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.

9 comments:

barnaby hall said...

Anna May Wong's sister, Jadine Wong was/is quite a gal also. Known as Dragon Lady in NYC where she runs
(or certainly used to run) a model agency for Asians. As a photographer, I met her while looking for suitable models for one of my bookjacket shoots. She gave me a very sweet (?) autographed semi nude photograph of her as a young woman. I treasure it.

JRSM said...

I must admit I'd not heard of Jadine Wong, although a precis of one of her movies (1970's 'I Drink Your Blood', with Satan worshippers, rabies, LSD trips, blood baked into meat pies, etc) sounds mind-boggling!

barnaby said...

I will see if I can find the photo.
Yes her movie resume is pretty ghoulish. I wonder if she's still alive? She liked gin and tonic, used to dance in a club in San Francisco and had a lot of stories about flying here and there in military planes - with American officers.

JRSM said...

Sounds like a great lost opportunity for an autobiography from her--schlocky horror movies, famous sister, dancing, modelling, the booze, the whole thing.

Anonymous said...

Are you sure she was Anna May Wong's sister? From what I understand, Anna Mae was one of seven siblings and had two sisters. Her younger sister Mary committed suicide in 1940 at age 30 and her older sister Lulu was born in late 1902, though that is all the information I have on her.

JRSM said...

Hmmm--perhaps someone trading off a famous and common name, then? And, er, handing out nude self-portraits. As you do.

Erik Hai said...

I do not know anything about Nadine Wong except that she is certainly not Anna May Wong's sister. A previous Anonymous poster is correct - her only sisters were Lulu aka Wong Liu Ying, and Mary, aka Wong Liu Heung. None of her siblings remain alive today.

Anonymous said...

Anna May Wong was certainly gorgeous!
But it was rather bold of her to bare her breasts (both nipples are showing).
Wasn't it considered too racy for that time?

JRSM said...

Pre-Code Hollywood was a surprisingly daring place. Wong appeared topless on the poster for 'Picadilly', even though the film itself had no nudity.