Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Anna May Wong: The First Chinese-American Motion Picture Star and Activist

White actors, American born Lon Chaney, British born Boris Karloff, German born Peter Lorre, and Swedish born Warner Oland, were seen on the motion picture screen, in "Yellow Face", portraying oriental roles! Along with White Actresses, Myrna Loy, Katherine Hepburn, and Louise Rainer portraying Chinese women. This was the way of the Hollywood Studio System,

BUT there had always been, ANNA MAY WONG!






Anna May Wong was born on January 3, 1905, in Los Angeles, California, as Wong Liu-tsong (Willow Frost)". Her parents were second generation Chinese-Americans. Anna May's father was, Wong Sam-sing, the owner of a Los Angeles Chinatown laundry, the "Sam Kee Laundry". Her mother was, Lee Gon-toy, her father's second wife. His first wife was still in China, he gave her financial support, and made visits back to country he still loved. Below, is a 1905 photo of Anna on her mother's lap. On the left is Anna's sister, Lew-ying, known as Lulu. Wong Liu-tsong and Lew-ying would have five more brothers and sisters.


A reflection of Los Angeles in 1905, shows the Wong family living in a Chinese, Irish, German and Japanese immigrant neighborhood. In 1910, they moved into a new immigrant neighborhood, and were living among Mexican and European born families. They were the only Chinese family and this turned out to be an unexpected advantage to the young girl, because they were now separated by two hills from Chinatown and its image to White's. As a result, Wong Liu-tsong had an easier time assimilating into American culture. 

However, there was a dark side that revealed itself to the sisters in public school. Both "Lulu" and Liu-tsong started being racially taunted by other students and this led to both girls being transferred to a Presbyterian Chinese American School with classes taught in English. On Saturdays, Liu-tsong attended Chinese language classes and culture studies given by the school for those who wanted them.

At about this time, there started an event which would change the direction of the young woman's life. The weather in Los Angeles was beautiful all year round and motion picture studios, always located in either New Jersey and New York, started to move there. Silent films were using sets without roofs to 
let the sun light them. Winter in the East made movie productions shut down for snow and heavy rain. Below, is an indoor scene being filmed, in 1912, outdoors, for lighting.

My article on this move and the creation of the Hollywood studios, is part of,

"HOLLYWOOD: Segregated Housing, Motion Picture Studios and Movie Palaces", at:


"Nickelodeon movie theaters" started to appear near the Wong family's home and movie companies started filming on the family's block. The two events caused Wong Liu-tsong to start ditching school and use her lunch money to watch the latest movies. The young girl became obsessed with motion pictures and her Mandarin father grew angry with his daughter's desire to be in them. At the age of 9-years, she was begging movie filmmakers to put her in their films. She was so persistent and recognized by those filmmakers, that she earned the nickname, "C.C.C", "Curious Chinese Child", as a compliment. Two more years later, and 11-years-old Wong Liu-tsong, started using her stage name of Anna May Wong, formed from a combination of her English language name and her Chinese family name.

 Below is a publicity photo of Anna May Wong supposedly taken in 1915.

In 1919, 14-years-old Anna May Wong was working at the "Ville de Paris Department Store", in Hollywood. "Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer" was looking for 300 female extras to appear in actress Alla Nazimova's, "The Red Lantern", and Anna May Wong become one of those uncredited extras as a "Eurasian Woman". Nazimova was a Russian born actress portraying a Chinese Woman, in "Yellow Face" make-up, named "Mahlee", seen below:

Three more uncredited roles followed and in 1921, actress Anna May Wong had her first screen credit, at seventh billing, as "Lotus Blossom", in the "Fox Film Corporation's" production of, "Shame".

Silent film star, John Gilbert portrayed "William Fielding", a missionary living in China. His wife dies after giving birth to their son, "David". " Fielding" marries a Chinese woman named "Lotus Blossom" and she raises "David" as her own. However, a trader named, "Foo Chang", played by George Siegmann, in "Yellow Face", is madly in love with "Lotus Blossom" and murders "Fielding". "Lotus Blossom" commits suicide, and in a further rage, "Foo Chang" brands "David" on the arm. When, "David", again John Gilbert, grows up and inherits both the "Fielding Estate" and his grandfather's business in San Francisco. Circumstances bring "David" and his father's murderer together and revenge.

Anna May Wong's next on-screen appearance was in:

BITS OF LIFE released on September 26, 1921.

This was an anthology series and there really was no one star. In Episode Three, Lon Chaney Sr., in "Yellow Face" make-up of his own design, portrayed "Chin Chow", and, Anna May Wong portrayed his wife, "Toy Sing". "Chin Chow" owns several opium dens and to appear respectable, married "Toy Sing". However, he treats her badly and when she gives birth to a lowly girl, "Chin Chow" threatens to kill both of them. Later, a friend arrives with a crucifix to place in the house and while nailing it to the wall. The nail penetrates into the room "Chin Chow" is sleeping in, goes through his skull killing him, and freeing "Toy Sing" and her child by God's will.

Below, Lon Chaney Sr. and Anna May Wong.

Anna May Wong moved to star billing, at the age of 17, in the second all Technicolor motion picture ever made:

THE TOLL OF THE SEA premiered in New York City on November 26, 1922.



The story was a variation of the Japanese tale of "Madame Butterfly", moved, by writer Francis Marion, to China. The motion picture was Directed by Chester M. Franklin.

Anna May Wong starred as "Lotus Flower".


Kenneth Harlan portrayed "Allen Carver" and as his career continued, became a character actor with 200 different roles to his credit.






