A Wedding At The Brink of War

Mel and Annalee walking together through Manila on their wedding day.

Seventy-two years ago today, mere days before Pearl Harbor, two young journalists from California married as war clouds gathered over Manila. Melville and Annalee Jacoby had met at Stanford and reconnected in the Spring of 1942 when Mel briefly went home to the United States. Annalee arrived in Chongqing n September, 1941, and the couple quickly fell in love. Mel proposed as the couple raced through Chongqing's steep streets on rickshaws, their drivers dodging crowds and bomb-blast potholes, but the next day Time asked him to transfer to Manila. Annalee had work to finish and wouldn't join him for two months. They got married the day she arrived in Manila, Nov. 26, 1941. Their romance is one for the ages, and it's the heart of the book I'm working on about Mel. Here's an excerpt from that book about the wedding day that I've adapted a bit for this space). Happy Anniversary!

That day, Mel waited on the shoreline for her plane to land. The approach to the beach seemed to Annalee to take hours. The entire time she eyed Mel by the side of the water in his gleaming white suit, white shirt and yellow tie.

As soon as Annalee stepped off the plane, Mel whisked her off to the Union Church of Manila. Her wedding gown a casual white nylon dress covered in prints of palm trees, ukuleles, pineapples and leis, Annalee strolled along a Manila street with one hand clutching Mel's arm and a yellow, broad-brimmed straw hat tucked under her other arm. She beamed as she looked up at him. He strode confidently, almost smugly.

“It was just like I'd always hoped it would be,” Annalee said.

Mel had wanted a justice of the peace, but the search for one who could speak English had ended up a comedy of errors and cultural clashes, so he chose the Union Church’s Reverend Walter Books Foley. Foley performed the ceremony in a small room off the chapel decorated with white flowers and green drapes. Mel had spent $746 on two rings: a simple platinum band, and another with a square 1 ½ carat diamond head and small diamonds branching off along its platinum mount.

“Looks like half a milk bottle it is so big,” Mel told his parents.

Life photographer Carl Mydans was Mel’s best man. Mydans’s wife, Shelley, a writer for Time and Life and a mutual friend of Mel and Annalee from Stanford, was the matron of honor. The only other guest at the ceremony was Allan Michie, another Time reporter. After the ceremony, other friends of Mel's met the newlyweds at the Bay View Hotel, where they danced around a portable phonograph, called home and celebrated.

For a brief moment after the wedding, the world fell away from Mel and Annalee. That they didn't have the traditional wedding their friends in the Chinese government wanted to throw for them back in Chungking didn't matter. That all their things — including most of Annalee's clothes — were on a ship that would end up diverted from Manila when the war started didn't matter. They were two young reporters in love.

“He types on the desk, and I type on the dressing table, and we both feel awfully sorry for the people next door,” Annalee told Mel’s parents.

Mel and Annalee Jacoby's Wedding at the Union Church of Manila.

Mel and Annalee slipped away for a brief honeymoon at a cabin near the Philippine town of Tagaytay, as much a tourist destination then as it is today. Their cabin overlooked the stunning lake Taal and the volcanic island at its center. The shack's electricity didn't stay on through the night and the faucet dripped, but they were happy to be able to escape — if just for a weekend — from a war that was then just days away.

Tied up next to the cabin were two baby giant pandas. Madame Chiang had entrusted Mel and Annalee with the animals’ care — not an easy feat — until they could be loaded onto the Calvin Coolidge, the last passenger ship to leave the Philippines before the war began.

Aside from the Pandas, the couple received a bevy of luxurious and stately gifts from their friends and contacts in China. These included red satin blankets, elaborate vases and piles of greetings from other journalists they knew in Chungking. Hollington Tong — China’s information minister and Mel’s former boss — gave them cash because he couldn't throw a “Red Sedan” wedding for the Jacobys. Such a traditional ceremony would have involved drummers, fine clothing and an elaborate chair. But the conflict made that celebration impossible.

Despite headaches caused by caring for the pandas, the intermittent services at the cabin and a rainstorm, the Jacobys were not dismayed, as Annalee explained in a letter to Mel's parents:

“The running water worked only at intervals, the electricity blinked on and off all one evening, and it poured, but it was still the most wonderful honeymoon anyone ever had.”