Anna May Wong was the Chinese Ava Gardner if you will, but without Ava’s status and without actually being Chinese. Her astounding beauty, sex appeal, talent and sexy femme fatale roles in Chinese and American films brought her notoriety for many years. And although she was born in Los Angeles, she dealt with prejudice and racism throughout her childhood life and up to and throughout her career, and never really gaining respect as an American.
At a very young age, Anna became fascinated with Hollywood movies. She was thrilled with movie set transformations especially when turning China Town into a visual work of art of real China.
In the 1910-1920’s the movies needed real Chinese faces in order for the movie to appear authentic. Anna's father was very apprehensive of her passion to seek out acting in movies, but eventually granted her permission which led to her first role on the big screen in Alla Nazimova’s The Red Lantern. She was only 14.
She then went on to leading roles such as 1922’s The Toll of the Sea, where an American man falls in love with a Chinese girl but has reservation about the reputation of the relationship, because of her Asian looks.
With Douglas Fairbanks at the helm in Hollywood’s 1920s, he sought out and found the perfect face to play his Mongol slave for his huge production-The Thief of Bagdad.
Anna went on for several years to achieve roles in American films next to some considerably higher rated stars (because of their American looks) such as-Marlene Dietrich (Shanghai Express). Newspapers with their propaganda, were too busy trying to un-Americanize her, no matter how well of an acting job she did as an American playing Chinese roles.
Called at times; “The Ivory skinned American” Anna was really never treated fairly although being cast in several films generally as a femme fatale or villain; (1931-Daughter of the Dragon, 1937-Daughter of Shanghai)
The fact is however that; Anna had never been to china, she stood 5’7” which is not typical for Asian women, she spoke perfect English and had the style, conversational personality and sense of humor of an American.
She drank coffee-not tea. Anna had more American traits than most Americans.
But, the question remained throughout her career and until she died...was Anna May Wong American or Chinese?
Enjoy these films with Anna May Wong
1922 -The Toll of The Sea 1934 -Limehouse Blues
1924 -The Thief of Bagdad 1938 - Dangerous to know
1929 - Piccadilly 1939 - King of Chinatown
1932- Shanghai Express 1942 -Bombs Over Burma