Beatrice Bentley portrayed "Barbara Carver". This was her only motion picture.




The "New York Times", on November 27, 1922, wrote:

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 should be seen again and often on the screen

One had to wonder what her family thought and especially Anna May's father?

No matter, even with the high reviews from the critics and the box office receipts. The motion picture studio system had no desire to make Anna May Wong the star she should have been and would rather cast non-Asian actors and actresses in oriental roles.

In her next feature film, Anna had the uncredited role of playing herself. As one of 24 recognizable actors walking through either the studio commissary, or on the lot passing the leading lady in "Columbia Pictures", 1923, "Mary of the Movies". The forgotten motion picture starred Marion Mack, who made a total of 9 feature films with four being short subjects.

Her next film, found Anna May Wong with third billing in a "Universal Pictures" feature from Director Tod Browning.

DRIFTING released April 26, 1923.


Director Tod Browning was four films away from teaming with Lon Chaney Sr., for 1925's, "The Unholy Three".  This screenplay was based upon a play by Daisy H. Andrews and John Colton. The actual screenplay was by Tod Browning and Andrew Percival (A.P.) Young with titles written by Gardner Bradford/

Priscilla Dean portrayed both "Cassie Cook" and "Lucille Preston". Dean became a major silent film star, but with the coming of sound that career ended in 1930 and the actress was forced into bit parts for very minor studios.



Wallace Beery portrayed "Jules Repin". In his next two features, Beery portrayed "King Philip IV", and "King Richard, the Lion Hearted". The character actor and leading man would portray "Professor Challenger", in Stop-Motion-Animator Willis O'Brien's, classic 1925 version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's, "The Lost World", before moving into a successful career in sound motion pictures.

Matt Moore portrayed "Captain Arthur Jarvis". Moore appeared with Lon Chaney Sr. in Browning's 1925, "The Unholy Three", and he was in the Joan Crawford and Walter Huston, 1932 version, of W. Somerset Maugham's, "Rain".

Anna May Wong portrayed "Rose Li". She followed this feature with tenth billing as a "Honky-Tonk Girl", in 1923's, "Thundering Dawn".

Above, left to right, William V. Mong, in "Yellow Face", as "Dr. Li", Anna May Wong and Wallace Berry.

"Cassie Cook" was playing the opium selling game in China, but things go wrong and she has to team up with her rival, "Jules Repin". Meanwhile, a U.S. Drug Agent is assigned to watch her and falls in love with the "Cook".

Two more motion pictures later, and Anna May Wong found herself in a major Hollywood Fantasy film that is still seen and copied today.

THE THIEF OF BAGDAD released March 18, 1924.


The production was financed by actor Douglas Fairbanks and released by "United Artists". The studio, see my article on Hollywood, was founded by Douglas Fairbanks, his wife actress Mary Pickford, and actor Charlie Chaplain.

The motion picture was Directed by "One Eyed", Raul Walsh, he had actually lost an eye. Among the films, besides this epic, he would be known for are, 1930's, "The Big Trail". That upon the advice of his friend John Ford, Walsh took the prop boy, made him the lead, didn't like how his name would sound for a Western and renamed him, John Wayne. Then there are, 1939's, "The Roaring Twenties", that made James Cagney a star and featured an unknown Humphrey Bogart, 1941's, "High Sierra", that starred "Bogie" and Ida Lupino, Cagney's, 1949, "White Heat", Errol Flynn and Olivia de Haviland's, 1941, "They Died with Their Boots On", and Gregory Peck as novelist C.S. Forester's, "Captain Horatio Hornblower", in 1951.

The production was designed by Art Director William Cameron Menzies. Who had received no on-screen credit, which was normal for the film industry, for designing the sets and look of John Barrymore's, 1920, "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde". Among Menzies, other non-credited Art Director work was the excellent, 1930, "Alice in Wonderland", In 1936, Menzies was both the motion picture Director and Art Director of the Science Fiction classic, "Things to Come", from a screenplay written by H.G. Wells. In 1939, William Cameron Menzies, designed the entire production, with full credit, of "Gone with the Wind. In 1940, again without credit, Menzies was the art director for Alfred Hitchcock's, 1940, "Rebecca". Then in 1953, he designed and Directed the Cult Science Fiction film, "Invaders from Mars".

The screenplay adaptation from the collection of Arabian tales, known as the, "One Thousand and One Nights", was by James T. O'Donohoe. O'Donohoe was also Raul Walsh's assistant director on the picture.

The screenplay was co-written by Douglas Fairbanks and Achmed Abdullah. Who was actually mystery and adventure story writer, Russian, Alexander Nicholayevitch Romanoff, the cousin of Tzar Nicholas III.

Lotta Woods wrote and edited the scenario and had worked on Fairbank's, 1921, "The Three Musketeers", 1922's, "Robin Hood", and, 1925, "Don Q: Son of Zorro".

Douglas Fairbanks portrayed "Ahmed, "The Thief of Bagdad". He had just been seen, as himself, with other actors as themselves, in 1923's, "Hollywood". Fairbanks followed this feature with 1925's, "Don Q: Son of Zorro".














Snitz Edwards portrayed "The Thief's Evil Assistant". Among his film appearances are, Fairbanks', 1920, "Mark of Zorro", 1922's, "The Prisoner of Zenda", and 1925's, "The Phantom of the Opera".







Sojin Kamiyama portrayed "Cham Shang, Prince of the Mongols". This was the Japanese actor's second film and like Anna May Wong, Kamiyama, would find himself playing racially stereotyped roles such as, "Billy, the Butler", a "Chinese Cook", and several "Oriental Prince's". Sojin Kamiyama returned to his native Japan in 1931 and appeared in several Samurai feature films for the next twenty-years.
















