75 Years Ago, When War Seemed a Million Miles Away

Seventy-five years ago, today, with the United States and Japan on the brink of war, Time Magazine correspondent Melville Jacoby married the former Annalee Whitmore, a former MGM scriptwriter who had been managing publicity for an aid organization known as United China Relief. The following excerpt from Eve of a Hundred Midnights (William Morrow, 2016) describes the moment Annalee arrived in Manila from Chungking, the wartime capital of China, and Mel whisked her off to their wedding. Pick up the book from your favorite retailer to find out how Mel and Annalee's paths crossed, and what happened when war broke out just two weeks after their wedding.

From the edge of Pan-Am’s facilities along the southern arc of Manila Bay near the Cavite shipyard, Mel watched a Boeing 314 cross the sky. It was Monday, November 24, 1941, just three days before Thanksgiving.

Annalee was on the plane. As it landed she spotted Mel at the water’s edge, clad in a gleaming white suit, white shirt, and yellow tie.

“I could see him when the plane landed in the water, and it seemed like hours until they pulled it up onto the beach,” Annalee later wrote to Mel’s parents.

Finally, the Clipper’s pilot cut the aircraft’s engines. The plane coasted the last few feet to the dock, where its passengers disembarked. Annalee barely had time to say anything to her fiancé. After they embraced, Mel ushered her to a waiting car, which drove the ten miles from Cavite to Manila, turned right off Dewey Boulevard onto Padre Faura, then stopped at the Union Church chapel a couple of blocks away. Mel strode confidently up to the church, while Annalee, wearing a white nylon dress printed with palm trees, ukuleles, pineapples, and leis in green, yellow, and red, linked her arm in his, smiling widely, a broad-brimmed yellow hat tucked under her other arm. For a couple who never expected romance, it was as dreamlike as any fairy tale.

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

Melville and Annalee Jacoby walking along the streets of Manila on their wedding day, November 24, 1941. (Photo Courtesy Peggy Stern Darling)

Melville and Annalee Jacoby walking along the streets of Manila on their wedding day, November 24, 1941. (Photo Courtesy Peggy Stern Darling)

Carl and Shelley Mydans were there, as well as Allan Michie (a Time reporter about to transfer to England, Michie was also the author of Their Finest Hour) and the Reverend Walter Brooks Foley. As soon as the couple arrived, the small pro- cession gathered in an intimate reception room off the chapel decorated with white flowers and green drapes. Carl served as Mel’s best man; Shelley was Annalee’s matron of honor.

Reverend Foley performed the modest ceremony. Mel had always dreaded large, formal weddings. He had looked for a justice of the peace to officiate, but most of the ones he found spoke little English and held ceremonies in nipa huts—small stilt houses with bamboo walls and thatched roofs made from local leaves.

Melville and Annalee Jacoby exchange vows in front of the Reverend Walter Brooks Foley at the Union Church of Manila on November 24, 1941. (Photo Courtesy Peggy Stern Darling)

Melville and Annalee Jacoby exchange vows in front of the Reverend Walter Brooks Foley at the Union Church of Manila on November 24, 1941. (Photo Courtesy Peggy Stern Darling)

“The morning I came he found Reverend Foley, who was   a short blond near-sighted angel, full of extravagant plans for choir chorales and processionals and borrowed bride giver-awayers,” Annalee wrote.

Annalee may not have wanted a big to-do or an ostentatious ring, but she clearly couldn’t restrain her delight at the occasion itself. Her smile did not subside throughout the ceremony. Her hands gently clasped Mel’s as they exchanged vows, and she looked intently at her husband, her eyes grinning and warm. For his part, Mel couldn’t mask the pride on his face, nor his joy.

Within an hour of Annalee’s landing, she and Mel were married. After their wedding, they wrote letters to their families. In one, Annalee insisted to Mel’s parents that she didn’t go to China to marry Mel, but she “couldn’t think of a better reason” to have gone.

Mel and Annalee Jacoby on their wedding day, November 24, 1941. (Photo Courtesy Peggy Stern Darling)

Mel and Annalee Jacoby on their wedding day, November 24, 1941. (Photo Courtesy Peggy Stern Darling)

The celebration continued at the Bay View Hotel, just a few blocks away. Gathered in the lobby were many of the couple’s friends who had also transferred to Manila from Chungking, as well as others Mel had met since arriving. Those who couldn’t be there sent their congratulations. Everyone, from Annalee’s colleagues at MGM to Henry and Clare Boothe Luce, to all the Press Hostel residents, to the entire staff of XGOY (which also aired a brief item about the marriage), sent their good wishes.

 “General MacArthur about knocked me over the other p.m. congratulating me,” Mel wrote. “Admiral [Thomas] Hart’s staff nearly shook my hand off.”

There was a portable phonograph setting the tune with jazz standards and popular big band recordings. In between songs, the newlyweds ducked into a corner of the lobby where they took turns placing long-distance phone calls to their parents in Los Angeles and Maryland. And then they danced into the night. War was on the horizon and could arrive any day, but that evening it could have been a million miles away.