Price of Fame: The Honorable Clare Boothe Luceby Sylvia Jukes Morris
“I hope I shall have ambition until the day I die,” Clare Boothe Luce told her biographer Sylvia Jukes Morris. Price of Fame, the concluding volume of the life of an exceptionally brilliant polymath, chronicles Luce’s progress from the early months of World War II, when, as an eye-catching Congresswoman and the only female member of the/i>
“I hope I shall have ambition until the day I die,” Clare Boothe Luce told her biographer Sylvia Jukes Morris. Price of Fame, the concluding volume of the life of an exceptionally brilliant polymath, chronicles Luce’s progress from the early months of World War II, when, as an eye-catching Congresswoman and the only female member of the House Military Affairs Committee, she toured the Western Front, captivating generals and GIs. She even visited Buchenwald and other concentration camps within days of their liberation. After a shattering personal tragedy, she converted to Roman Catholicism, and became the first American woman to be appointed ambassador to a major foreign power. “La Luce,” as the Italians called her, was also a prolific journalist and magnetic public speaker, as well as a playwright, screenwriter, pioneer scuba diver, early experimenter in psychedelic drugs, and grande dame of the GOP in the Reagan era. Tempestuously married to Henry Luce, the powerful publisher of Time Inc., she endured his infidelities while pursuing her own, and remained a practiced vamp well into old age.
Price of Fame begins in January 1943 with Clare’s arrival on Capitol Hill as a newly elected Republican from Connecticut. The thirty-nine-year-old beauty attracted nationwide attention in a sensational maiden speech, attacking Vice President Henry Wallace’s civil aviation proposals as “globaloney.” Although she irked President Franklin D. Roosevelt by slanging his New Deal as “a dictatorial Bumbledom,” she impressed his wife Eleanor.
Revealing liberal propensities, she lobbied for relaxed immigration policies for Chinese, Indians, and displaced European Jews, as well as equal rights for women and blacks. Following Hiroshima, the legislator whom J. William Fulbright described as “the smartest colleague I ever served with” became a passionate advocate of nuclear arms control. But in 1946, she gave up her House seat, convinced that politics was “the refuge of second-class minds.”
After a few seasons of proselytizing on the Catholic lecture circuit, Clare emerged as a formidable television personality, campaigning so spectacularly for the victorious Republican presidential candidate, Dwight D. Eisenhower, that he rewarded her with the Rome embassy.
Ambassador Luce took an uncompromising attitude toward Italy’s Communist Party, the world’s second largest, and skillfully helped settle the fraught Trieste crisis between Italy and Yugoslavia. She was then stricken by a mysterious case of poisoning that the CIA kept secret, suspecting a Communist plot to assassinate her. The full story, told here for the first time, reads like a detective novel.
Price of Fame goes on to record the crowded later years of the Honorable Clare Boothe Luce, during which she strengthened her friendships with Winston Churchill, Somerset Maugham, John F. Kennedy, Evelyn Waugh, Lyndon Johnson, Salvador Dalí, Richard Nixon, William F. Buckley, the composer Carlos Chávez, Ronald Reagan, and countless other celebrities who, after Henry Luce’s death, visited her lavish Honolulu retreat. In 1973, she was appointed by Nixon to the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, a position she continued to hold in the Ford and Reagan administrations.
Sylvia Jukes Morris is the only writer to have had complete access to Mrs. Luce’s prodigious collection of public and private papers. In addition, she had unique access to her subject, whose death at eighty-four ended a life that for variety of accomplishment qualifies Clare Boothe Luce for the title of “Woman of the Century.”
