Thursday, 7 August 2008
Anna May Wong
Following on from Louise Brooks and Josephine Baker, we have another beautiful actress of erratic career who features on a number of book covers. Today's subject is Anna May Wong (Wong Liu Tsong). She was no victim of the ugly stick, I think you'll agree.
Wong had a troubled life before the heart attack which killed her at the age of 56. A Publishers Weekly review of the biography by Graham Russell Gao Hodges sums it up succinctly: "While Wong (1905-1961) has been called "the premier Asian-American actress," controversies surrounding her career have left her life and work largely unexamined ... Although Wong was a third-generation Californian, she needed permits to re-enter the U.S. after her foreign tours. She could work in the movies, but only in Asian roles, replete with negative stereotypes. Even then, she was barred from roles involving marriage with non-Asians-even with white actors playing Asians. Off-screen romance wasn't much easier; a Chinese husband wouldn't accept her career, but marriage to a non-Asian violated anti-miscegenation laws. Still, Wong persevered, improving what roles she could get by supplying authentic costumes, hairstyles and gestures. When even bad roles disappeared, she turned to the stage or took work in European film productions. Wong's Chinese war relief work and post-WWII TV appearances provided some satisfaction in her last years."
Another biography uses a different image...
..while a guide to her films makes unwise use of the eye-warping colour palette from the old Apple II computers.
This general film reader uses a sinister promotional image that plays on her stereotyped 'dragon lady' image...
..while this great photo fronts a collection of fiction from Asian-American writers.
Then there's this look at American Orientalism, with Wong in the middle...
..and finally, a demonstration of Wong's new fate: no longer a typecast actress stuck in racist caricatures, but a poster-woman for postmodern reconsiderations of cultural identity.
UPDATE: I just realised another Wong cover has already featured on this blog. It's the unused original cover for Eileen Chang's Lust, Caution, as discussed here.