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Clare Boothe Luce’s The Women

Jewish actress Dennie Moore, L., and Rosalind Russell in "The Women"

Jewish actress Dennie Moore, L., and Rosalind Russell in “The Women”

2,415 words

I first tried watching The Women (1939) years ago. It is the story of a happily married, upper-class Manhattan woman who lets her bitchy, backbiting, catty Park Avenue friends talk her into a divorce after her husband strays.

I made it through the first few minutes before concluding that it was “unwatchable.”

The movie was directed by George Cukor, Hollywood’s leading “women’s director,” whose movies Leonard Maltin praises highly in his Movie Guide. I’ve tried watching most of them, but do not like them. I later learned that Cukor was a Jewish homosexual.

Recently I made a second, more determined run at The Women in order to see Paulette Goddard, a half-Jew. She was billed fifth and did not make her appearance until an hour and a half into the movie. Nevertheless, I watched it.

Perhaps due to lowered expectations I found it somewhat interesting this time around—watchable, anyway.

The film was based upon a popular Broadway play by Clare Boothe Luce, wife of Time, Inc. publisher Henry Luce. (Time, Life, Fortune and Sports Illustrated magazines; March of Time newsreels.) Henry Luce, descended on both sides from Englishmen who landed in New England long before the Revolution, was born in China to Presbyterian missionary parents.

Clare Boothe Luce came from a less favored background, but in her teens her mother married Clare’s stepfather, a well-to-do Connecticut physician, banker, and Republican politician.

As an adult Clare Luce wrote fiction, plays, and journalism, served as a Republican congresswoman from Connecticut in the 1940s, as an ambassador during the Administration of Dwight D. Eisenhower, and on the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB) under Nixon and Reagan.

Both Clare Luce and her equally ambitious husband had a “rage for fame,” wealth, and the derivative, marginal, crumbs-from-the-table power available to whites in the 20th century. Therefore, the couple, though Republicans, anti-Communists, and opponents of FDR, were internationalists, WWII interventionists, and philo-Semites.

Over time, Clare grew somewhat more conservative than her husband, eventually supporting Barry Goldwater for President and writing for William F. Buckley’s National Review magazine. She also converted to Roman Catholicism after the death of her daughter from a former marriage in 1944, while her husband remained a confirmed Presbyterian.

Depiction of Women

At the outset it should be observed that Luce’s play needed to be accepted by Jews in order to be produced and seen by audiences. Whites in the 1930s no longer possessed an entertainment infrastructure of their own in America. They were effectively supplicants. Only what Jewish gatekeepers liked was widely published, performed, broadcast, or filmed. This is no small thing.

On Broadway, top producer Max Gordon accepted Luce’s play, and the subsequent film was made by the Jewish studio MGM.

The Women is frequently mischaracterized as a “feminist” or “radical” play and movie. I doubt that anyone who actually watches it will get that idea.

Clare’s plan was to “write a play about women with no men in it.” In both the play and movie the entire cast—more than 130 speaking roles—is female.

The concept came to her at a large dinner party when the women withdrew to leave the men to their cigars, promptly shed their charm and became spiteful. Part of her research for the play involved spending time in the powder room of a New York City nightclub eavesdropping on the conversations of upper class women.

Since Luce was a professional journalist, her research technique was very similar to Tom Wolfe’s approach to novel writing. Wolfe actually goes out into the field and gathers the materials for his fiction by observing and interviewing real people in all walks of life—just as he did when he was a young reporter, the doyen of New Journalism in the 1960s and ’70s. This aspect of Luce’s play makes it particularly interesting from a sociological and racial point of view.

In truth, Luce paints a very unflattering portrait of upper-class white women. The movie can serve as a salutary lesson for men inclined to place females on a pedestal or be blind to troublesome personality attributes and character traits due to a woman’s good looks or sex appeal.

Time magazine’s review of the play, which was edited by Henry Luce himself, noted, “The Women is calculated to give the Men two of the most shockingly informative hours of their lives.”

Henry Luce’s biographer suggested that the hostility many women felt toward Clare Luce might have been due to “jealousy,” or to “anger” over her “treason” in writing a play that, “as one of them described it, ‘tied up her own sex crisply in cellophane and delivered it to the ashcan.'”

There is a fair amount of female flesh shown in The Women, and it has been suggested, rightly, I think, that this was part of the drama’s appeal to pre-pornography-consuming audiences.

Most of the women are reasonably young and attractive, and shown, for example—interestingly, for its day—diligently taking exercise classes.

