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Sylvia Jukes Morris, Biographer of Clare Boothe Luce, Dies at 84

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Ms. Morris was a prodigious researcher from an early age. While in high school in Dudley, England, in the late 1940s and ’50s, she investigated the deaths, in the mid-1800s, of thousands of children from unsanitary sewer conditions in the region.

Her first book was a biography of the first lady Edith Roosevelt. While her husband, the renowned biographer Edmund Morris — who died in May — was writing “The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt” (1979), which won a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award, he told her that little was known about Roosevelt’s second wife. Ms. Morris felt the gauntlet had been thrown down, and she embarked on what became “Edith Kermit Roosevelt: Portrait of a First Lady” (1980), which relied heavily on unpublished letters and diaries.

“Details galore,” Kirkus noted in its review. “Edith Kermit Roosevelt is very much worth reading about, even at the undue length (512 pp.) that Sylvia Morris has gone to.”

But the Edith Roosevelt book was merely a prelude to Ms. Morris’s greatest achievement, her examination of the extraordinary life of Ms. Luce, a brainy, ambitious and seductive woman who overcame a difficult childhood to become managing editor of Vanity Fair, a playwright (“The Women,” 1936), a war correspondent for Life magazine, a congresswoman, an ambassador to Rome and the wife of Henry Luce, who founded Time Inc. Combined, the two volumes — the first was “Rage for Fame: The Ascent of Clare Boothe Luce” (1997) — clocked in at 1,296 pages.

“Both books are models of the biographer’s art — meticulously researched, sophisticated, fair-minded and compulsively readable,” The Wall Street Journal wrote in a typically laudatory review. An exception was one in The New York Times, whose reviewer, Judith Martin, found the books’ tone “censorious,” and said that Ms. Morris had put a negative spin on anecdotes that could have been benign.



Source Site> NewYorkTimes

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