Julanne Johnston portrayed "The Princess". Of Johnston's forty-four on-screen appearances, eleven are without any credit, and four others have no available information that she was even in the film. Otherwise, her roles seem to be minor to the films story.

Anna May Wong portrayed "The Mongol Slave". Wong had just been in 1924's, "Lilies of the Field", but she is listed only by her name, without a role name showing, under the heading "The Rest of the Cast".. Anna May Wong followed this feature with fourth billing in the 1924 adventure, "The Fortieth Door"



The story was remade, not in the 1940 version by the Korda Brothers, but the 1961 version starring Steve Reeves. 

There is a prophecy that the Princess will marry the man who first touches a special rose bush in the garden. Meanwhile, "Ahmed", the thief, has fallen in love with her and plans to kidnap the Princess. However, he appears in stolen clothing as a Prince, she is delighted, and "Ahmed" gives up his kidnapping plan. The Princess wants "Ahmed" as her husband, but his true identity is discovered and her father will not approve.

Meanwhile, the Mongol Prince's spy, Anna May Wong, sends him word of everything that has happened and that the Caliph has a plan to find his daughter a husband. All those Prince's that seek her hand will have to find a gift for his daughter and she will marry the one who brings the rarest. A Holy Man, the narrator of this tale, suggests that "Ahmed" dress as a Prince and join the search.

There would be treachery and amazing adventures, courtesy of William Cameron Menzies designs, and true love will win.


PETER PAN released on December 24, 1924.

This was the first motion picture version of J.M. Barrie's, 1904 play, that he turned into the 1911 novel.

Above, Betty Bronson is "Peter Pan", actresses would play the character in the movies, and Mary Brian is "Wendy Darling". Below, Ernest Torrence as "Captain Hook". 





Anna May Wong portrayed "Tiger Lily".

In 1925's, "Forty Winks", fifth billed Anna May Wong, became a "Eurasian adventuress", who helps steal some secret government plans. 



There would be six more feature films listed for the actress, before she made the next one I want to mention. However, I could not locate any plots for the six motion pictures, or pictures of Anna May Wong.


MR. WU released March 26, 1927.



Lon Chaney, having left "Universal Pictures" for a more lucrative contract with "Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer", portrayed, in "Yellow Face", both the title character of "Mr. Wu" and his grandfather. He had just portrayed "Sergeant O'Hara", in 1926's, "Go Tell It to the Marines", and was about to play, the criminal, "Alonzo", in Director Tod Browning's, 1927, "The Unknown", co-starring a young Joan Crawford.


Renee Adoree, in "Yellow Face", portrayed "Nang Ping". French actress Adoree had just been in, 1927's, "Heaven and Earth", and would next appear in, 1927's, "On Ze Boulevard".


Below, Adoree without Chinese make-up.




Ralph Forbes portrayed "Basil Gregory". Forbes appeared in several films in the new British film industry and then came to the United States in 1926. His strong voice made it easy to transition to sound and among his pictures are, 1935's, "The Three Musketeers", as the "Duke of Buckingham", 1939's, "The Hound of the Baskervilles", portraying "Sir Hugo Baskerville", and he was "Henry Tutor", in 1939's, "The Tower of London". 




Gertrude Olmstead portrayed "Hilda Gregory". Olmstead married Director Robert Z. Leonard in 1929 and ended her film career.

The picture is about "Mr. Wu" seeking revenge on "Basil Gregory", and his family. "Basil" had gotten "Wu's" daughter, "Nang Ping", pregnant and then deserted her. At tenth billing was Anna May Wong portraying "Loo Song".





On the right is French actress Renee Adoree and on the right is Anna May Wong.

 A 20-minute short, "The Honorable Mr. Buggs", released on April 24, 1927, is interesting not for the plot, which I could not locate, but for who was in it.

Matt Moore from 1923's, "Drifting', was the star portraying "Mr. Buggs". 

Anna May Wong had second billing as the "Baroness Stoloff", seen below in a colorized publicity photo for the film.




Sojin Kamiyama portrayed "The Cook".

Oliver Hardy portrayed "The Butler". On April 3, 1927, Hardy was in the picture "Slipping Wives", that starred Priscilla Dean from "Drifting". "Slipping Wives", was the first motion picture, actually a 22-minute short, featuring both Oliver Hardy and Stan Laurel. Although they were not a comedy team yet and just happened to be cast together.

Priscilla Dean was also in "The Honorable Mr. Buggs", but without credit and in a role without a name or lines to say.

THE CHINESE PARROT released October 23, 1927.


The motion picture was based upon the second "Charlie Chan" novel, of six, by author Earl Derr Biggers. "Chan", today, would be described as a Chinese-Hawaiian-American detective with a very large family.

The screenplay, complete with a racial stereotyped "Chan", who looks more like British author Sax Rohmer's evil Chinese scientist, "Fu Manchu", than Biggers' detective, was written by J Grubb Alexander. The picture is considered "Lost" and I could not locate much about it.

However, below, is sixth billed Japanese actor, Sojin Kamiyama, as "Charlie Chan". Looking at those sitting at the dinner table, including the movie's star, Marion Nixon. Kamiyama's "Chan" seems more ominous than the good-natured character Earl Derr Biggers created. Read the attached review of the novel with a sketch of "Charlie Chan" as written.



