Actress Anna May Wong: a snapshot biography


Vintage black and white portrait of Anna May Wong. She is depicted with a stylish bob haircut, looking directly at the camera with a soft, introspective gaze. She is wearing a light, flowing garment with embroidered details and a delicate, sheer fabric draped over one shoulder. Her elegant drop earrings complement her poised and serene expression. The bottom of the portrait includes a handwritten signature of 'Anna May Wong' and is credited to 'CANNONS of Hollywood'.
Anna May Wong

Actress Anna May Wong Biography

Born in Los Angeles in 1905, Anna May Wong fell in love with movies at a young age. And with film production coming to Los Angeles in her youth, she often skipped class and used lunch money to visit movie sets. By nine, Anna May decided to become an actress.

Her first part came as an extra in the film Red Lantern when she was fourteen. Two years later, she dropped out of high school to pursue acting full-time, starring in her first lead role at seventeen. Of her performance, a New York Times review said the following:

“Miss Wong stirs in the spectator all the sympathy her part calls for and she never repels one by an excess of theatrical ‘feeling’. She has a difficult role, a role that is botched nine times out of ten, but hers is the tenth performance. Completely unconscious of the camera, with a fine sense of proportion and remarkable pantomimic accuracy, she makes the deserted little Lotus Flower a genuinely appealing, understandable figure. She should be seen again and often on the screen.”

But getting roles proved challenging for Anna May. Anti-miscegenation laws in the U.S. banned interracial actors from kissing on-screen, leaving mostly supporting roles for Anna May to play, even as her stardom grew. The roles often portrayed villains, leading her to leave for Europe in 1928 to pursue broader acting opportunities, commenting,

“I was so tired of the parts I had to play. Why is it that the screen Chinese is nearly always the villain of the piece, and so cruel a villain–murderous, treacherous, a snake in the grass. We are not like that. How should we be, with a civilization that’s so many times older than that of the West. We have our own virtues. We have our rigid code of behavior, of honor. Why do they never show these on the screen? Why should we always scheme, rob, kill?”

In Europe, she became a star. But as time passed, opportunities arose in the U.S. for leading roles, and she missed her family in Los Angeles. She returned to the U.S. in late 1930, though she would return to Europe over the years for acting parts.

In her latter acting years, Anna May began appearing in television shows. And her role playing the title character in the detective series “The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong,” marked the first time a U.S. television show starred an Asian American series lead.

Anna May acted in over sixty silent and sound films throughout her career. She passed away in 1961 in Santa Monica, California.


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“Actress Anna May Wong: a snapshot biography.” Published by Historical Snapshots,