Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Alan Brinkley: The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Century

In April 2010, Janet Maslin wrote “A Magazine Master Builder” for The New York Times. When Henry Luce graduated from the Hotchkiss School in Connecticut in 1916, he received not a single vote in the “most likely to succeed” category. That oversight remains amazing, not only because he would attain such eminence as Time Inc.’s founder and long-reigning autocrat but also because of what Luce, at 18, had already accomplished. At 14, the son of American Protestant missionaries in China, he had overweening ambitions. He had none of the advantages that his classmates’ money could buy, yet he was prepared to struggle past every social, financial and intellectual obstacle that stood between his schoolboy realities and grandiose dreams. By graduation he had found a wealthy mentor, become editor of a campus publication and boastfully labeled it “First in the Prep School World.” Luce’s success story would be sheer romance if it could surmount one basic problem: Luce himself. On the evidence of “The Publisher,” Alan Brinkley’s graceful and judicious biography, Luce began as an arrogant, awkward boy. He made up in pretension what he lacked in personal charm, and he was “able to attract the respect but not usually the genuine affection of those around him.”
“Henry Luce wanted to create the most beautiful and riveting picture magazine ever published, and it was that. It was a magazine that could project a vision of what America was like, or at least what he wanted America to be like. Luce believed that under everything else there was a united America. There was a single culture that everyone was part of. And that’s what Life Magazine projected into the world, a sense of a kind of consensual America. That was not an accurate picture of what America was like.”

- Alan Brinkley, author of the book: The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Century

“Henry Luce believed that Chiang Kai-shek was one of the great figures of history. And Luce cared so much about the future of China and of making China a sort of modern democratic nation, he saw Chiang Kai-shek as the only hope for that. But he ignored or dismissed all of the things that Chiang Kai-shek did badly, and there were many such things. Teddy White, the famous Time Magazine editor in China - they both believed in Chiang Kai-shek, but Teddy White lost that belief and began to write about Chiang Kai-shek as someone who had failed. And Luce was furious, and that led to his departure from Time, Inc.”

- Alan Brinkley, author of the book: The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Century

In May 2010, Maureen Corrigan wrote “A Publishing Titan’s Life and Time” for NPR. The weirdest — and maybe even the most revealing — episode in Alan Brinkley's teeming biography of Henry Luce occurred in 1960 when Luce — a publishing potentate who reigned over an empire that included Time, Sports Illustrated, Fortune and Life magazines — experimented with LSD. Luce's second wife, the playwright, congresswoman and loose cannon, Clare Booth Luce, had already dabbled with the hallucinogen under a psychiatrist's supervision. Clare later claimed she had cajoled her husband into trying LSD to provide him with the same "serenity" the drug had given her and, thus, save their troubled marriage. Whatever the reasons, Luce took a dose and then, according to the psychiatrist's diary, sat down at his desk and began calmly reading Lionel Trilling's biography of Matthew Arnold. Even LSD couldn't whisk Henry Luce off on a magic carpet ride! No matter how much he may have yearned to attain freaky visions, Luce was always tethered to late Victorian ideas about duty and ethical culture.
“Well, to the left, in particular, especially in the '40s and '50s, when the Communist left was still a significant force, they hated these ideas that America would be the great capitalist leader of the world. But equally infuriating to readers of the magazine, who just wanted a magazine that would sound fair in the treatment of politics, in much of the '40s and '50s, Time Magazine was not fair. By 1952, there hadn't been a Republican president in 20 years, and Luce was desperate to see a Republican elected president. And he loved Eisenhower, and through the whole eight years of his presidency the magazine was constantly supporting and admiring Eisenhower. And it infuriated many readers, although not too many gave up their subscriptions.”

- Alan Brinkley, author of the book: The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Century

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