FIRST ASIAN AMERICAN STAR!
Written by PHILIP LEIBFRIED
youtu.be/fF2F2mXsRog Full Feature
Her complexion was described as "a rose blushing through old ivory;" she was beautiful, tall (5’7"), slender, and Chinese-American. The last fact kept her from attaining the highest echelon among Hollywood’s pantheon of stars, but it did not affect her popularity, nor keep her from becoming a household name. She was Anna May Wong, nee Wong Liu Tsong, a name which translates to "Frosted Yellow Willows," and she was born, appropriately enough, on Flower Street in Los Angeles’ Chinatown on 3 January 1905, above her father’s laundry. Anna May Wong’s contribution to show business is a unique one; she was the first Asian female to become a star, achieving that stardom at a time when bias against her race was crushing. With determination and talent allied to her exotic beauty, she remained the only Asian female star throughout her forty-year career, never fully overcoming all prejudices in maintaining that position. Perhaps the rediscovery of her art will elevate her star to the pantheon of great performers and serve as a guiding light to Asian performers who still struggle to find their rightful place. Anna May Wong’s life and career is something that is important for all who value greatly the Asian / Asian Pacific American communities’ many artists and what we can all contribute!
Excerpt from : That Old Feeling: Anna May Wong
Part II of Richard Corliss’ tribute to the pioneer Chinese-American star.
Daughter of the Dragon. Paramount 1931.
Based on a Fu Manchu novel by Sax Rohmer.
Daughter of the Dragon extended the curse sworn by Dr. Fu on the Petrie family to the next generation. Fu Manchu (Warner Oland), long ago injured and exiled in an attempt on Petrie Sr., returns to London and confronts the father: "In the 20 years I have fought to live," he says in his florid maleficence, "the thought of killing you and your son has been my dearest nurse." He kills the father, is mortally wounded himself and, on his deathbed, reveals his identity to his daughter Ling Moy (Wong) and elicits her vow that she will "cancel the debt" to the Fu family honor and murder the son, Ronald (Bramwell Fletcher)… who, dash it all, is madly infatuated with Ling Moy. Ronald has seen "Princess Ling Moy Celebrated Oriental Dancer" perform, and the vision has made him woozy. "I wish I could find a word to describe her," this calf-man effuses. "Exotic that’s the word! And she’s intriguing, if you know what I mean." In a near-clinch, Ling Moy wonders if a Chinese woman can appeal to a British toff. When he begs her to "chuck everything and stay," she asks him, "If I stayed, would my hair ever become golden curls, and my skin ivory, like Ronald’s?" But the lure of the exotic is hard to shake. "Strange," he says, "I prefer yours. I shall never forget your hair and your eyes." They almost kiss … when an off-camera scream shakes him out of his dream. It is from his girlfriend Joan (Frances Dade), and the societal message is as clear and shrill: white woman alerting white man to treachery of yellow woman. Ling Moy, a nice girl, previously unaware of her lineage, might be expected to struggle, at least briefly, with the shock of her identity and the dreadful deed her father obliges her to perform. But Wong makes an instant transformation, hissing, "The blood is mine. The hatred is mine. The vengeance shall be mine." Just before his death, Fu mourns that he has no son to kill Ronald. But, in a good full-throated reading, Wong vows: "Father, father, I will be your son. I will be your son!" The audience then has the fun of watching her stoke Ronald’s ardor while plotting his death. When she is with him, pleading and salesmanship radiate from her bigeyes. But when an ally asks her why she keeps encouraging the lad, she sneers and says, "I am giving him a beautiful illusion. Which I shall crush." As a villainess, she is just getting started. Revealing her mission to Ronald, she tells him she plans to kill Joan "Because you must have a thousand bitter tastes of death before you die." (The ripe dialogue is by Hollywood neophyte Sidney Buchman, whose distinguished list of credits would include Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Here Comes Mr Jordan and The Talk of the Town.) She soon ascends on a geyser of madness as she decides on a new torture: "My vengeance is inspired tonight. You will first have the torture of seeing her beauty eaten slowly away by this hungry acid." An aide holds a hose gadget over Joan’s soon-to-be-corroded face, and Ronald cries for Ling Moy to stop. Very well she says. "Ling Moy is merciful." She barks at Ronald: "Kill her!" He must decide if his favorite white girl is to be etched with acid or stabbed to death. Great stuff! Melodrama is the art of knowing how precisely too far to goThe film is a triangle: not so much of Ling Moy, Ronald and Joan as of Ling Moy, Ronald and a Chinese detective, Ah Kee, played by Sessue Hayakawa, the Japanese actor who in the teens was Hollywood’s first Asian male star. He’s not plausibly Chinese here, and he is in a constant, losing battle with spoken English. But he is a part of movie history, in the only studio film of the Golden Age to star two ethnically Asian actors. And he gives his emotive all to such lines as "It is the triumph of irony that the only woman I have ever deeply loved should be born of the blood that I loathe." And in the inevitable double-death finale neither the villainess nor the noble detective can survive the machinations of Hollywood justice he gently caresses the long hair of the lady he would love to have loved. "Flower Ling Moy," he says, a moment before expiring. "A flower need not love, but only be loved. As Ah Kee loved you."