Anna May Wong portrayed the stereotyped "Nautch Dancer", with twelfth billing. "Nautch Dancing" originated during the British Raj in India and is also associated with Afghanistan, but not China. 



"Charlie Chan" is hired to bring his client a pearl necklace that is associated with the murders of its owners or other misfortunes. After the necklace is delivered, "Chan's" client is murdered. Also murdered, is the "Nautch Dancer" who was bringing him important information about the necklace. The climax revolves around the title character, a trained parrot that understands Chinese and can translate the language into English.




Unfortunately, I could not locate any photos, or plot information for the next two feature films with Anna May Wong. Which is sad, because considered a "Lost Film", was 1927's, "The Devil Dancer", that was nominated for the very first Academy Award for Best Cinematography. Another, 1928's, "The Crimson City", had a musical soundtrack added, and starred pre-"The Thin Man" series, Myrna Loy, as the main Chinese young woman.

One of the problems with motion pictures of the "Silent Era", is that the film stock was entirely nitrate based and had deteriorated over the years, or sadly, just turned to dust.


In 1928, Anna May Wong went to Germany being recognized by their film industry for her excellent acting. Which the United States was ignoring, by letting racial Chinese stereotypes take precedent over what roles she was given.

 Her move to Germany and the United Kingdom would lead to several British and German co-productions with Anna May Wong having top billing.

"SCHMUTZIGES GELD (DIRTY MONEY)" released in Germany on August 21, 1928.

On December 29, 1929, the motion picture came to the United Kingdom as "SONG".


A famous man named "Jack", played by Heinrich George, kills someone over his girlfriend, "Gloria", played by Mary Kid. He goes underground in the harbor district and saves a poor Malaysian girl, "Song", played by Anna May Wong, from two sailors. The two become partners, "Jack" as a knife artist, and "Song" as a dancer, as their lives intertwine, but "Gloria" returns and the police close-in.

PICCADILLY premiered in London in February 1929,


This was a British motion picture Directed by German Film Maker, Ewald Andre Dupont and still considered a classic. The feature is one of the few English language features he made between 1916 and 1931, before fleeing Nazi Germany. We know, that in 1933 Dupont was working for "Universal Pictures" and "Paramount", using the name E.A. Dupont, on series mysteries and dramas.

The screenplay was by Arnold Bennett and based upon his novel of the same name. Bennett started screenplay writing in 1916, but, also, wrote several novels. In 1957, Arnold Bennett's novels started to be turned into British television mini-series with, "Helda Lessways", starring the future Dame Judi Dench


 Anna May Wong portrayed "Shosho". 






Gilda Gray portrayed "Mabel Greenfield". Gray was actually born in Poland as Marianna Michalska. Between 1919 and 1936, she appeared in a total of ten motion pictures. Gray had the title role in the previously mentioned, 1927's, "The Devil Dancer". While her acting didn't get Michalska real recognition, she is remembered for creating a dance style known as "The Shimmy". Which of course caused scandals and moralists attempting to protect young women from the evils of that dance. 

Jameson Thomas portrayed "Valentine Wilmot". Wilmot was a leading man stage actor, and had appeared on the British stage with Anna May Wong. Strangely, in British films, he played mostly minor roles and passed away, at age 50, in 1939.

Above, Gilda Gray and Jameson Thomas. Below, Gray is with her dancing partner, Cyril Ritchard portraying "Victor Smiles". Ritchard became legendary with his "Tony Award" creation of "Captain Hook", opposite Mary Martin, in the 1954 Broadway production of the the musical "Peter Pan". The duo would reprise their roles in a television production. Ritchard would receive a second Tony in 1959 for another Broadway stage appearance.

The picture has two interesting unknown bit players. Ray Milland was an extra in a night club scene, and, below, Charles Laughton was a "Nightclub Diner", in his third on-screen appearance.



The story is pure melodrama, a young Chinese girl, "Shosho", working in the kitchen at the nightclub, "The Piccadilly Circus", is discovered to be a dancer. She is given the chance to perform at the club and becomes the star attraction. Which removes "Valentine's" girlfriend, "Mabel Greenfield", out of top billing. 





"Shosho" falls in love with "Valentine", and the two have a "forbidden romance".



"Mabel", along with "Shosho's" accompanist, piano player "Jim", played by King Hou Chang, below, have their own reasons to be jealous of "Shosho". The new star is found murdered, but by who, as Scotland Yard investigates the twists to the plot. 








GROSSTADT-SCHEMETTERLING released in Germany on April 10, 1929.
On December 9, 1929, the motion picture came to the United Kingdom as "Pavement Butterfly".







Above and below is Anna May Wong as "Hai-Tang".




Below is a 1929 photo taken in Germany, that illustrates Anna May Wong’s status in that country's motion picture industry. 






On the left is Marlene Dietrich, Anna May Wong and on the right, cinematographer Leni Riefensthal. She would become Hitler's propaganda film maker and make 1935's, "Triumph of the Will", and the two part, 1938 released, "Olympia". Which is the photographic record of the 1936 "Berlin Olympic Games". My article, "Fritz Lang and Leni Riefensthal: Their Films", can be read at:


Anna May Wong's family was still opposed to her acting career, but coming around. However, her closeness to the two women in the above photo and others. Would lead to unproven rumors that the actress was a lesbian and this further added pressure on Wong's relations with her "Traditional Chinese Family" and her father's value system. In the European fashion world, Anna May Wong was a trend setter and this would cross the Atlantic to the United States.

ELSTREE CALLING released February 6, 1930 in London.

