Melville and Annalee Jacoby were two adventurous, dedicated journalists living in extraordinary times. Their journey took them to places as diverse as French Indochina, China, and the Philippines during some of history’s most tumultuous years. While they were looking to find a story that needed telling, they found love in each other.
Their story is told in Bill Lascher’s book Eve of a Hundred Midnights. Equal parts love, war and journalism story, it’s a tale that one could easily see becoming a major Hollywood film.
Lascher has a very personal connection to the Jacobys. In 2004 he discovered that Melville was his grandmother’s cousin when she gave him one of Melville’s old typewriters. Lascher would spend years writing and researching the book, but he worked in earnest for about four and a half years on the project. His journey took him to the Maryland branch of the National Archives, the Library of Congress, China and the Philippines in search of Mel and Annalee’s story. He used many of their old writings, and referred to secondary sources like Peter Rand’s book China Hands.
Lascher does a wonderful job of bringing out the Jacobys’ dedication to their craft.
“The letter he wrote right before he went to Stanford [saying] something along the lines of, ‘You know if I can correct just one iota of misunderstanding in this world then I’ll be doing my job right.’ He felt this deep, deep abiding commitment to journalism,” Lascher said, “and that brought him to China, and later that’s also what brought Annalee to China”
Lascher confessed that kinship with Mel is based on more than just familial bonds. They both lost a father at a young age.
“His father died when he was 2 and a half years old. My father died when I was 11, not quite as young, and so I got to know my father a little bit better. Long enough ago, I had that same feeling of what is sort of my purpose and what am I doing,” Lascher said.
For two young journalists in their 20s, the Jacobys were at the center of some major historical events. A litany of prominent figures crossed the couple’s path as they covered the Second Sino-Japanese War and subsequent Japanese invasion of the Philippines while on the run themselves in the early days of World War II.
There are some surprising and fascinating insights in the book. Famed Time editor Whittaker Chambers even takes a few unflattering hits in this story. The difficulty of being an honest and fair reporter is brought out, but Lascher shows us plenty of examples of Mel and Annalee doing their best and going where they needed to in order to get it right.
“His first stint in China, he was not comfortable [with] how much propaganda he was asked to do for this radio station. He really didn’t like it when sort of political interests started to interfere with what the radio station was doing, and that’s why he left to go to French Indochina to cover what was going on there,” Lascher said.
Mel and Annalee’s journalism had a tangible impact on society. Lascher explained that they helped Americans see the necessity of aiding the Chinese people in their fight against the Japanese. Just as importantly, they submitted some of the first pictures from the battles on Bataan and Corregidor Island. Lascher explained that this helped show the desperate situation of the troops there and wake America up to the war it was in.
Mel and Annalee weren’t soldiers, but Lascher shows them to be heroes nonetheless.
“Mel and Annalee and many of their contemporaries — I mean, these were people in their early 20s who didn’t have to be over there,” Lascher said. “They could have been in the United States, maybe even avoided the draft, but they decided to serve their country and their world by going to a war zone and presenting the sort of picture of what was happening and risking their lives and their livelihoods.”
Eve of a Hundred Midnights is available through Harper Collins and Amazon.com. For more information, visit http://eveofahundredmidnights.com.