Claire Luce

Claire Luce (October 15, 1903 August 31, 1989) was a stage and screen actress and dancer. Among her few films were Up the River (1930) directed by John Ford and costarring Spencer Tracy and Humphrey Bogart, and Under Secret Orders, the English-language version of G. W. Pabst’s Mademoiselle Docteur (1937) and Over She Goes (1938)

Luce starred in many Broadway plays from 1923 until 1952, including co-starring with Fred Astaire in the original musical Gay Divorce (1932). Astaire tried to get Luce for the film version of Gay Divorce, The Gay Divorcee (1934) but was overruled by the studio, RKO Radio Pictures, which preferred to use their contract player, Ginger Rogers.

Of her performance in Gay Divorce the critic Brooks Atkinson wrote: “In the refulgent Claire Luce, Fred Astaire has found a partner who can match him step for step and who flies over the furniture in his company without missing a beat.” Unfortunately, during the London run of Gay Divorce, Luce suffered a serious injury during the “Table Dance” routine—a routine which is reprised in the film—damaging her hip, and this put an end to her stage dancing career.

In his autobiography, Astaire credits Luce as the inspiration for his revolutionary “Night and Day” dance routine: “Claire was a beautiful dancer and it was her style that suggested to me the whole pattern of the ”Night and Day“ dance. This was something entirely different from anything Adele and I had done together. That was what I wanted, an entirely new dancing approach.”

Luce recalls her own experience with the chronically insecure Astaire: “I actually felt more sorry for Fred than I did for myself, despite the horrendous schedules of rehearsals that he kept up. He was a very worried man.”
She also starred in the Broadway version of Of Mice and Men (1937), written by John Steinbeck and directed by George S. Kaufman.

Clair Luce often appeared on the English stage (and BBC Television in 1937) and having been seen in Of Mice and Men in London in 1939, stayed in the UK throughout the war years.

She played a number of Shakespearean roles with the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre during that time and in 1945 scored a big success leading the company at the annual Stratford-on-Avon Memorial Theatre’s summer Shakespeare Festival, particularly as Cleopatra in Antony and Cleopatra.

Her last appearance in London at that time was as Becky Sharp in an adaptation of Thackeray’s Vanity Fair at the Comedy Theatre in 1946.

She can be seen on youtube.com

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