Waldour Films, in the United Kingdom, decided to do their version of America's, "The Hollywood Review of 1929", and, 1930's, "Paramount on Parade", showcasing all of the big movie names and acts they could fit on screen as themselves. The screenplay is a fake television broadcast, yes there was television in 1930, with as many popular British stars as possible. In one sketch, Anna May Wong, played "Katherine", in a sequence from William Shakespeare's the "Taming of the Shrew".

The picture is sought out by movie fans not for who was in it, but the name of one of the four directors. Some of these sketches were directed by the little known, Alfred Hitchcock.

Looking at the listings of Anna May Wong motion pictures, she is credited with three other features in 1930.  What is interesting is that all three are the same motion picture, but with different casts for different countries. 

My reader must understand that dubbing had not become the norm for sound films and when a studio wanted to release a story in another language market. The practice was to have a foreign language screenplay written and a foreign language cast shoot it. For example, "Universal Pictures", 1931's, "Dracula", was such a motion picture. Tod Browning shot his "Classic" version with Bela Lugosi during the daytime, but at night, using the same sets, Director George Melford, with a Mexican cast, shot the Spanish language version with a sexiness the censors would not permit Browning..

The following are the three versions of a British musical drama about a Russian military officer who falls in love with a Chinese actress.

HAI-TANG: DER WEG ZUR SCHANDE released in Germany on February 26, 1930



The motion picture was Directed by Richard Eichberg. Eichberg directed all three feature films and produced them in cooperation with "British International Pictures". All three films were filmed on the same sets in Germany.

The German screenplay was written by Ludwig Wolff. Who seems to disappear after 1931, as I could not locate anything about him after that year.

Anna May Wong portrayed "Hai-Tang, the Star of a Chinese Acting Group".

Francis Lederer portrayed "Leutnant Boris Borrisoff”. Lederer fled Nazi Germany and came to American motion pictures playing, of course, a Nazi. He was also a real estate investor and bought land in a corner of the San Fernando Valley long before anyone thought it had value. He built a Spanish ranch house and rancho on it. Francis Lederer's land would be developed, by him, and become the entire community of Canoga Park. My article, "FRANCIS LEDERER the Forgotten 'DRACULA': A Stage and Film Actor's Life", can be read at:






Above, Anna May Wong and Francis Lederer.

THE FLAME OF LOVE released in the United Kingdom on March 7, 1930.

The British version was co-directed by Walter Summers. Summers was also a screenplay writer and wrote the original British 1929, "The Lost Patrol", that American director John Ford would remake with Victor McLagen and Boris Karloff, in 1934. 

The screenplay was written by Ludwig Wolff, Walter Summers, Monckton Hoffe, and Adolf Lantz.

Anna May Wong portrayed "Hai Tang".

John Longden portrayed "Lieutenant Boris Boriskoff". British actor Longden was born in the British West Indies and started his film career in1926, and would move to British television in 1951.












HAI-TANG released in France on March 7, 1930




The picture was co-directed by Richard Eichberg and Jean Kemm.

The screenplay was by Ludwig Wolff, Monckton Hoffe, and Pierre Maudu.

 Anna May Wong was "Hai-Tang".

Robert Ancelin portrayed "Boris Ivanoff". Ancelin, only acted in films between 1930 through 1939, but during the Second World War. The stage actor was also the directing manager of the "Theatre de le Porte-Saint-Martin", from 1940 through 1949, located in Nazi Occupied Paris.







Sadly back in Los Angeles, while crossing a street, Anna May Wong's mother was struck by a car and died. Her father and the actress’s siblings, she was paying for their education, remained in their Los Angeles home at this time.

To get a chance to appear in a motion picture Directed by celebrated German Director Josef von Sternberg. Anna May Wong accepted another very stereotyped Chinese role.

British author Sax Rohmer preyed upon White Englishmen and American's fear of "The Yellow Peril", the Chinese and their domination of the World. My reader must remember that Rohmer's first novel about "Dr. Fu Manchu", was published in serialized form in 1912.

DAUGHTER OF THE DRAGON was released in the United States on September 5, 1931.



The third "Fu Manchu" feature from "Paramount Pictures" was directed by Lloyd Corrigan. Corrigan would only direct 13 films between 1930 and 1937. He was also the film's co-screenplay writer, and would work on 27 screenplays between 1926 and 1939. Previously, Lloyd Corrigan co-wrote, 1929's, "The Mysterious Dr. Fu Manchu", and, 1930's, "The Return of Fu Manchu". As an actor he would appear in 173 roles between 1926 and 1966.

The illegally adapted Sax Rohmer novel, "The Daughter of Fu Manchu", became "The Daughter of the Dragon". "Paramount Pictures" could not obtain the rights to Rohmer's latest novel and created a title as a close second, to make audiences believe otherwise. What is interesting is, according to the official credit list for the movie, Monte M. Katterjohn, is shown as adapting Rohmer's work.

Anna May Wong portrayed "Ling Moy". In the novel, "The Daughter of Fu Manchu", is "Fah Lo Suee". Who does appear in 1932's, "The Mask of Fu Manchu", portrayed by actress Myrna Loy in "Yellow Face".

Above, Chinese American actress Anna May Wong as "Ling Loy", and below, Caucasian actress Myrna Loy, as "Fah Lo Suee" in the 1932 "Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer" production with Boris Karloff as "Fu Manchu".

Below, Myrna Loy without Chinese make-up in 1932.

