Episode 39 - MacArthur's Secret Lady

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Douglas MacArthur was born on January 26, 1880 at the Little Rock Barracks in Arkansas. MacArthur’s father had received the Medal of Honor while fighting for the Union Army during the Civil War. After the war, Douglas MacArthur’s father traveled with his family to several different Army posts across the Southwestern United States.

Looking back at his upbringing, MacArthus said “It was here I learned to ride and shoot even before I could read or write – indeed, almost before I could walk or talk.”

MacArthur attended the West Texas Military Academy and then entered West Point as a cadet in June of 1899. Not wanting to be too far from her son, MacArthur’s mother moved into Craney’s Hotel which overlooked West Point Academy. After graduating from West Point, MacArthur joined the 3rd Engineer Battalion and left with them for the Philippines in 1903. In 1905, MacArthur was assigned as his father’s aide-de-camp. His father was now a major general and was going on a tour through Asia visiting different military bases in eleven different countries.

After returning to the U.S., MacArthur held several positions including working in the White House for President Theodore Roosevelt and becoming the Army’s first public relations officer, where he is largely regarded as the person who was able to convince the American people to go along with the Selective Service Act of 1917. During World War I, MacArthur was promoted to brigadier general and led the Rainbow Division through the battlefront in France. After the war, MacArthur was assigned as the Superintendent of West Point. During his time there, he met a young heiress named Louise Cromwell Brooks.

After getting married, MacArthur was given an assignment in the Philippines and while there he was promoted which made him the Army’s youngest major general. Louise had come to the Philippines with MacArthur, but she hated it there. MacArthur and Louise moved back to the United States in 1926, but he went back a few years later. Louise decided to stay and move to New York instead of returning to the Philippines with MacArthur. MacArthur then heard that gossip columns were reporting that Mrs. MacArthur was “clinging to the arms of men not her husband.” He then received paperwork from Louise’s attorneys that she was seeking a divorce and MacArthur agreed on “any ground that” would not compromise his honor. They were officially divorced on July 18, 1929.

In 1930, MacArthur was appointed Chief of Staff of the Army and moved back to Washington D.C. He moved into the Officers Quarters Number 1 at Fort Myer, Virginia and moved his mother in with him. When he became Chief of Staff, MacArthur seemed to take on a more relaxed and eccentric personality after living his whole life by abiding to strict rules of military life. MacArthur would wear a Japanese kimono while in his office and on hot days would fan himself with an Asian hand fan. He also started using a bejeweled holder for his cigarettes and started to refer to himself in the third person when talking to people. He also spent a lot of time with his mistress that he had brought from the Philippines.

Isabel Cooper was the daughter of a Scottish businessman and a Chines-Filipina woman that MacArthur had began to date a few months before leaving the Philippines despite the 34 year age difference, he was 50 and she was 16. Back in the Philippines, Isabel was an actress with the stage name of “Dimples.” She had performed in several vaudeville shows and the Shanghai chorus line. In 1926, Isabel made history when performed the first mouth-to-mouth kiss in a Philippine movie. The movie was called Tatlong Hambog and she was only 12 years old at the time. Isabel met MacArthur at a party in Manila where she was introduced to him. An American lobbyist who was also at the party said that Isabel “looked as if she were carved from the most delicate opaline.”

Though MacArthur was absolutely smitten with Isabel, he was afraid of what his mother might say about her, so he decided to keep Isabel a secret. After he had come back to the U.S. from the Philippines, he had her come over on a separate boat and then put her in a suite in the Hotel Chastelton when she arrived. MacArthur showered her with gifts, including the finest kimonos and lingerie, but he refused to buy her outdoor clothes because her duty was to lay in bed and Isabel called MacArthur “Daddy.”

Because his job required him to travel and Isabel wasn’t allowed to leave her hotel suite, MacArthur bought her a poodle to keep her company and would send her postcards and love letters. After about a year of never being able to leave her hotel, Isabel became outspoken with MacArthur about how bored and upset she was becoming and finally convinced MacArthur to let her venture outdoors when he was out of town. MacArthur reluctantly agreed and gave her a chauffeured car and a large allowance of spending money. Isabel would use the car to take her to nightclubs when MacArthur was out of town and started to see other men in Washington D.C. and Baltimore.