In this lively second volume by Morris (Rage for Fame: The Ascent of Clare Boothe Luce), Luce (1903-1987), the playwright and wife of Time magazine founder Henry R. Luce, becomes a politician, right-wing firebrand, and feminist pioneer. Morris follows Luce from her election to Congress in 1942, to her service as Eisenhower's ambassador to Italy, to her enduring role as one of America's most vehement and sought-after conservative commentators. Morris's shrewd portrait shows a woman of extraordinary contrasts: a celebrated beauty and wit who inspired giddy love letters from generals; a sharp thinker and writer; a strident anti-Communist (who occasionally spouted anti-Semitic rants) who championed civil rights and Zionism; a manipulative charmer and fragile soul who sought refuge in Catholicism, LSD, and sleeping-pills. (The author paints Luce's relationship with Henry as one of history's great marital melodramas, full of mutual admiration, infidelity, and misery.) Morris, who once lived with Luce and had access to her diaries, evokes her subject's charisma without unduly succumbing to it; she presents a clear-eyed assessment of Luce's strong, egotistical personality that does full justice to this fascinating icon. Photos throughout. Agent: Wylie Agency. (June)
“In Price of Fame, the second volume of her stellar biography of [Luce], Sylvia Jukes Morris takes up the story she began in Rage for Fame, published 17 years ago. Both books are models of the biographer’s art—meticulously researched, sophisticated, fair-minded and compulsively readable.”—Edward Kosner, The Wall Street Journal
“Sylvia Jukes Morris’s brilliant biography . . . tracks the last half of its subject’s life with dexterity. . . . Luce was as serious about her faith as she was about civil rights. But Morris never lets us forget that she was also a wit par excellence. . . . Read the gems sprinkled throughout Price of Fame.”—Peter Tonguette, The Christian Science Monitor
“There’s a thrilling kind of energy in watching this ruthlessly self-made life take shape, an energy that is matched and reversed in Price of Fame, as celebrity just as ruthlessly takes its toll.”—Joanna Scutts, The Washington Post
“Morris’s cool portrait is eminently fair, depicting Luce’s faults and fine points with equal detachment.”—Wendy Smith, The Daily Beast
“Clare Boothe Luce [was] one of the twentieth century’s most ambitious, unstoppable and undeniably ingenious characters. . . . This full, warts-and-all biography hauls her back into the limelight and does her full justice.”—Janet Maslin, The New York Times
“It is the author’s steady, sensitive handling of the material, told with humor and objectivity, that makes this biography so poignant and profound. . . . [Price of Fame] is nothing short of a triumph.”—Marion Elizabeth Rodgers, The Washington Times
“Morris’s shrewd portrait shows a woman of extraordinary contrasts. . . . She presents a clear-eyed assessment of Luce’s strong, egotistical personality.”—Publishers Weekly
“With this second and concluding volume of her biography of Clare Boothe Luce, Sylvia Jukes Morris completes the tantalizing saga of a woman who helped define the ‘pushy broad’ in a century when men made the rules. . . . The result is an impeccably researched and thoughtfully written epic that crackles with the energy that defined her subject.”—Amy Henderson, The Weekly Standard
“Beauty was an asset Clare Boothe Luce used to her political (and financial) advantage. But so, too, were the other characteristics summed up by Sylvia Jukes Morris. . . : ‘charm, humour, coquetry, intellect, ambition.’ [She was] a woman gifted with intelligence and drive, but marred by narcissism and scarred by a constant sense of loneliness. There is a moving account of Luce’s conversion to Catholicism and a persuasive analysis of her role as ambassador to Rome in resolving the post-war status of Trieste.”—The Economist
“Morris, who was given exclusive access to Luce’s diaries and papers, published her first biographical volume of this remarkable woman’s life [in 1997]. It concluded with Luce’s election to Congress. This long-awaited sequel tells about the political and personal events in the last half of the subject’s life, thoroughly describing traumatic losses, romantic dalliances, and marital struggles that consumed both Luce and her husband for nearly all of their remaining years together. . . . Readers who liked Rage for Fame and longed for more about this talented, determined woman will enjoy the full attention the author devotes to this work. Those interested in mid-century political history, too, will find much to reward their perseverance in this long but fascinating biography.”—Library Journal
“If Clare Boothe Luce, with her lowly origins and blinding ambition, hadn’t existed, she might have sprung fully formed from the imagination of Henry James. . . . Sylvia Jukes Morris has written [a] clear-eyed account of this complicated and self-contradictory figure, one who had everything a person could wish for and still experienced great unhappiness. . . . This is a fascinating, close-up look at a woman whose prodigious gifts were used in the service of her appetites for wealth, fame, and power . . . a stylish striver whose blond ambition has not yet been matched in its scope by any woman who has come after her.”—Daphne Merkin, BookForum
