Mary Welsh was born in the Paul Bunyan country of Minnesota. She escaped small-town life to pursue her dream of becoming a journalist and lived an exciting life as a first-class reporter on the Chicago Daily News. Just before the war, she traveled to London and became the first woman accredited to the Royal Air Force for the London Daily Express, the largest English language newspaper in the world. After France fell to the Nazis, Mary joined Time-Life and soon was the first woman writing about foreign affairs for the magazines, and one of the first women accredited to the US Army. Mary had a large social circle in wartime London, from Pam Churchill to General Eisenhower. Mary’s husband was a foreign correspondent posted to Cairo, and after he took up with a woman there, Mary dated generals, journalists, and novelists and slept with whom she pleased. No one intimidated her. She smoked Camels, drank gin, swore like a sailor, and wrote so well her editor boasted she was “without doubt, the ablest female journalist in London.” Mary narrowly escaped death from German bombs and shrapnel during the Blitz. Yet, she stayed in London, reporting about the war and trying to persuade her fellow Americans of the Nazi threat and the need to come to Britain’s aid.
When Ernest Hemingway arrived in London to cover the Normandy Invasion, he was the most famous writer in the world. He quickly became infatuated with Mary, and he asked her to marry him the third time they met—though they were both married to others. Mary was apprehensive. Ernest was impotent from a car crash and less attractive to Mary than her lover, Irwin Shaw, whom she described as “the best lay in Europe.” In his letters to her, Ernest exaggerated his role in combat to prove his manliness despite his impotence.
After Ernest recovered, Mary yielded to his pleading and joined him at his estate in Cuba for a one-year trial. Soon, Mary missed her smart London friends and found Ernest to be autocratic and bullying, especially when he drank too much. Despite his failings, she fell in love with him. Mary loved his sense of humor, and his celebrity was not simply an aphrodisiac but the key to promised wealth. She married Ernest and became pregnant, hoping to give birth to the daughter they both wanted. Sadly, the pregnancy ended when one of Mary’s fallopian tubes ruptured, and she nearly died. Relying on his experience as a wartime ambulance driver, Ernest saved her life after the surgeon had removed his gloves and given up on her.
Mary quit her job with Time-Life and became Ernest’s in-house editor: typing and reading his material, correcting his spelling and grammar, and making plot suggestions. He came to rely on her intelligent reading, and when he saw goosebumps on her arms, he knew he had it right. She was as important to him as a compass, and she steered him gently but wisely.
This true story reads like a novel—and the reader will be hard-pressed not to fall for Mary.