More to the point is Jewish bisexual costume designer Adrian’s fashion show sequence with young models in swim suits, shorts, and dresses in the middle of the picture, and a catfight between Rosalind Russell and Paulette Goddard. Five complete, identical wardrobe changes were needed for the fight due to the multiple takes required to shoot it.

Although the alleged sexiness of catfights escapes me, the scene is sexy because Paulette Goddard is in it. She was always sexy.

But although Luce engaged in a mild form of sexploitation, it is more than offset by the predatory nastiness of the characters. Bitchiness renders all of them except Norma Shearer and Paulette Goddard unattractive. Those two characters were the only ones portrayed sympathetically, except for Shearer’s mother and daughter, who were too matronly and young, respectively, to serve as sex objects. An unmarried, middle-aged writer also comes off reasonably well.

As an object lesson illustrating Luce’s theme, the three stars of the picture, Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, and Rosalind Russell, engaged in cutthroat infighting on the set as well as over who was to get star billing.

Luce’s own feuds with women often resulted in lines that could have come from her play.

Half-Jewish Communist front devotee Dorothy Parker called Luce’s first person journalistic report on the “phony war,” Europe in the Spring (1940), “All Clare on the Western Front.”

After Luce dubbed Left-wing propagandist Dorothy Thompson “the Molly Pitcher of the Maginot Line” because she’d fired a (peacetime) rifle there, Thompson wrote, “Miss Boothe is the Body by Fisher in this campaign. She has torn herself loose from the Stork Club to serve her country in this serious hour.”

Luce was famous for her cutting gibes. After FDR’s speechwriters had the President call her “a sharp-tongued glamor girl of forty” when he campaigned against her reelection to Congress in 1944, she responded that Roosevelt was “the only American president who ever lied us into a war because he did not have the political courage to lead us into it.” She also coined the term “globaloney.”

Feminism and Marriage

To claim, as some do, that Luce’s professional career as a successful editor, writer, playwright, reporter, legislator, and diplomat demonstrates how a woman of humble origins and no college education can, by dint of brains and beauty, raise herself to great heights, is unconvincing as a feminist argument. Samuel Johnson made pointed observations about such women in the 18th century—and there was nothing new about them then.

The truth is, Luce always advised women to marry and provide supportive homes for their husbands. Fundamentally, The Women conveys a hard-bitten, strongly pro-marriage, realistic message.

The play and movie suggest things about a woman’s proper (or, more precisely, realistic) role in marriage that are 100% Politically Incorrect today. Luce’s beliefs are embodied in the ideals of the main character, Mary Haines (Norma Shearer), her closeness and love for her daughter Mary (Virginia Weidler), and the wisdom and experience of Mary Haines’s mother, Mrs. Morehead (Lucile Watson).

Mrs. Morehead gives her daughter hard-headed yet sensible advice about how to deal with a straying husband, advice her daughter initially, and disastrously, fails to heed.

Luce achieves her effects through the use of caricature. The bevy of backbiting females is wildly exaggerated, but so, too, are the angelic heroine Mary Haines, her daughter, and wise mother. Luce’s points are driven home through sharp contrasts between these simplified types.

Although not one man appears onscreen, the central theme of the movie is ostensibly about women’s relationships with men—i.e., affairs and marriages. The film’s title and posters proclaim “The Women . . . ‘It’s all about men!'”

It’s hard to deduce exactly who Luce’s intended audience was. Would ordinary white women enjoy seeing The Women? Upper class women? Jews? Homosexuals?

Though the movie has been remade twice, the play revived numerous times, and adapted for television in the 1950s, since that era remakes and revivals have not been notably successful. Feminist-indoctrinated audiences must certainly be turned off by Luce’s glaring gender incorrectness.

An apparent exception to the rule is male homosexuals, who seem drawn to the film. As noted, George Cukor directed it.

David Halperin, a Jewish academic “queer theorist,” says that when the film was shown at the Castro movie theater in San Francisco, “The audience would be full of gay men who knew the movie by heart and who would recite the lines out loud in unison with each other and the actresses.”

Perhaps that’s why Instauration magazine wryly noted in 1987 that “Although the San Francisco Arts Theater secured the rights to Clare Booth Luce’s The Women, the play came with the proviso that ‘all 35 female roles must be played by women.'”

The East Coast Upper Class

L. to R., Phyllis Povah, Rosalind Russell, and Joan Crawford

L. to R., Phyllis Povah, Rosalind Russell, and Joan Crawford

On a second level, The Women paints a bleak picture of the American upper class whose traditional family structure had obviously fallen apart by 1936. A fish rots from the head down, and the phenomenon was certainly true of modern America. The rot formerly confined to decadent and irresponsible elites has since infected the entire body politic.

