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Clare Boothe Luce was born in New York on March 10, 1903. She has been an actress, a journalist, a successful novelist and playwright, a Congresswoman and the US ambassador to Italy. Her second husband was Henry Luce, important publisher and owner of Time, Life and Fortune. After World War II, Clare Boothe Luce and her husband were among the main supporters of the Republican Party. As such, in 1952, they actively participated in Eisenhower’s electoral campaign. The over 100 speeches she delivered on Ike’s behalf, together with her more general contribution to his campaign led the newly elected president to reward her with an appointment as ambassador to Italy. She thereby became the first woman to ever be appointed to a major US diplomatic post.
Eisenhower’s decision to appoint Luce – a converted Catholic and an intransigent anti-communist – appeared as both natural and provocative, in an Italian context marked by the presence of the largest communist party in the Western Bloc and by a kind of “imperfect bipartisanism,” which had forced the US administration to ally itself with the Democratic Christian Party.
Unsurprisingly, Eisenhower’s choice was negatively received by Italian communists. It was however positively welcomed by De Gasperi, mostly thanks to the intermediation of the Italian ambassador to the US, Alberto Tarchiani. It was, in fact, this latter who pointed out to the prime minister the benefit that could come from an ambassador so personally close to the American president, such as Luce.
Luce arrived in Naples on board of the Andrea Doria in April 1953. She was immediately noted for her activism. Since the beginning, she started to tirelessly travel across the peninsula, attending many fairs, public events and important inaugurations (e.g. in February 1955 she attended the inauguration of John Hopkins’ program in Bologna). Her constant efforts to conquer Italians’ hearts find confirmation in the documentation held by the archives, as well as in the reports of her activity sent to the Department of State. These latter, in particular, are filled with references to the many letters of appreciation received by Luce from Italian citizens of every age and gender.
Her interventionist attitude was however recurrently perceived as excessively intrusive and interfering with Italian internal affairs, and for this reason harshly criticized not only by Italian communists and socialists, but also by many representatives of the DC and of the Italian economic environment. Luce’s relationship with Italian president Giovanni Gronchi remained rather cold. Likewise, in her attempt to support the interests of American oil companies, Clare Boothe Luce frequently contrasted Enrico Mattei’s initiatives. She conversely received greater support from Italy’s right and nationalist political forces. Among her main admirers and confiders there was also famous Italian journalist Indor Montanelli.
Her fervent anti-communism led her also to criticize the DC (both under De Gasperi and under Scelba) anti-communist stance, which she considered not enough aggressive. In confirmation of her influence on this matter, at the beginning of 1954 several American newspapers reported Luce’s point of view to express their disappointment with the ineffective anti-communist policies implemented by the Italian government.
Consistently with her interventionist approach, renowned conservatism and strong anti-communism, in 1954 Luce sent a clear warning to Fiat management, letting them now that the OSP aid destined to the company would be frozen until concrete measures to reduce workers’ support of the communist CGIL had been taken. The following year, Luce threatened to boycott the Venice Film Festival if the movie Blackboard Jungle was to be screened, causing the withdrawal of the movie from the event.
Such line of action was consistent with her more general approach toward American information policies in Italy. In particular, Luce contributed to reorganize the activity of all USIS offices, following two specific guidelines: providing selected and selective information on the US, so to outline a positive and sugarcoated representation of American society; relocating USIS resources in order to Italianize the structures of the information program and shift the focus from the masses to Italian intellectuals, in their role as fundamental cultural mediators and promoters of the American way of life. It was thanks to such reorganization that the American embassy started to actively promote the introduction of American studies in Italian universities.
Luce’s greatest achievement was however represented by her contribution to solve the Trieste’s crisis. The ambassador played in fact a crucial role in the negotiations which led to the London memorandum, thanks to her personal acquaintance with the US president, as well as with some important diplomatic figures both in the US and the UK. According to what she later reported in a 1986 interview, her decisive contribution to the negotiations was confirmed by the words used by an Italian newspapers to comment Trieste’s definitive transition under Italian administration: “The light [Luce], at last.”
In 1956, Clare Boothe Luce resigned from her role as American ambassador in Rome and went back to the US. That same year, the Italian publisher Mondadori translated Alden Hatch’s biographic book “Ambassador Extraordinary.”
In 1973, Nixon appointed Luce to the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. Ten years later, president Reagan awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Clare Boothe Luce died in her apartment in Washington DC on October 9, 1987.
"Letters from her excellency ambassador Luce and his excellency ambassador Tarchiani"
Arnoldo Mondadori Editore
Network of United States Information Service in Italy
United States Information Agency
Italian Ambassador to the United States
Alcide De Gasperi
Italian Democratic Christian politician and prime minister
ocean liner setting
Morris, Sylvia J., Price of Fame: The Honorable Clare Boothe Luce. (New York: Random House, 2014).
Del Pero, Mario. "American Pressures and Their Containment in Italy During the Ambassadorship of Clare Boothe Luce, 1953-1956," Diplomatic History, Vol. 28, no. 3, June 2004, pp. 407-439.
Reid, Maree-Anne, "Kiss the Boys Goodbye: Clare Boothe Luce's Appointment as Ambassador to Italy." Australasian Journal of American Studies, Vol. 16, no. 2, December 1997, pp. 45-67.
Tobia, Simona. Note sulla diplomazia culturale americana in Italia negli anni della guerra fredda. Storiografia, Fabrizio Serra Editore, 2007, 11. hal-02552592.