“Believe me, the ‘good stuff’ is here, in this second volume. In dazzling, devastating spades. . . . What makes Price of Fame so riveting is that one literally doesn’t know what to make of Clare Boothe Luce. . . . My jaw dropped over and over again. . . . Her soul was restless, unquiet. But despite dark moments of despair—and the fact that many who knew her and loved her, found her essentially a tragic figure—she carried a genuine life force. [Here] is one of the most fabulous, intimate biographies I have ever read. If you’re interested in the twentieth-century history of this country, seen through the eyes and actions of a remarkable woman, this book is for you. If you crave tales of psychological unhingement amid the best of everything, you won’t be disappointed either!”—Liz Smith, Chicago Tribune
The second volume in the life of a significant American figure.By the time she was 40, Clare Boothe Luce (1903-1987) had been an actress, Broadway playwright, war correspondent, managing editor of Vanity Fair and Republican congresswoman from Connecticut. Married to the enormously wealthy publisher Henry Luce (Life, Time, Sports Illustrated et al.), she went on to become the first woman ambassador (to Italy, appointed by Eisenhower) and, after her conversion to Catholicism, author of several books on religion. Luce held political views passionately: A fierce anti-communist, she was equally outspoken in support of civil rights for African-Americans. Morris (Rage for Fame: The Ascent of Clare Booth Luce, 1997, etc.) earned Luce's trust and access to more than 460,000 items in the restricted Luce Collection at the Library of Congress. Blonde, beautiful and glamorous (Morris includes details about Luce's sumptuous wardrobe at every occasion), she took many lovers, with a special preference for men in uniform. Her "compulsion to charm" was, writes the author, "a drive more for devotion than sex. She wanted to conquer all comers, even though her interest in them could be short-lived." And conquer she did: Both men and women succumbed, with the notable exceptions of Harry Truman, who refused to receive her at the White House, and Cyrus Sulzberger, chief foreign correspondent of the New York Times, who "was appalled" by her "arrogant conceit" and "ruthlessly hard-boiled self-assurance." Luce's frenzied need to engage in all-consuming work was fueled by a daily round of stimulants and sedatives; she fell into black depressions and paranoia, especially if she felt rejected or ignored. Desperately, she needed to be the center of attention.Luce once contracted to write her autobiography, which she planned to call The Dream of My Life. Morris perceptively reveals the nightmare in this evenhanded and intimate portrait.
Clare Boothe Luce (1903–87) was elected to Congress in 1942, before she was 40 years old. She was the first woman appointed to a major ambassadorial position (Italy) and was married to the most influential publishing magnate of the 20th century. Before Luce's political career, she was a successful playwright and popular celebrity. An outspoken Republican and fervent anticommunist, she is almost forgotten today. Morris, who was given exclusive access to Luce's diaries and papers, published her first biographical volume of this remarkable woman's life (Rage for Fame) almost 20 years ago. It concluded with Luce's election to Congress. This long-awaited sequel tells about the political and personal events in the last half of the subject's life, thoroughly describing traumatic losses, romantic dalliances, and marital struggles that consumed both Luce and her husband for nearly all of their remaining years together. She was an indefatigable striver for attention and authority. Every president from Theodore Roosevelt to Gerald Ford met with Luce and received her unbridled opinion on any topic that interested her. She fearlessly took on new challenges and eagerly learned new skills—for example, she learned to scuba dive in her 50s after seeing a Jacques Cousteau documentary. VERDICT Readers who liked Rage for Fame and longed for more about this talented, determined woman will enjoy the full attention the author devotes to this work. Those interested in mid-century political history, too, will find much to reward their perseverance in this long but fascinating biography. [See Prepub Alert, 1/6/14.]—Jill Ortner, SUNY Buffalo Libs.
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Read an Excerpt
He who would accomplish anything must learn to limit himself.
—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Two dozen red roses and a contingent of Washington correspondents and photographers awaited the new Republican Congresswoman from Fairfield County, Connecticut, at Union Station on Monday, January 4, 1943. Clare Boothe Luce was by far the smartest, most famous, and most glamorous member of the House of Representatives—the last quality not much evident elsewhere in the wartime capital.
When the cars of her express emptied onto the windy platform, twenty-two minutes late, a United Press man noted perplexedly, “Mrs. Luce wasn’t on it.” Had Clare been coming only from New York, she might have chosen to take the next commuter special. But she was booked on the last leg of a journey from Los Angeles, where she had just finished a screenplay for 20th Century-Fox.
