From the desks of Winston Churchill, Joseph McCarthy, John F. Kennedy and more
As Time Inc. moves to a new office in Lower Manhattan, the company is also moving its vast archives—a trove of more than 7 million items—to the New-York Historical Society. To mark the move, we’ve highlighted some of the archives’ most impressive artifacts.
Here are the most fascinating letters in the company’s collection from the likes of Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, Harry Truman, Tennessee Williams and other historic figures.
The letters below are excerpted or included in full, with their transcription and description pulling in large part from Stuart Lutz‘s appraisal of the documents.
A letter from President Harry Truman, post-Presidency, to Edward Thompson, the managing editor of LIFE, discussing General MacArthur, who Truman had relieved from command.
I certainly appreciated your letter of December 29th regarding the [General Douglas] MacArthur reaction to my statements in the book. His blow-up was expected, of course, and it seems to be more personal than factual. When an egotist is punctured, a lot of noise and whistling always accompanies the escaping air. I am not at all worried by what the great general has to say, and don’t let it worry you. If he had stuck to facts, he would be in a much better position. The statements in the book can be supported by the documents themselves, and I fear very much that he understands that and does not really like to see the facts stated. That makes no difference to me, however. There will be no reply on my part. What is in the book is based entirely on records and facts and my memory – which I think is much better than his.
A typed letter signed by playwright Tennessee Williams to the Editors of TIME, criticizing a review of ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.’
Much as I am flattered by your reference to me, in the book section, as ‘the high priest’ of something, even something called ‘Merde’, I must put in my two cents worth of protest. I feel that scatology is notably absent from my work. However if I did make reference to that nature, I would not exercise the subterfuge of a foreign word for it.
The gentleman quoted, Dean Fitch, may have gone to ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ but he went to it with a pair of tin ears and came out of it with a tin horn to blow. ‘Cat’ is the most highly, intensely moral work that I have produced, and that is what gives it power. It is an outcry of fury, from start to finish, against those falsities of life that provide a good fertilizer for corruption. What it says, in essence, through the character of Big Daddy, is this: when your time comes to die, do you want to die in a hot- bed of lies or a cold stone of truth?
Mr. Fitch takes dangerous exception to ‘honesty.’ Is that, now, to be put down as a dirty word like the word ‘intellectual’? If so, then all American artists must beware. We are in for a revival of Cultural Fascism. Of course, there are such things as false ‘intellectuals’ and false ‘honesty’, but the damage to us all that may derive from attaching odium to these words by slick sophistries about them, such as purveyed by Dean Fitch, talking about ‘stars over the dump heap’ in a feeble paraphrase of Oscar Wilde, is much more important than the virtue of pointing out their occasional misappropriations.
I propose that writers concerned with honesty are more likely to be honest than those who are not concerned with it, and I would like to see a list of those works that Dean Fitch approves along with those that he condemns, it would be more fully instructive.
Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote this letter thanking Henry Luce for TIME’s decision to name the civil rights leader as the Man of the Year in 1963. The March on Washington had just taken place that August, where Rev. King, TIME’s first black Person of the Year, delivered the famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
I am deeply honored that your staff and editorial board saw fit to name me as your 37th Man of the Year.
In light of the unprecedented peaks of drama, history and tragedy that characterized the year 1963, I must say that it is with a deep sense of humility that I thank you for naming me, realizing that there are so many others who justly and deservedly should be accorded such a tribute. I would like to think that this is indeed an honor not to be coveted by me personally, but rather one to be shared by the millions of courageous people who have been caught up in the gallant spirit of the entire freedom movement, even to offering their bodies as personal sacrifices to achieve the human dignity we all seek. This, then, I consider a high tribute to this disciplined legion of nonviolent participants who are working so untiringly to bring the American dream into reality.
Permit me also to congratulate TIME upon its inclusion in the article of many of the Negro professionals who have achieved success in numerous areas of the main stream of America that might ordinarily go unnoticed by TIME’s large audience of readers. This image of the Negro is certainly one that many of us like to see carried in the pages of our national periodicals, for it does much to help grind away the granite-like notions that have obtained for so long that the Negro is not able to take his place in all fields of endeavor and that he is lazy, shiftless and without ambition.
May I also say what a pleasure it was for me to meet your very fine and personable correspondent, Marsh Clark. I was tremendously impressed with his seriousness of purpose, dedication to his job and skillful ability as an interviewer and writer.
Again may I say thanks for the honor you have bestowed upon me and my constituents in the civil rights struggle. It will long be remembered in association with a year that has carved for itself an uniqueness in history.
A lengthy letter from Winston Churchill to Time Inc. founder Henry Luce in which Churchill writes about publishing excepts of his history book in LIFE, and blames World War II on the United States’ failure to approve the League of Nations after World War I.
I have read your letter with great attention, and am in much agreement with what you say… The third question, which you raise namely why were the leaders so stupid and weak, and why did the nations and peoples of Europe throw up such bad leadership, shall certainly receive an answer. The reason is because in those years there happened exactly what is happening today, namely no coherent or persistent policy, even in fundamental matters, among the good peoples, but deadly planning among the bad. The good peoples, as now, drifted hither and thither, to and fro, according to the changing winds of public opinion and the desire of public men of medium stature to gain majorities and office at party elections from electorates, who were absorbed in earning their daily bread, whose memories were short and whose moods changed every few years. There was also, of course, a lack of world instrument of government for the prevention of war. This was largely because the United States abandoned the League of Nations at its birth. The League of Nations made a far better start than the present U.N.O [United Nations Organization], and the prospects of peace were brighter ten years after the First World War than they are now, only two-and-a-half years after the Second. But the lack of will-power and conscious purpose among the leading states and former allies drew us upon those slippery slopes of weak compromises, seeking the line of least resistance, which led surely to the abyss. The same thing is happening now, only with greater speed, and unless there is some moral revival and conscious guidance of the good forces, while time remains, a prolonged eclipse of our civilization approaches.