During the summer of 1932, which was also during the Great Depression, World War I veterans began to arrive into Washington D.C. The veterans were there to take part in the Bonus March, a protect that demanded an early payment of the bonus that Congress had agreed to pay out to them after the end of the war. When Congress had passed the bill for this bonus, veterans were issued a certificate that, depending on how much time you served in the war and where, would pay out a maximum of $625 in 1945 (almost $9,000 today).

The protesting veterans called themselves the “Bonus Expeditionary Forces” and were led by a former cannery worker named Walter W. Walters. Walters was a strict leader of the protesters and was against any pan-handling, drinking, and radicalism among the group. By the end of June, there were over 20,000 veterans in D.C. protesting for the early release of funds. Despite the growing numbers, President Herbert Hoover refused to even recognize the group’s demands. While in D.C. the Bonus Expeditionary Forces camped in the mudflats of the Anacostia River that looked right at the Capitol and the camp was named Hooverville.

Army Chief of Staff MacArthur had a theory that the protest was organized by communists to undermine the United States government and that “the movement was actually far deeper and more dangerous than an effort to secure funds from a nearly depleted federal treasury.” MacArthur’s own staff in the intelligence division looked into a communist conspiracy and found that only three of the twenty six leaders could be identified as communists and the vast majority of the protesters were actually outspoken anti-communists. Journalist Joseph C. Harsch said “This was not a revolutionary situation. This was a bunch of people in great distress wanting help… These were simply veterans from World War I who were out of luck, out of money, and wanted to get their bonus – and they needed the money at that moment.”

On June 15th, the House of Representatives passed the Patman veterans bill which would allow for an early release of the bonus funds. However, President Hoover made it known that he would veto it if it ever made it to his desk, which it didn’t because the bill was defeated in the Senate on June 17th. With the bill defeated, the Bonus protesters started to get frustrated. Pelham D. Glassford, the Washington Police Superintendent could feel tensions mounting and ordered the evacuation of several buildings on Pennsylvania Avenue on July 21st. Congress did pass a law that would allow for the veterans to borrow against their certificates, but were only allowed to borrow as much money as it would take to pay for their travel back home. Many went home, but around 10,000 veterans stayed ready to keep fighting for their bonuses. Then on July 28th, several protesters rushed at D.C. police and started to throw bricks at them. Police began firing into the crowd, killing two protestors.

MacArthur was called on to ready an infantry batallion to get the protestors out of downtown Washington D.C. and would do so with the Third Cavalry Regiment, who’s executive officer was Major George S. Patton. MacArthur’s infantry and Patton’s cavalry met south of the White House. Patton tried to tell MacArthur that he didn’t need to be there and it might even seem highly inappropriate for him to be on the streets, especially because he was wearing what some called “parade dress” -jodhpurs, black polished cavalry boots, and a tunic that was covered in ribbons and medals. The rest of the soldiers were wearing gas masks and steel helmets and began to push the protestors down Pennsylvania Avenue towards Hooverville. The protestors began to throw stones and bricks at the soldiers, who then used tear gas to disperse the crowd and sabers to demolish the makeshift shelters.

President Hoover was starting to get nervous that it might seem like the government was acting too harshly on not only citizens, but veterans, and had Secretary of War Hurley send orders to MacArthur twice that MacArthur was not to follow the protestors over the bridge into their camp in Hooverville. According to MacArthur’s aide, Dwight D. Eisenhower, MacArthur “said he was too busy,” and did not want to be “bothered by people coming down and pretending to bring orders.” MacArthur send soldiers across the bridge following the protesters. Soon, a fire was started among the shelters in Hooverville and it did not take long for the whole camp to go up in flames.

Many Americans actually applauded the Army’s actions against the protesters, seeing it as a necessary but unfortunate way to deal with civil unrest. However, a lot of the press didn’t feel the same way. The New York Times printed an article with the first sentence reading “Flames rose high over the desolate Anacostia flats at midnight tonight and a pitiful stream of refugee veterans of the World War walked out of their home of the past two months, going they knew not where.”