Aware that the thirty-nine-year-old Congresswoman had written four Broadway comedies—three of them hits and made into movies—the UP reporter suspected she might have pulled off an old theatrical trick, the incognito step from the wings, melting into the crowd in nondescript clothing. Also, as the wife of the publisher of Time, Life, and Fortune, Clare was media-savvy enough to know that the best way to attract press attention was to elude it. On a hunch, he called the swank Wardman Park Hotel, and asked to speak to Mrs. Henry Luce. A secretary answered, and professed not to know where her employer was.
Sure now that Clare had concealed her arrival, he complained that he and his colleagues were being given the brush-off. There followed a click as the secretary hung up.
Next morning, the elusive Representative called a press conference in her new quarters, suite 1631 on the sixth floor of the new House Office Building. Attendees were baffled as to how a freshman member of Congress had acquired such a coveted space, with its two entrances, ample reception hall, large office with private bathroom, and second office for three or more assistants, with enclosed “lavabo.”
Freshman or not, Clare knew how to operate on Capitol Hill. She was the stepdaughter of the late Representative Dr. Albert Elmer Austin, and had just won back the seat he had lost in 1940. She had often visited him in his cramped quarters in the old Cannon Building, and realized that they would not satisfy her fastidious standards. Throughout her life she had aimed for the best of everything, and usually gotten it. Hearing shortly after her election that a few suites were available, she had sent an aide to stand in line for this one, and beaten out seventy or so other applicants.
She arrived ten minutes late—another coup de théâtre—and faced a battery of flashbulbs and newsreel klieg lights. Her appearance touched off pandemonium. Photographers stood on tables and unpacked storage boxes, yelling for her attention: “Just one more shot, please.”
Female reporters seemed more irritated by Clare’s tardiness than their male colleagues, as well as envious of her stylish beauty. Cool, slender, and immaculately groomed for her “debut,” she wore a red wool-crepe dress with deep pockets, and daisy-patterned gold-and-diamond earrings. Black velvet bows nestled in her blonde hair, upswept and softly waved above the brow. Her extraordinary translucent skin and blue eyes, shimmering with intelligence, invariably captivated men, as did her outsize personality and charm. Much of her seductiveness—and success as a playwright—came from her wit. “The difference between an optimist and a pessimist,” she would drawl, in cultivated tones harking back to private school, “is that the pessimist is usually better informed.”
She began by apologizing for having sneaked away from Union Station the day before. Claiming to have been four days without a change of clothes, she said that she had exited the last car and rushed to her hotel to freshen up for an evening appointment. In any case, she had assumed reporters on the platform were waiting for some labor officials on the same train.
Even the most hardened Washington pressmen were beguiled. One was overheard saying that there was “no labor leader living who would interest him if Mrs. Luce were around.” A barrage of questions followed. What were her views on taxation, women’s rights, the war, and the GOP’s election chances next year?
“I hope to do what I can,” Clare said. “It might be little, or nothing, or much.” Not wanting to sound flip, she added that voters in her district were “interested in precisely the same things as other people—gasoline rationing among them.” Some issues she was not yet “up on.” But she had been an advocate of women’s rights for some twenty-five years now, and vowed to continue fighting for them. As for her party, the GOP, its priorities must be to defeat President Franklin Roosevelt in 1944, and to win the war.
Never one for false modesty, Clare stated that since she had spent many months of the past three years reporting from both the East and West battlefronts, she felt qualified for a spot on the Foreign Affairs Committee.
“Places on that committee are supposed to go to seasoned Congressmen,” a reporter reminded her. Clare realized she had let her ambition show, and said lamely that she would of course abide by House rules.
“When are you going to make your maiden speech?” a voice shouted.
“When I have something to say.”
At this point a lobbyist for a dried-milk company, who had managed to infiltrate the room, asked if she would vote in favor of his product. She replied with a straight face that as yet, she had taken no position on the desiccation of anything.
The bedlam increased. Newsmen scrambled over wires. Somebody kicked an electric socket, causing a loud explosion. The room grew increasingly airless, but with her customary sangfroid, Clare began talking about her three weeks in Hollywood. She said she had worked on a script about the birth of modern China, called The 400 Million. The Red scare in that overpopulated country had been on her mind when she visited a state-of-the-art steel mill, set not in a town but amid the orange groves of Fontana, California.