A handwritten letter from Ernest Hemingway to LIFE executive editor Daniel Longwell in which the author mentions one of his most famous novels, ‘The Old Man And The Sea’ and discusses what might be his most notable short story, ‘The Snows Of Kilimanjaro.’ He also mentions the Nobel Prize in Literature, which he was awarded in 1954. On September 1st, 1952, Life devoted 30,000 words across twenty uninterrupted pages to publish ‘The Old Man And The Sea.’
Thank you very much for your letter about The Old Man and The Sea and for sending me the proofs. I will check the queries and note them at the end of this letter. You must know how happy it makes me that you and your wife and Mr. James and his wife feel the way you wrote about the story. I had wanted to write it for more than fifteen years and I never did it because I did not think I could then, of course, in the last fifteen years, there were all sorts of interruptions some of them pretty destructive but you learn something from them. Whatever I learned is in the story but I hope it ready simply and straight and all the things that are in it do not show but are only with you after you have read it. Now I have to write something better that is sort of rough. But I had good luck with this all the way and maybe I will have…again… Don’t you think it is a strange damn story that it should affect all of us (me especially) the way it does? I have had to read it now over 200 times and every time it does something to me. It’s as though I had gotten finally what I had been working for all my life. When you are moved by it too, it makes me feel wonderful. You know, or maybe you don’t think so, which is your right, that the Snows of Kilimanjaro is a good story. But in that, to win, I threw in (in that awful military jargon) the equivalent of about three divisions. The damn magic happened. But if you ever happen to read it, look what was thrown in to win. As a story it was the most costly (although successful) frontal attack I ever made. (If this seems balls just skip it down here there is nobody but Mary to talk about writing since it is my trade I try not to bore her with it. She reads what I write every day but we do not talk about it so as not to louse it up. If it has moved her she shows me where it makes goose pimples on her arms. She cannot simulate goose pimples and if it gives them to her I know I am going all right. She is very patient with me and it is so awful working when she is away, as she is now, looking after her mother and father who are ill. You have a loneliness when you finish work which does not compare to any other. Please chalk this stupid letter against loneliness.) I’m very excited about the book and that it is coming out in Life so that many people will read it who could not afford to buy it. That makes me much happier than to have a Nobel Prize [in Literature] to have you guys being so careful and good about it and so thoughtful is better than any kind of prize. Thank you again for the letter and the proofs. I understand you will check them against Scribner’s final page proofs. Is there any chance I could have an advance copy of the magazine – to show to no one – but just to get the waiting over?
A typed letter from President John F. Kennedy to Henry Luce, in which the President admits fault for the failed April 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion.
Dear Mr. Luce, Thank you for your letter of September 2nd in regard to Mr. Murphy’s article.
The memorandum which I gave to John Steele was prepared by General [Maxwell] Taylor. You will recall that I asked General Taylor to come to Washington to make an investigation of the failure of the Cuban invasion. As an experienced military officer of judgment and integrity I felt that he could give me a report which would be advantageous for the future. In addition, the report would be unbiased in that he was not involved in the decisions leading up to the event, and therefore his findings would be impartial.
As I believe this matter is extremely important, I believe it would be helpful if General Taylor came to New York to give you the same report on the reasons for the failure that he gave to those of us who were responsible for it. Though the fact of the briefing should be held confidential I would be glad if Mr. Murphy and any other members of your staff were present.
I have accepted responsibility from the beginning for the failure of the invasion as, of course, the responsibility is mine. I do believe, however, that there is a public interest in having the facts put forward as precisely as possible. There are serious errors of fact in this article which seem to me incomprehensible for a skilled reporter.
A typed letter from Senator Joseph McCarthy threatening Time Inc. founder Henry Luce over an article he called a “smear attack…upon me.”
Some time ago I wrote you calling your attention to some deliberate falsifications in a very lengthy smear attack which Time Magazine made upon me. In that letter I pointed out that I fully realized you personally could not scrutinize every story run by Time, Life and Fortune, and that, therefore, you may not have been aware of the charges and deliberate false statements carried by Time.
I felt that if the matter was brought to your attention, your feeling of responsibility to your profession and to your subscribers would cause you to have Time Magazine correct the many false statements made in the story. For that reason, I sent you copies of your own files to show that your staff, who prepared the story, deliberately and with full knowledge of the true facts, misrepresented the case. As you will recall, I offered to sit down with you and point out the vast number of misstatements.
In view of the fact that many weeks have passed and Time Magazine has not corrected a single one of the false statements in this story, and you have not accepted my offer to point out and document fully the many misstatements in the article, the question arises as to whether you personally have seen my correspondence. For that reason, I am sending a copy of it to you, together with a copy of your own files, which will give you some idea of the viciousness of the smear attack which Time Magazine made in its attempts to hamper my efforts to get rid of Communists in high positions in our Government.
… I am preparing material on Time Magazine to furnish to all of your advertisers so they may be fully aware of the type of publication they are supporting… I feel that I would be derelict in my duty as an United States Senator, who has been elected by the American people, if I failed to expose every cancerous growth which is endangering the health of this country. I am sure you will agree that the policy of Time Magazine to throw pebbles at Communism generally but then to parallel the Daily Worker’s smear attack upon individuals who start to dig out the dangerous secret Communists, is rendering almost unlimited service to the Communist cause and undermining America… you have left me no choice in this matter.