Another article written by Washington Post journalists, Drew Pearson and Robert S. Allen that described MacArthur’s methods as “unwarranted, harsh, and brutal” and that MacArthur himself was “dictatorial and disloyal.” This portrayal of him made MacArthur very upset and he sued Pearson and Allen for libel for $1.75 million dollars (Around $32.75 million today). Libel suits were a bigger deal back then than they are now and Pearson and Allen were worried that they would lose. That was until a congressman from Mississippi told Pearson that he had seen MacArthur frequently visit a suite next to his own in a Northwest Washington D.C. hotel where a beautiful Eurasian girl had been staying.

Pearson was able to use his journalist connections and track down Isabel Cooper in a boarding house near the State-War Department building, where she told Pearson all about her love affair with MacArthur. She explained that MacArthur had broken up with her after she enrolled in law school and began to see her male classmates after class on top of spending an outlandish amount of money in Havana, Cuba. MacArthur stopped paying for her hotel suite and sent her a letter explaining that they were done with a plane ticket for the Philippines enclosed. Isabel wanted to stay in the United States, but she was broke now, so Pearson offered to pay her to rent some of the love letters from MacArthur that she had kept. She agreed and Pearson also moved her to a house in Baltimore to keep her safe from MacArthur in case he went looking for her.

The letters Pearson got from Cooper included MacArthur’s mushy devotions to Cooper, but also included the “Help Wanted” ad from a newspaper that MacArthur had sent to Cooper when she asked him to help her brother get a job. At a pretrial hearing, Pearson’s lawyers stated that they intended to have a Ms. Isabel Cooper be placed on the witness stand. MacArthur seemed unsettled by that fact and as soon as the pretrial proceeding was finished, he sent Major Eisenhower to go find Cooper.

Eisenhower was unable to locate her, and even though MacArthur had already spent $16,000 in legal fees (around $300,000 today), he dropped the libel suit without giving any explanation. On December 24, 1934, Pearson’s aide received $15,000 in $100 bills that he then gave to Isabel Cooper along with her letters from MacArthur.

When Admiral William Leahy found out about MacArthur dropping his libel suit, he said Macarthur “could have won the suit. He was a bachelor at the time. He could have just said… so what?... you know why he didn’t do it? It was that old woman he lived with at Fort Myer. He didn’t want his mother to learn about that Eurasian girl!”

With her cash, Cooper moved to the Midwest and opened up a beauty shop and then a little bit after that, moved to LA where she tried to make it in Hollywood using the stage name Cha Bing. Cooper got a role as an extra in the 1946 movie “Anna and the King of Siam” and then as Lillie Mae Wong in the Charlie Chan movie “The Chinese Ring” in 1947. She was able to get a couple more roles in the 50’s, but by 1960, she wasn’t able to get any work and she fell into a deep depression. Isabel Cooper died of a drug overdose suicide on June 29, 1960 at 46 years old.

As for Douglas MacArthur, shortly after the libel suit was dropped, he decided to leave his position as chief of staff, partly because he was frustrated working under Franklin D. Roosevelt and partly because his friend Manuel Quezon, who was also the President of the Philippines, asked MacArthur to come back to the Philippines and help raise and train up a Philippine army in case the Japanese invaded. While on a ship back to the Philippines, MacArthur met an American woman named Jean Marie Faircloth. They quickly fell in love and got married on April 30, 1937 back in New York. They had a son they named Arthur in 1938. During World War II, MacArthur was forced to flee to Australia from the Philippines due to the Japanese invasion, but returned and liberated the Philippines from Japan’s grip in 1944.


“The Bonus March” a PBS: American Experience article

“MacArthur: Three Generations” a PBS: American Experience article

“Douglas MacArthur’s Secret Affair With a Filipino Starlet” by Alex Castro

“The Generals: Patton, MacArthur, Marshall, and the Winning of World War II” by Winston Groom

“Douglas MacArthur: Statecraft and Stagecraft in America’s East Asian Policy” by Russell D. Buhite

Martin Van Buren. He was born in Kinderhook, New York. He got the nickname “Old Kinderhook” when he entered politics and then people started calling him O.K.

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