As revealed by Luce, sexual affairs were commonplace, and the harmful impact of divorce on children is demonstrated in the effects it has on Mary, Norma Shearer’s daughter.

The women, and by implication, their husbands, are overly pampered and unserious. Instead of staid and sober adults who take responsibility for their lives and families, they are frivolous, fixated on meaningless appearances, sexual affairs, self-indulgence, self-amusement, consumerism, gossip, backbiting, social climbing, money, and status.

What About the Jews?

By 1936, whites no longer controlled the country. Derivative power wholly dependent upon others did not, could not, confer true dignity or sense of self-worth, no matter how self-effacing, friendly, deferential, and admiring their new masters pretended to be. (For an idea of what I’m getting at read Cholly Bilderberger in Instauration magazine, July 1984, pp. 22–25.)

Perhaps when a people’s patrimony has been irretrievably lost, squandered, or stolen, things naturally fall apart.

There was no pure white upper class in New York City when The Women appeared. Yet all of the women in the story save one are depicted as white.

The exception is Miriam Aarons, played by Paulette Goddard.

The character is obviously a Jew because of her name. But she is not explicitly identified as a Jew, nor did Luce supply her with identifiable Jewish characteristics or distinct ethnic traits of any kind. Why create a Jewish character if she’s virtually interchangeable with every other character?

Casting Paulette Goddard wasn’t a tip-off, because at the time hardly anyone would have known she was half-Jewish. She did not look it or act it, and invariably played American girls.

The following year she did play Hannah, a Jewish ghetto girl in Nazi Germany, in her “genius” husband’s two-chuckle comedy The Great Dictator (1940). (Charlie Chaplin’s shortcoming as a comedian was that he wasn’t funny.) True, Goddard wasn’t a convincing Jew, but then, neither were any of the others. Blame Charlie Chaplin. He wrote and directed the film.

Notably, Miriam Aarons is the only character in The Women apart from Mary Haines (Shearer), her mother, and daughter who is not savaged. Aarons is not glorified the way Shearer’s character is, but she is not belittled either.

Still, Aarons’ inclusion seems gratuitous, unless Luce’s idea was to signal to Jews and select insiders that she was contrasting a Jewish female—a fount of wisdom, practicality, and fundamental decency—with uniformly shallow, meretricious white women.

Given the Luces’ ferocious ambition and the era in which they lived, sucking up to Jews constituted a major portion of their social-climbing efforts.

They were friends with Hollywood producer David O. Selznick and his wife Irene, the daughter of MGM boss Louis B. Mayer. PR wizard Edward L. Bernays was retained to advise Clare on her public-relations approach to Congress. At Time, Henry lavished a huge salary and special attention upon Laura Z. Hobson, author of the anti-white novel Gentleman’s Agreement, later made into a motion picture starring Gregory Peck.

In 1939 Clare followed up The Women with a heavy-handed anti-German play, Margin for Error, which ran on Broadway for 264 performances. It was directed by newly-arrived Jew Otto Preminger, who also played an evil Nazi. Milton Berle was the sterling Jewish hero, Moe Finkelstein. Margin for Error was intended to teach ’30s audiences a lesson in “democracy”: Jews are good, while Germans are evil beasts who deserve to die.

Clare Booth Luce by Carl Van Vechten, 1932

Clare Booth Luce by Carl Van Vechten, 1932

Preminger also directed and starred in the movie version, which was released in 1943. But even the New York Times‘ Jewish film critic Theodore Strauss felt compelled to write: “Less than brilliant when done on Broadway, the script is now painfully dated. Practically every character and situation has long been a cliché of anti-Nazi films generally. Margin for Error tells us nothing new and tells it very dully. The film has practically no suspense.”

Motivated by burning ambition, Congresswoman Luce pandered to America’s powerful East Coast Jewish lobby as shamelessly as every other major post-1933 “public servant.” Among other bad deeds, she worked tirelessly with extremist Zionist Benzion Netanyahu, father of the current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to displace the Palestinians. (See Rafael Medoff, “Clare Boothe Luce and the Holocaust,” Jewish Ledger, April 12, 2012)

In conclusion, The Women is generally sound in its underlying themes and values, despite the flawed nature of the woman who wrote it. It provides useful insight into America’s decline.


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  1. Petronius
    Posted February 15, 2013 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

    “Whites in the 1930s no longer possessed an entertainment infrastructure of their own in America. They were effectively supplicants. Only what Jewish gatekeepers liked was widely published, performed, broadcast, or filmed. This is no small thing.”

