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It inspired a musical currently playing at NYC's Lincoln Center

Clare Boothe Luce. Brainy and beautiful. Married mega-publisher Henry Luce in 1935. Converted to Catholicism in 1946, then put together one of the greatest collections of short saint biographies ever.

Did LSD?

James Lapine, the director and librettist best known for supplying the books for the Stephen Sondheim musicals Into the Woods and Sunday in the Park with George, conceived of [Flying Over Sunset] after learning that Cary Grant, Clare Boothe Luce, and Aldous Huxley had all, at one time or another, tried LSD in the 1950s, before it was made illegal in 1968. . .
Lapine imagines the three connecting and agreeing to share a drug trip together at Luce’s Malibu beach house. Both Huxley and Luce knew Gerald Heard (Robert Sella), a gay English writer who became something of a spiritual guide to Eastern mysticism among Hollywood types and also encouraged friends to free their minds with LSD.

“Ah,” I told myself. “That was during her, ahem, looser years, before she converted.”

Apparently not. According to Wikipedia, who said she and Henry tried it under careful supervision and made use of it “at least several times” in the 1960s.

“Ah,” I told myself. “That’s just gossip-mongering by Commie detractors and their fellow travelers. Clare hated the Communists and they hated her.”

Well, dang. Again, apparently not. Wikipedia drops a footnote to Wilfrid Sheed’s biography. Now, Wilfrid was hardly Catholic like his dad, Frank, but GKC was his godfather. You’d think two fathers like that, Frank and Gilbert, would continue to exert influence on him at some level. The Guardian thinks they did:

The godson of GK Chesterton, Sheed had met most of the intellectual Catholic hierarchy in Britain and America. Though he did not share his parents' religious fervour and was wary of the label "Catholic writer", the church casts a long shadow across his fiction. For instance, Monty Chatworth, the media-celebrity hero of Transatlantic Blues (1978), describes himself as a "born-again atheist". But 30,000ft above the Atlantic, he is seized by the need to be shriven, and makes his confession to a cassette recorder he addresses as "Father Sony". Another novel, The Hack (1963), is about the crack-up of a writer who churns out uplifting stories and poems for shoddy Catholic magazines.

So anyway, I think I trust Wilfrid to give honest facts about Clare. I’m confident enough that I’ve ordered a used copy of the book. I’ll plan on updating this post once I go through some of it.

Photo by Janiere Fernandez on