Warner Oland, in "Yellow Face" as before, portrayed "Fu Manchu", for the third time. Swedish born Oland portrayed many oriental roles, but the two he's most famous for are, Chinese-Hawaiian-American Detective "Charlie Chan", from 1931 through 1937, in 17 motion pictures. Along with being the first "Universal Pictures" werewolf, "Dr. Yogami", in 1935's, "The Werewolf of London". My article, "Warner Oland: A Jewish Cantor, A Werewolf, A Chinese Evil Master Mind and a Chinese Detective", will be found at:


While my other article about Sax Rohmer's character on the motion picture screen, "Boris Karloff, Christopher Lee: Fu Manchu the Movies",  is at:















Above, Anna May Wong with Warner Oland.

Sessue Hayakawa, above left, portrayed "Ah Kee". Japanese actor Hayakawa became a leading man in silent films, but started out in short subjects. Fans of World War 2 motion pictures know Sessue Hayakawa as the Japanese commander, "Colonel Saito", in Director David Lean's, 1957, "The Bridge on the River Kwai".


Bramwell Fletcher portrayed "Ronald Petrie". You may not know his name, but if you're a fan of the classic 1930's "Universal Pictures" Horror movies, you know his face. It was Fletcher that brought Boris Karloff to life as 1932's, "The Mummy". In 1942, Bramwell Fletcher, was in the overlooked and forgotten werewolf movie, "The Undying Monster".

Francis Dade portrayed "Joan Marshall". Dade would only have 14 on-screen roles between 1928 and 1933, but one of those roles was as "Lucy", in Director Tod Browning's, 1931, "Dracula".
















Above Bramwell Fletcher and Francis Dade.


The following are some of the changes "Paramount Pictures" needed to make, because of not obtaining the movie rights to "The Daughter of Fu Manchu".

In the novels and the two authorized "Paramount Pictures" screenplays, there is Sax Rohmer's character of "Dr. Petrie", "Dr. Watson" type. He is the close associate of "Scotland Yard Inspector Sir Denis Nayland Smith", "Sherlock Holmes" type.  While, keeping with the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle influence, "Dr. Fu Manchu'", is a "Professor Moriarty" type.

However, in this screenplay, "Smith" had to be dropped and he becomes Chinese "Scotland Yard Inspector, Ah Kee". The screenplay also drops "Dr. Petrie", but keeps his last name for the new character of "Ronald Petrie". Who is not a doctor, or associated with Scotland Yard, or any private detective.

"Princes Ling Moy" lives in London next door to "Ronald Petrie" and his family. She falls in love with a Chinese man named "Ah Kee", but does not know he is an undercover Scotland Yard detective after "Fu Manchu". The first twist comes, as she discovers the evil "Fu Manchu" is her father. The second, when he orders his daughter to kill a Scotland Yard detective, that turns out to be the man she loves.




Above, Anna May Wong threatens Bramwell Fletcher and Francis Dade.

"Daughter of the Dragon" starred Anna May Wong, who had first billing over Warner Oland. However, even though he is hardly seen in the film, Oland was paid $12,000, as of this writing equal to $237,981, to play "Fu Manchu". While, Anna May Wong as "Ling Moy", who is on-screen more than any other actor and has the screenplay built around her character, was paid $6,000, or today, $118,990. It is considered today, that the difference in her pay was strictly racial, because Wong was Chinese and Oland White. It didn't matter to the studio system that she was born in the United States and he in Sweden.

On, September 18, 1931, in China, what became known to history as the "Mukden Incident" took place. Imperial Japanese Army, Lieutenant Suemori Kawamoto, detonated such a small amount of dynamite next to the railway line of "Japan's South Manchuria Railway", that a train immediately passed over the track, as if the detonation had never taken place.

 However, the "Imperial Japanese Army" responded to the explosion, claiming that Chinese dissents had attempted to blow-up the railroad, and the "Invasion of Manchuria" took place. This set-up, resulted in the Imperial Japanese Army occupying the area, and establishing the "Puppet State of Manchukuo".

 Anna May Wong put her celebrity status to good use and became an activist for Chinese rights, writing a article condemning the Japanese actions.  



SHANGHAI EXPRESS released on February 12, 1932.



On May 6, 1923, a Chinese Warlord attacked the Shanghai to Beijing express he took 25 Westerners and 300 Chinese hostage and demanded a ransom. The ransom was paid and the hostages released. Writer Harry Hervey, the novel "Devil Dancer", would write a story about the actual event and that became the basis for this picture's screenplay.

The picture was Directed by Josef von Sternberg. Von Sternberg was known for his work with Marlene Dietrich that included the classic, 1930, "The Blue Angel", the same year's "Morocco", with Gary Cooper, 1931's, "Dishonored", with Victor McLagen, 1932's, "Blonde Venus", with Cary Grant, 1934's, "The Scarlet Empress", and 1935's, "The Devil Is a Woman", with Lionel Barrymore, among other features.

The screenplay was by Jules Furthman. Furthman wrote the Clark Gable and Charles Laughton, 1935, "Mutiny on the Bounty", co-wrote with author William Faulkner, 1944's, "To Have and Have Not", and co-wrote with Faulker and Leigh Brackett, who from her Science Fiction writing was known as "The Queen of Space Opera", Raymond Chandler's, 1946, "The Big Sleep", and again with Leigh Brackett, 1959's, "Rio Bravo".

Marlene Dietrich portrayed "Shanghai Lily". Dietrich had just been seen in 1931's, "Dishonored", and would follow this feature with 1932's, "Blonde Venus".
















Clive Brook portrayed "Captain Donald Harvey". British actor Brook had just been seen in 1931's, "Husband's Holiday", and would follow this picture co-starring with Claudette Colbert and Charles Boyer, in 1932's, "The Man from Yesterday".

