    This is quite exaggerated. While there was certainly “gate-keeping” going on, there was no monopoly on that yet, and especially Hollywood movies were designed to please the needs of large White audiences, and foremost White audiences, and it didn’t harm that this way big money was being made. The big Jewish Hollywood producers like Louis B. Mayer were often staunch conservatives with a distinctly “White” taste. Just look at Selznick’s “Gone with the Wind”, or at the work of half-Jewish, episcopal Cecil B. DeMille . In the 1930s, Catholics were strong enough a power in society to impose the Hays Code on Hollywood, which only diminished in the 50s and 60s. And I think, no true cinephile will agree that the Code did the movies much good from an artistic point of view (just one example, even married couples were to be shown in separated beds – which was no problem in France, Italy and NS-Germany, that allowed much more ‘grown-up” issues in the pictures.) Still, some of Hollywood’s greatest work was made in the 30s and 40s, I wouldn’t know where to begin with.

  2. rhondda
    Posted February 16, 2013 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    Excellent article Mr. Hamilton. The links lead to quite interesting information. I read on Wiki that Clare Booth Luce is regarded as a conservative feminist. I always thought that was a contradiction in terms. Her influence in opening the doors to immigration in the states is revealing. That she employed Bernays leads me to believe she was not naive nor innocent, but charming and beautiful and witty which she undoubtedly used to perfection.
    I also found it interesting that Irene Selznick was the confidant of the stars. However, she must not have kept what she learned as secret or else we would not know this. Knowing someone’s secrets can lead to all sorts of not so nice scenarios. Was she trustworthy?
    I did have to look up the word ‘meretricious’ which at first I did confuse with ‘meritorious’. Oops. Then it made sense.
    I don’t want to see this movie because I might fly into a rage.

  3. m
    Posted February 16, 2013 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    In truth, Luce paints a very unflattering portrait of upper-class white women. The movie can serve as a salutary lesson for men inclined to place females on a pedestal or be blind to troublesome personality attributes and character traits due to a woman’s good looks or sex appeal.

    One does not need to limit this to men inclined to elevate women, but should be noted by those whose aim is to view women as even equal to men; that is, those who would ignore, or deny, difference. This can be highlighted by reading suffragette material produced at the turn of the century. As we know, a chief tenant of liberalism is the notion that all are inherently equal, and that any actual inequality encountered is simply a contingent product of an artificial unjust social order.

    With this in mind, one fascinating example is the archives of the British socialist newspaper, The New Age. Presented within those erstwhile pages, debated by luminaries such as H.G. Wells, Bernard Shaw, Hilaire René Belloc, Cecil and his brother G.K.Chesterton, was a view of women arguing the idea that, in spite of their fairer sex, they were essentially of the same cut as their brothers. For them, given the correct social-economic order, all artificial distinction between the sexes would be eliminated.

    David Halperin, a Jewish academic “queer theorist,” says that when the film was shown at the Castro movie theater in San Francisco, “The audience would be full of gay men who knew the movie by heart and who would recite the lines out loud in unison with each other and the actresses.”

    It has been my experience that certain male homosexuals admire an idealized feminine caricature. I believe it is mostly related to external fashion, and perhaps a desire themselves to achieve, through an aesthetic mimicry, a feminine nature. A similar thing cannot be said, in my view, of lesbians. These are women who really despise their opposite gender, both hetero and homo, while at the same time attempting their own pseudo-masculine form of outward mimicry. How this impinges on the straight metrosexual I do not know. Sometimes things become too confusing.

    But although Luce engaged in a mild form of sexploitation, it is more than offset by the predatory nastiness of the characters. Bitchiness renders all of them except Norma Shearer and Paulette Goddard unattractive.

    Against an idea of the inherent malleability of human behavior, that is, the idea that there is no human nature(s), it is easy to demonstrate within popular “television culture” (or in the movies) that women are women are women. A popular Chinese “historical drama” has recently been sold to one or another American distributor for air on TV: Empress in the Palace. One problem the translators discovered is adequately expressing idiomatic Chinese sayings into English. But knowing about nature, it is not impossible. For instance, the more literal saying, “bitch is so bitch” has apparently been resolved into something all English speaking men (and women) understand: “Once a bitch, always a bitch.”

    Finally, I am happy to see the author discuss Wilmot Robertson’s long-lamented magazine, Instauration, which should be required reading for anyone interested in the recent American experience. At the same time, Cholly has always remained, for me, more of an acquired taste, one that I never did. Robertson’s The Dispossessed Majority is, in my mind, the original and certainly the more insightful version of whatever Allan Bloom attempted in his very weak, Closing of the American Mind.

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