June 13, 2010 05:13
The name and reputation of Henry Luce, born 112 years ago, has shrunk from the heyday of his media empire (TIME, LIFE and FORTUNE magazines) in the forties and fifties. Today, the circulation of TIME has declined, and LIFE has ceased publication.
But growing up in Detroit in the forties, before TV and the Internet affected the availability of news stories, I remember depending on TIME and LIFE to tell me what was happening in the big world. For a young college student eager to keep up with the news, Luce’s magazines were required reading, an assignment I looked forward to completing each week. I wasn’t the only one hooked on LIFE. Based on polling data of Americans, George Gallup reported that the biggest break a movie could get was a two-page layout of still photographs in LIFE. Publicity of this kind was more useful than a page-one story in all newspapers published in the United States.
Living in Detroit was like living in a remote province, away from important news being made in Washington and London, far from theater openings on Broadway and new books being published in New York. To me Henry R. Luce was a “macher,” a big shot charting the future goals of America. For example, the “American Century” referenced in the subtitle of Brinkley’s new Luce biography was the title of an essay Luce wrote in the February 7, 1941 issue of LIFE. This messianic view of Americans civilization harkened back to the missionary work of his father, a Presbyterian minister laboring in China, where Luce was born, to spread the word of Christianity. According to son Henry, “It now becomes our time to be the powerhouse from which the ideals spread throughout the world and do their mysterious work of lifting the life of mankind from the level of the beasts to what the Psalmists called a little lower than the angels.”
Henry Luce was also a figure of envy, having married the beautiful, beguiling, Claire Booth, author of the successful Broadway show and movie, THE WOMEN, elected to the U. S. Congress and later appointed ambassador to Italy. Subsequent biographies of Claire Booth Luce show that this second marriage was one of Henry’s ventures that turned sour.
I don’t plan to read Brinkley’s biography any more than I plan to read a biography of other American journalists such as Horace Greeley, Joseph Pulitzer or William Randolph Hearst. The Australian Rupert Murdoch? Well, that sounds like a tempting read.