“Why can’t there be more of this kind of thing?” she asked. “If we can move the factories to the farms and give our people some land to live on, most of their troubles will disappear. . . . Communism does not thrive when people are satisfied and happy.” With a prod at the current administration, she asserted that “little people” deserved a better incentive to succeed in life “than they are likely to get from the New Deal.” Only capitalism was capable of satisfying the world’s material, spiritual, and cultural aspirations.
Thus, on her first full day in Washington, Representative Luce touched on vital themes that would preoccupy her for the next four years: equal rights, foreign affairs, and democracy versus authoritarianism. With only ten minutes left before the Republican caucus was due to begin, she edged toward the door.
“Are you going to hold regular press conferences?” a woman called out.
“I think not. In fact I know not. The answer is No. Period.”
Clare rose early on Wednesday. Before leaving for the Hill, she went to the Wardman Park beauty shop. In the manner of one used to giving orders, she asked the proprietor to telephone her maid or chauffeur and tell them to bring her some reading material. After several calls, and irritated promptings from the Congresswoman, a package was delivered. Other customers looked on intrigued as Clare ordered coffee and a rye crisp. When told that the café served only toast, she said she would take that. But when it appeared, she waved it away and demanded a proper breakfast from room service. Soon a waiter appeared with a loaded table. Evidently she could be, in the words of one of her profilers, “a lady with a whim of iron.”
The scene, duly reported in a Washington gossip column, could have come from The Women, Clare’s greatest Broadway success. Her script for that play, with its lacerating portraits of spoiled New York socialites in beauty and exercise salons, had given her a reputation for astringency. Few in the shop had ever seen such a fuss over food. Yet after the perfumed whirlwind had gone, they felt bereft, such was the force of her persona.
At noon, the 78th Congress of the United States convened. Clare again made a delayed entrance, this time from behind Speaker Sam Rayburn’s platform, and slipped into her assigned seventh-row seat, fifth from the right aisle. The six other women on the floor—five of them Republicans—were already in place, dressed uniformly in black, corsages being their only splash of color. Clare thought them all frumps, except for Margaret Chase Smith of Maine, an unassuming, effective politician whom she admired. The others were Edith Nourse Rogers of Massachusetts, an advocate of programs for veterans; Frances P. Bolton, a fluffy-haired two-termer from Ohio; and Jessie Sumner of Illinois, a prim isolationist. From New York came a slim lawyer, Winifred Stanley, six years younger than Clare but prematurely gray. The sole Democrat, senior to all of them, was New Jersey’s Mary T. Norton. Her party held a working majority of 222, compared with 209 Republicans, 3 Progressives, and 1 Labor member.
In contrast with her soberly clad peers, Clare dazzled in a custom-made, form fitting purple dress. Her black-and-blue-striped ascot matched her hair bows, clipped atop two golden coronet braids. Flat-heeled black shoes supported her regal five-foot-five frame. To observers in the visitors’ gallery, she looked like a leading lady, with her lustrous complexion, straight thick brows, discreetly remodeled nose, and pearly, slightly crooked teeth. Most enchanting of all were her ready smile and infectious laugh.
Other freshmen might have been awed by the presence of the President’s wife in the visitors’ gallery, but Clare was not. Some years earlier, Mrs. Roosevelt had seen her satire Kiss the Boys Goodbye, and publicly predicted that “Miss Boothe” would become a first-class playwright someday, “when the bitterness of the experiences which she has evidently had are completely out of her system.” She had invited Clare to visit the White House for a talk. “I think it would be pleasant for both of us.” Later, at the war’s onset, Clare had accompanied her husband to a private dinner with both Roosevelts. FDR had welcomed them as anti-isolationists and proponents of his Lend-Lease program, which made old American ships available to the embattled Royal Navy. He shared the anti-Nazi views that Time Inc. magazines had propounded many months before Pearl Harbor.
Few Congressmen looked happy that afternoon at having yet another woman invade their domain. On either side of the aisle, it was the most conservative House since the days of Herbert Hoover. However, the man to Clare’s right shook hands with her, and the one on her left engaged her in a lengthy conversation.
