Emily Hahn and CNAC, aka The Hardest Cut, Part III


This is the third part of this story, and they ought to be read in order. Here’s Part I and Part II.

The putrid ape smell didn’t fade from the apartment for weeks. Long before that happened, Woody learned Mickey Hahn was carrying on with Charles Boxer, a married major in the British Army. Woody had the good sense not to play the jilted fool. He and Mickey stayed friends, and Woody indeed felt guilty about reneging on his commitment to her pets. He retrieved them from the SPCA one Sunday afternoon and took them to Kai Tak airport for a change of scenery. A handful of airline employees were prowling around in the back of the hanger, where the British airport administration kept a full-service bar. Woody took a cocktail to a table with a few associates and anchored the apes to the leg of his chair with ten-foot chains. Sounds of American merriment attracted the airport manager, Mr. A. J. R. Moss, a lanky, angular Englishman wearing loose tropical shorts, a well-starched shirt, and high-pulled socks. The Americans thought him the prototypical British colonial officer, not a bad sort, just inefficient and officious. Moss inquired about the gibbons.

Woods assured the Englishman he had the animals under control. Moss nodded and sidled to the table edge, tucked a swagger stick under his arm, and chatted with the seated Americans. Nobody noticed Mr. Mills, the larger of the gibbons, sneak behind Moss and peer up the Englishman’s shorts. Something he saw aroused his curiosity, and Mr. Mills reached a thin, hairy arm up Moss’ pant leg and wrapped his knotty fingers around the most prominent of the visible objects.

Moss howled. He would have leapt five feet in the air if the gibbon’s vice-like grip hadn’t anchored him so firmly to the ground. Woods and the other Americans hurtled off their seats, startled by the blood-curdling yell. Woody’s leap knocked over his chair, and the apes’ chains came free. The animals fled up the hanger girders and sheltered on the crossbeams under the rooftop, each terrified animal dangling a ten-foot chain. The Americans flopped around on the hanger floor, paralyzed with mirth and Moss’ pained embarrassment, eventually bestirring themselves to recapture the gibbons.

Woody never again dared take them out in public.

Mr. Mills was an older gibbon. He died sometime later, apparently due to complications caused by large open sores festering around his private parts. Mickey Hahn told Woody that although she couldn’t offer a professional medical opinion, she was convinced he’d died of syphilis.

And here’s “Emily Hahn, Martha Gellhorn, Ernest Hemingway, China’s Wings, and the Boxer Uprising…


Emily Hahn description: Hahn, Emily, China to Me; Ibid., No Hurry to Get Home; Cuthbertson, Ken, Nobody Said Not to Go, (a biography of Emily Hahn); Angell, Roger, “Postscript: Ms. Ulysses: Emily Hahn’s lifetime of reporting and vivid adventure kept her happily out of touch with convention,” The New Yorker, March 10, 1997;

Mickey Hahn, Hugh Woods, Chuck Sharp, and the gibbons: Woods, Hugh, “Gibbons,” Wings Over Asia: Memories of CNAC, Vol. IV, pp. 31-33; Hahn, Emily, China to Me, pp. 153-154, 205, 210, 235-237, (“noisily airsick”; “commenting on the shakiness of the plane”) It’s trivial, and in no way undermines the essential truth of her account, but in Emily Hahn’s China to Me, she flew from Chungking to Hong Kong on a CNAC flight piloted by Hugh Woods and with “the manager” (Bond) in the passenger cabin in late February, 1940 [using Cuthbertson, Ken, Nobody Said Not to Go, pp. 177-207, to help pinpoint the dates]. That is unlikely: both Bond and Woods were in the United States in February, 1940. After a brief Hong Kong sojourn, Hahn returned to Chungking and spent the bombing season in the wartime capital. She finished her Soong Sisters manuscript in July and again flew back to Hong Kong. Both Woody and Bond were in the Orient in the summer of 1940. I suspect Emily Hahn misordered her episodes with Woody, CNAC, and the gibbons when she wrote China to Me from the vantage of 1944, and that the February flight she described as making with Hugh Woods actually occurred in July. That timeline also puts the event into accord with Woody’s “Gibbons” anecdote in Wings Over Asia: Memories of CNAC, Vol IV. Woods was in the Orient in July, again flying for CNAC, and according to Woody’s account of his flight with Mickey, gibbons were discussed. There are other tidbits of circumstantial evidence that lend credence to the July scenario: Emily Hahn reports being driven to the Chungking airfield prior to departure. CNAC was using Sanhupah Airport on the sandbar below Chungking in February, which wasn’t accessible by car. However, in July, 1940, Sanhupah was flooded, and the airline was using a military airfield 12 miles from town. Passengers boated to the military airfield, except for lucky ones with access to government gasoline rations. Mickey managed to get herself driven by Fenn Lynch. Mickey Hahn wrote China to Me from memory in 1944, without access to her papers, which she’d lost in Hong Kong. (She and her daughter were repatriated in a prisoner exchange.) Such a minor error seems easy to have made, and doesn’t affect the truth of her exceptional tale. (And for the record, I count myself as the latest in a long line of men who’ve fallen in love with Emily Hahn; I also admit the possibility that I’ve made a reasoning error in reconstructing the sequence of these events, although it’s probably not materially crucial to my story, either.); careful aficionados of China to Me will also note that Emily Hahn doesn’t mention any period of time in which the apes were actually in Woody’s custody. Woody’s account is significantly different, and, I suspect, accurate. Mickey Hahn was busy falling in love in the days and weeks after her arrival in Hong Kong – with married British Major Charles Boxer, not, alas, with Hugh Leslie Woods.

The DC-3’s cockpit: author’s tour of a C-47 cockpit at the Strategic Air Command Museum in Omaha, Nebraska with CNAC pilot captain Donald McBride, October 6, 2004; “Operating Instructions for the Douglas Transport Aircraft Airplane Model DC-3,” Douglas Aircraft Company, Inc., Santa Monica, CA, 1942, PAA, Box 437, Folder 13

Mickey Hahn was just his type: the woman Woody married looked very similar to Mickey; The Big Smoke, Emily Hahn’s short story about her opium addiction, is a neglected classic.

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