Anna May Wong portrayed "Hui Fei" for the Director she made the previous movie to be with.


Warner Oland, again in "Yellow Face", portrayed "Henry Chang". Oland had just been in 1932's, "Charlie Chan's Chance", and would follow this picture with, 1932's, "A Passport to Hell".


The screenplay has a group of people thrown together on the "Shanghai Express". Some of them are not who they seem to be and all have secrets to reveal. In the case of the lowly, "Henry Chang", he will turn out to be the warlord who takes everyone hostage for ransom. 















The United States critics would point out that for a film set in China, there were very few Chinese characters. Of the nine speaking roles, only Anna May Wong and Warner Oland's are Chinese. Of the other fifteen uncredited supporting roles, five were unnamed Chinese soldiers, one a unnamed Chinese woman and one a character is called "Li Fung". Presuming that both the Chinese woman and "Li Fung" were on the "Shanghai Express", one has to wonder what happened to the other 297 Chinese that were taken hostage by the Warlord in the actual incident the film is based upon?

More to the point where the Chinese newspapers in China, one supposedly ran this headline about "Shanghai Express":

Paramount Utilizes Anna May Wong to Produce Picture to Disgrace China

That paper added this about the actress: 

Although she is deficient in artistic portrayal, she has done more than enough to disgrace the Chinese race.

A STUDY IN SCARLET released May 14, 1933.

In 1887, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote the first "Sherlock Holmes" novel, "A Study in Scarlet". Part of it takes place among the Mormon Community in Salt Lake City, Utah. Forget all of that, because this screenplay had nothing to do with the novel.

The picture was Directed by Edwin L. Marin. Who was working in minor studios and would soon switch to both "Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer" and "Warner Brothers".

The screenplay was by Robert Florey, who would become a major 1950's television director, but at this time was bouncing around in both the United States and Europe from writing, to directing, to producing motion pictures.

Reginald Owen portrayed "Sherlock Holmes". He was "Dr. Watson", in 1932's, "Sherlock Holmes", opposite Clive Brook as the title character. Making Owen one of a small group of actors who have portrayed both roles on-screen.

Anna May Wong portrayed "Mrs. Pyke". Even though the publicity for the motion picture and the posters make Wong the co-star of the "A Study in Scarlet". She was on-screen less than 10-minutes of the films 71-minute running time. Anna May Wong portrays the wife of "Captain Pyke", played by Wyndham Standing, who is shot by members of a mysterious society and this brings "Holmes" in on the case.

Above, a non-"Sherlock Holmes" looking Reginald Owen and Anna May Wong.

"Chinese Rights Activist", Anna May Wong, asked the following question in, a 1933 issue of the magazine, "Film Weekly", during a interview entitled, "I Protest",:

Why is it that the screen Chinese is always the villain? And so crude a villain—murderous, treacherous, a snake in the grass! We are not like that. How could we be, with a civilization that is so many times older than the West?


Next in 1934, Anna May Wong's father made a decision and took her younger siblings with him, and returned to China to live. Before he left, Anna May Wong's father wrote a short piece for a local magazine, stating how proud he was of his actress daughter and her activism. I do not know the date, but her father would return to the United States. 

Also, in
1934, Wong starred in three forgotten motion pictures, "Tiger Bay", "Chu Chin Chow", "Java Head", and co-starred in:

LIMEHOUSE BLUES released on December 11, 1934.

This film is a prime example of Hollywood and interracial sex. The "Hayes Office", the censors, had an interesting set of rules on depicting African-American and Chinese nationalities during the 1930's. You could not show a Black person married to a White person, or the two races in a sex scene. This ran into problems with both Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II's, 1929, and 1936's, "Show Boat" and 1939's, "Gone with the Wind". 

However, this did not apply to Chinese characters, IF both the man and woman were played by White actors. 

George Raft, wearing "Yellow Face" make-up, portrayed "Henry Young". He had just portrayed a former Mexican bandit in 1934's, "The Trumpet Blows", and would follow this picture with 1935's, "Rumba". 


Jean Parker portrayed "Toni". "B" actress Parker got the role because "A" List actress, Sylvia Sidney turned it down, and "B" actress Heather Angel was tested for the role but turned down.

Anna May Wong portrayed "Tu Tuan". Wong was still in Europe, having grown tired of the way she was portrayed in Hollywood films, but arrangements were made for the actress to be in this feature.

Kent Taylor portrayed "Eric Benton". Taylor was a low "B" leading man and supporting actor. However, we the advent of television he became the radio detective "Boston Blackie", from 1953 through 1953, "Carlos Murietta" in several 1958 episodes of Walt Disney's, "Zorro", and "Captain Jim Flag", in the 1958 through 1959 television series, the "Rough Riders".






"Henry Young" leaves New York City and crosses the Atlantic Ocean to London. There he establishes a nightclub as a front for his smuggling operations and falls in love with a pickpocket named "Toni". However, his star performer, "Tu Tuan" tells him he is diminishing his Chinese heritage and this will lead to more confrontations as Scotland Yard closes in on "Young".





































"Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer" was preparing to make author Pearl S. Buck's novel "The Good Earth" into a feature film. Anna May Wong wanted to play the lead female character of "O-Lan", and contacted the studio. She was turned down for the role that went to White German-American-British actress Luise Rainer in "Yellow Face". One of the reasons given by "MGM", was that White actor Paul Muni, in "Yellow Face", was to portray the lead male character of "Wang". The studio quoted the "Hays Office" censorship rules. It should be pointed out that in that forgotten , 1934, British motion picture, "Java Head", Chinese-American Anna May Wong, kisses fully on the lips, her leading man, White-British actor, John Loder, both seen below.

