also discussed people he detested (Roosevelt, Truman, Acheson, McCarthy). He wrote about “prosperity marking a radical change in the human condition,” the “rule of law,” Communism and its inevitable exhaustion, and the “Providential nature of history.” Most of all he tried to explain what America meant and what its role in the world should be.38

“The United States,” he wrote, “was dedicated to a proposition. That was something unique in the history of nations…. The proposition, of which Lincoln spoke, was that ‘all men are created equal.’ … What is necessary to understand here is that the American Proposition contains, indeed is founded on, truths or hypotheses which are unqualifiedly universal…. It was and is the American task to take the lead in creating a new form of world order.” These were ideas he had been struggling to express during much of his life: in his first political efforts during his years at Yale, in the famous essay in Life, “The American Century,” and in his search for a “national purpose.” In the last months of his life he was struggling with them still.39

Luce’s casual attitude toward his health represented a denial of a number of dangerous events in his medical past: gall-bladder surgery; hypertension; his 1958 heart attack; prostate troubles; osteoarthritis in his shoulder, arm, and neck; and a brief attack of arrhythmia in 1964. Each illness produced fear and anxiety. Each recovery produced relief and increased confidence in his ability to outlive his problems.40

On February 23, 1967, Luce flew back to Phoenix from California with Clare, who had just made a highly critical speech about the United Nations, somewhat softened by Harry’s last-minute intervention. The next morning he slept late, uncharacteristically, and could not hold his food down once he had eaten. He continued to vomit through the day. Doctors were in and out of the house, but Luce insisted he was not seriously ill. He remained at home that night. The following day he felt no better, and at noon he was taken by ambulance to the hospital. “I seem to be unusually sleepy,” he told his doctor. Clare, in the meantime, went on with her day. “I had a dinner party to go to that night,” she recalled a few years later, “but I grew very uneasy and left about 9 p.m., went home, and called the hospital. He got on the phone at once; he said not to worry—he was all right and watching television. (‘Perry Mason’—which is why I go on watching the darn thing.)” He was up and down late into the night, and at about three o’clock in the morning he went into the bathroom. A nurse heard him yell, “Oh God!” By the time the doctors rushed to his room, he was unconscious. Fifteen minutes later, he was dead—the victim of a massive heart attack. It was February 28, 1967, thirty-eight years to the day from the death of Brit Hadden, and forty-four years almost to the day since he had sat in the shabby little office he shared with Brit in downtown New York, holding the first issue of Time magazine and having “this sort of surprising feeling that it was pretty good.”

*It was eerily similar to a lament about his blighted life that he had written to Lila decades earlier.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!