The Personal Anna May Wong
This 5’7 beauty loved to study and could speak in an English accent, as well as being fluent in German and French with more than a passing knowledge of other tongues including Italian and Yiddish. For exercise she rode horses, played golf, and tennis. She liked to cook and regaled her guests with succulent Chinese dishes at frequent dinner parties. She preferred casual clothes, wearing slacks and sweaters at home, but cultivated an oriental motif in her very smart formal wardrobe. She studied singing with Welsh tenor Parry Jones before she participated in the film Limehouse Blues as George Raft’s mistress. Anna loved to dance to contemporary music. Anna was quoted as saying, "I think I got my first chance because they thought I was peculiar. But, now I like to believe that the public are fond of me because they think I’m nice."
The story of Anna May Wong’s life traced the arc of triumph and tragedy that marked so many of her films. Wong’s youthful ambition and screen appeal got her farther than anyone else of her race. But her race, or rather Hollywood’s and America’s fear of giving Chinese and other non-whites the same chance as European Americans, kept her from reaching the Golden Mountaintop. We can be startled and impressed by the success she, alone, attained. And still weask: Who knows what Anna May Wong could have been allowed to achieve if she
had been Anna May White?
Anna May Wong passed away on Feb. 3rd 1961 she was 56 years old.
The Red Lantern. Metro 1919. The First Born. Robertson Cole 1921.
Shame. Fox 1921. Bits of Life. Assoc. First National 1921.
The First Born. Robertson Cole 1921. Thundering Dawn. Universal 1923
The Toll of the Sea. Metro 1922 Drifting. Universal 1923 Fifth Avenue. PRC 1926.
Lillies of the Field. Assoc. First National 1924. The Thief of Bagdad. United Artists 1924
The Fortieth Door. Pathé serial 1924. The Alaskan. Paramount 1924.
Peter Pan. Paramount 1924. Forty Winks. Paramount 1925.
The Silk Bouquet/The Dragon Horse. Hi Mark Prod. 1926 The Desert’s Toll. MGM 1926.
A Trip to Chinatown. Fox 1926. The Chinese Parrot. Universal. 1927.
Driven from Home. Chadwick 1927. Mr. Wu. MGM 1927.
Old San Francisco. Warner Bros. 1927. Why Girls Love Sailors. Pathé short 1927.
The Devil Dancer. United Artists 1927. Streets of Shanghai. Tiffany 1927.
Across to Singapore. MGM 1928. Pavement Butterfly (aka City Butterfly).
The City Butterfly. German 1929. Across to Singapore. MGM 1928.
The Crimson City. Warner Bros. 1928. Song. German 1928
Chinatown Charlie. First National 1928. Piccadilly, British International 1929.
Elstree Calling. British International 1930. The Flame of Love. British International 1930.
Hay Tang. German 1930. L’Amour Maitre Des Choses. French 1930.
Daughter of the Dragon. Paramount 1931. Shanghai Express. Paramount 1932.
A Study in Scarlet. World Wide 1933. Tiger Bay. Associated British 1933.
Chu Chin Chow. Gaumont 1934. Java Head. Associated British 1934.
Limehouse Blues. Paramount 1934. Daughter of Shanghai. Paramount 1937.
Hollywood Party. MGM short subject 1937. Dangerous to Know. Paramount 1938.
The Toll of the Sea. Metro 1922. The Thief of Bagdad 1924
Shanghai Express 1932