We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Anna May Wong

From Laundryman's Daughter to Hollywood Legend

Graham Russell Gao Hodges

Publication Year: 2012

Anna May Wong was perhaps the best known Chinese American actress during Hollywood’s golden age, a free spirit and embodiment of the flapper era much like Louise Brooks. She starred in over fifty movies between 1919 and 1960, sharing the screen with such luminaries as Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and Marlene Dietrich. Born in Los Angeles in 1905, Wong was the second daughter of six children born to a laundryman and his wife. Obsessed with film at a young age, she managed to secure a small part in a 1919 drama about the Boxer Rebellion. Her most famous film roles were in The Thief of Baghdad, Old San Francisco, and Shanghai Express opposite Dietrich. Despite these successes, instances of overt racism plagued Wong’s career. When it came time to make a film version of Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth, she was passed over for the Austrian-born actress, Luise Rainer. In a narrative that recalls both the gritty life in Los Angeles’s working-class Chinese neighborhoods and the glamour of Hollywood at its peak, Graham Hodges recounts the life of this elegant, beautiful, and underappreciated screen legend.

Published by: Hong Kong University Press, HKU

Title Page, Copyright Page

pdf iconDownload PDF (100.9 KB)


pdf iconDownload PDF (36.0 KB)
pp. vii-viii

read more

Preface to Second Edition

pdf iconDownload PDF (52.6 KB)
pp. ix-x

Since publication of the first edition of this biography of her in 2004, Anna May Wong and her film career have gained increased attention. There are now several academic studies, a children’s book, at least three documentaries, numerous scholarly articles, YouTube sites and about a half million Internet pages dedicated to her. Her surviving films are now readily available, including the impressive...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (44.7 KB)
pp. xi-xiv

I first encountered the mystique of Anna May Wong on Cecil Court off Charing Cross Road in London in the fall of 1999. There, I noticed in a bookstore window an autographed photograph for sale of a beautiful woman. Fascinated, I rushed into the shop and bought the framed image. It was expensive, and I wondered what I was doing. After checking capsule biographies of Anna May Wong on the...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (72.8 KB)
pp. xv-xxii

Anna May Wong (1905–1961) remains the premier Asian American actress. In part this distinction stems from the historical rarity of Asian actors in American cinema and theater, yet her singularity derives primarily from her laudable acting in more than fifty movies, during a career that ranged from 1919 to 1961, a record of achievement that is unmatched and likely to remain so in the foreseeable future...

List of Illustrations

pdf iconDownload PDF (61.1 KB)
pp. xxiii-xxvi

read more

One: Childhood

pdf iconDownload PDF (126.9 KB)
pp. 1-26

By birth, Anna May Wong was a third-generation Californian, with family roots that traced back to the first years of Chinese arrivals in the Gold Rush years. Both sets of her grandparents arrived in California by 1855. Between that date and Anna May’s birth in 1905, the Chinese in California went from initial acceptance to attempted exclusion in the 1880s to violent racial hostility at the close...

read more

Two: Seeking Stardom

pdf iconDownload PDF (167.4 KB)
pp. 27-64

Following her debut in The Red Lantern, Anna May gained small, unaccredited parts in several films. First she had a tiny bit in a Priscilla Dean feature, Outside the Law, directed by Tod Browning for Universal Pictures. This film was the first of eight screen collaborations between Browning and Lon Chaney, who was ascending into stardom. The film was set in San Francisco’s Chinatown...

read more

Three: Europe

pdf iconDownload PDF (154.8 KB)
pp. 65-98

Anna May and Lulu arrived in Hamburg, Germany in April 1928. Their arrival there occurred at a time when the nation’s film industry was trying to challenge the dominance of American moviemakers. To German filmmakers, Anna May was a major star who would guarantee attention for any production. Berliners were passionate moviegoers, attending films for the newsreels and to be entertained...

read more

Four: Atlantic Crossings

pdf iconDownload PDF (179.2 KB)
pp. 99-140

Anna May’s turn on Broadway in the fall of 1930 was a rousing success. Edgar Wallace, a successful contemporary novelist, had adapted his work into a play called On the Spot. The critics were not universally kind—the New York Times called her “an inscrutably loyal jade”—but the play was a success and drew large enough audiences to move after the Broadway run to a Brooklyn theater. During...

read more

Five: China

pdf iconDownload PDF (101.3 KB)
pp. 141-158

As the cameras rolled for The Good Earth, Anna May was preparing her own production. While the Hollywood magazines were ablaze with stories about the filming of Buck’s novel, Anna May celebrated her thirty-first birthday with preparations for her trip to China. She knew that above all living well is the best revenge. She arranged with the Hearst Corporation to have the skilled cameraman...

read more

Six: In the Service of the Motherland

pdf iconDownload PDF (149.9 KB)
pp. 159-190

In China, Anna May was generally an honored guest. In the United States, she was just another “alleged Chinese citizen.” Immediately upon her arrival in San Francisco, Anna May was greeted with a reminder of her family’s status. On her return to the United States, Anna May had to report to the Immigration and Naturalization Service to retrieve her certificate of identity. Part of the interview...

read more

Seven: Becoming Chinese American

pdf iconDownload PDF (99.8 KB)
pp. 191-206

Anna May’s enforced leisure continued in the postwar years. Los Angeles offered gatherings with her old friends and some vague promises of work at start-up studios, but she missed traveling and especially longed to be in New York City. She jumped at the chance for an arduous tour in the fall of 1947, which would take her through smaller cities in the northeast. When she got to New York City...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (67.9 KB)
pp. 207-212

After Anna May’s passing, Richard took a month off from the shop. Among the first contacts he made were with the Van Vechtens, whom he thanked for their kindness in a letter on April 14. Richard said that he was tired of inactivity and was ready to get back to work. He consoled them by saying that both Anna May and he believed in eternal life and that “we will all meet again and have a real...


pdf iconDownload PDF (82.8 KB)
pp. 213-222

Television Appearances

pdf iconDownload PDF (53.2 KB)
pp. 223-224


pdf iconDownload PDF (159.1 KB)
pp. 225-250

Selected Bibliography

pdf iconDownload PDF (101.6 KB)
pp. 251-264


pdf iconDownload PDF (68.6 KB)
pp. 265-272


pdf iconDownload PDF (453.0 KB)
pp. 273-288

E-ISBN-13: 9789882208902
Print-ISBN-13: 9789888139637

Page Count: 320
Illustrations: 33 b/w
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: 1