Not wanting to miss anything of the opening ceremony, she took out a white handerkerchief and polished a pair of horn-rimmed spectacles. She seemed nervous, removing and chewing the glasses, folding and refolding a pamphlet in her lap. From time to time, she rested a cheek on one hand. Her reply of “Present” to the roll call was scarcely audible.
Though much of Clare’s adult life could be seen as preparation for elective office, her origins were not auspicious. She had been born illegitimate in 1903, in an insalubrious part of New York City’s Upper West Side, to William Franklin Boothe, a gifted violinist and former piano executive, who had come down in the world, and was reluctantly working as a patent-medicine salesman. Women found the handsome, clever, and athletic “Billy” irresistible. Son of a Baptist clergyman, he had forsaken his moralistic upbringing and drifted into multiple liaisons and marriages. While still wedded to his second wife, he had met Anna Clara Schneider, a violet-eyed beauty less than half his age. The poor daughter of Bavarian Lutheran immigrants, she was no stranger to Manhattan saloons. In two successive years, 1902 and 1903, she had given her lover his only children, David Franklin and Ann Clare Boothe.
Clare had always found it hard to acknowledge, or even look into, the more obscure facts of her parents’ relationship. But apparently they never married. In 1907, William Boothe had taken his family first to Memphis and then to Nashville and Chicago, where he became a member of the Lyric Opera orchestra. But his musician’s salary had not satisfied the luxury-loving Anna, and in 1913 she had left him and returned East with her son and daughter. Clare had seen her father only once after that. He was to die estranged from his children in 1928, eking out a living as a violin teacher in Los Angeles.
As the self-restyled “Ann Snyder Boothe,” Clare’s mother had prospered in New York City from the largesse of lovers. The most generous of her gentleman callers was Joel Jacobs, a Jewish industrialist. He helped finance city apartments for her, as well as a summer house in Sound Beach, Connecticut, and paid the private school fees of both children. At age ten, in early evidence of theatrical talent, Clare had contributed to the family income by understudying Mary Pickford on Broadway, and two years later acted in an Edison silent movie, The Heart of a Waif.
In 1922, at age forty, Ann had married a Connecticut physician, Albert Elmer Austin—the future Congressman whose seat Clare now occupied. Dr. Austin was not wealthy, to his stepdaughter’s chagrin (“Mother always told me to marry for money, but she didn’t do it herself”). But Jacobs had become part of the Austin ménage, lavishing jewelry on Ann, escorting her to the racetracks, and playing pinochle with the doctor.
Clare, removed early from her father’s academic and cultural influences, had acquired much of Ann’s money mania, vampishness, and free attitude to sex. Some teenage trips to Europe had helped mitigate this dominance and nurture Clare’s intellectual curiosity. Chatting to traveling diplomats confirmed the precocious penchant for politics she had shown in debates at the Castle School in Tarrytown, New York. Flirting with a White Russian spy interested her in the Bolshevik Revolution, and sparked a lifelong passion for espionage. Collecting mementos of World War I on the battlefields of northern France helped her understand the importance of military preparedness. She experienced at first hand the devaluation of the currency in Weimar Germany, which taught her the importance of national solvency. Her aptitude for the theater was fed by avant-garde performances of Wedekind plays in Berlin. On one homebound crossing, she had impressed the Austrian producer Max Reinhardt, who seriously considered casting her in his extravaganza The Miracle. The role went to Rosamond Pinchot, but her friendship with Reinhardt endured.
Meet the Author
Sylvia Jukes Morris was born and educated in England, where she taught English literature before immigrating to America. She is the author of Rage for Fame: The Ascent of Clare Boothe Luce and Edith Kermit Roosevelt: Portrait of a First Lady. She lives in New York City and Kent, Connecticut, with her husband, the writer Edmund Morris.
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This book is the same as RAGE FOR FAME by Sylvia Jukes Morris.
A well written exposure of an outstanding woman written by a woman who lived part of her life with Claire at the end of her life. CBL was truly a genius who lived her life on the "fast track" of the WWII and Ambassador years married to Henry Luce whose wealth gave her the expanse of her lifestyle. Book is truly a well documented disclosure for the women of today who need to study the mind and actions of a motivated and gifted woman.