Taking a three-year break from motion pictures, included returning to the legitimate stage and performing her cabaret act. The later, that started in the early 1930's and would go into the 1940's, had Anna May Wong touring the United States, Europe and Australia to sell-out crowds. She would sing songs in Cantonese, French, English, German, Danish, Swedish, and other languages.

Below, is a photograph of Anna May Wong taken on August 11, 1937. She was in a production of Italian playwright Count Carlo Gozzi's, 1762, play "Turandot", at the Westport Country Playhouse, in Westport, Connecticut.

Later, in 1937, Anna May Wong returned to the movie screen with a feature film that is historical for both Hollywood and Asian actors.

DAUGHTER OF SHANGHAI released on December 17, 1937.

The motion picture was Directed by Robert Florey, the screenplay was by Gladys Unger, who wrote the screenplays for, Cecil B. DeMille's, 1930, "Madame Satan", Katharine Hepburn's, 1935, "Sylvia Scarlet", and the same years, "The Mystery of Edwin Drood", starring Claude Rains.

The historical significance of "Daughter of Shanghai" comes from its two leading actors.

Chinese American Anna May Wong starred as "Lan Ying Lin".

Korean American Philip Ahn, born Phil Lip Ahn, portrayed "Kim Lee". After being injured during the Second World War, Ahn returned to Hollywood to find himself playing many evil Japanese Officers. Although his role of "Dr. Kim", in the 1945 movie, "China Sky", based upon the Pearl S. Buck novel, is as notable as this small film with two Asian leading actors. "China Sky" was  one of the first Hollywood motion pictures to depict a Korean character and not stereotyped.


Above, Philip Ahn and Anna May Wong.

Charles Bickford portrayed "Otto Hartman". Bickford started acting in 1929 and would go on to co-star, or be featured, in several major films. These included, Cecil B. DeMille's, 1936, "The Plainsman", DeMille's, 1945, "Reap the Wild Wind", 1951's, "Jim Thrope-All American", 1954's, "A Star is Born", and 1958's, "The Big Country".










Above is Charles Bickford with Evelyn Brent portraying "Olga Derey".

Larry Crabbe portrayed "Andrew Sleete". Crabbe, using his nickname of "Buster", had already appeared in "Universal Pictures", 1936 "Cliff-Hanger", "Flash Gordon", and was bouncing around in "B" Westerns and Dramas. 

J, Carrol Naish portrayed "Frank Barden". Irish American character actor Naish would never portray an Irish character, but over his career would play Italians, Japanese, Native Americans and Mexicans, among other nationalities.






Above, J. Carrol Naish, Larry Crabbe, and Cecilla Cunningham as "Mrs. Mary Hunt",

Anthony Quinn, born Manuel Antonio Rodolfo Quinn Oaxaca, portrayed "Harry Morgan". Quinn appeared as a Native American, a role he would repeat several times, in Cecil B. DeMille's, 1936, "The Plainsman", he would be a French pirate in DeMille's, 1938, "The Buccaneer", and in 1956, he starred in the excellent French and Italian version of Victor Hugo's, "The Hunchback of Notre Dame".














 Above Anthony Quinn with Anna May Wong.

With this very good cast, all I could find out about the plot, is an Asian woman and an Asian detective stop a human traffic ring.



























Above and below is Fred Kohler portraying "Captain Gulner".














Back in 1930, English mystery writer, playwright, and screenplay writer, 1933's "King Kong", Edgar Wallace, wrote a play set in Chicago and inspired by "The Saint Valentine's Day Massacre". The title was "On the Spot", and it ran for 342 performance in London's West End, came to the United States and played on Broadway with Anna May Wong as Al Capone inspired gangster "Tony Perelli's" mistress. Then in 1938, "Paramount Pictures" turned the play into a motion picture.

DANGEROUS TO KNOW released March 11, 1938.

The picture was Directed by Robert Florey and the screenplay, with names changed, was by "B" crime and adventure writers, William R. Lipman and Horace McCoy.

Gail Patrick portrayed "Margaret van Case". Hard as nails "B" actress Patrick was in several crime dramas, but between 1957 and 1966, Gail Patrick, was the Executive Producer of television's "Perry Mason".

Akin Tamiroff was the now, "Stephen Recka". Character actor Tamiroff would appear in several forgotten crime dramas, but also in classic feature films, such as the Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman, 1943, version of Ernest Hemingway's. "For Whom the Bell Tolls", and Orson Welles', 1958, "Touch of Evil".

Anna May Wong recreated her Broadway role, but with a different character name. She now portrayed "Madame Lan Ying".

Above, Anna May Wong, Akim Tamiroff and Gail Patrick in a publicity shot.

Lloyd Nolan portrayed "Inspector Brandon". Nolan had just been in 1937's, "Wells Fargo", starring Joel McCrea and would follow this picture with the 1938, adventure crime picture, "Tip-Off Girls".

The movie is about a gangster who wants to marry a rich society girl and his attempts to fix things. While he has to deal with his mistress and the police closing in on him in very familiar "B" crime territory.

Above Anna May Wong and Anthony Quinn portraying "Nicolas 'Nicki' Kusnoff".

KING OF CHINATOWN released on March 17, 1939

The feature was Directed by Nick Grinde, a solid "B" director between 1928 and 1945. All of his films are forgotten and the majority were crime dramas. It took Herbert J. Biberman, Lillie Hayward and Irving Reis to write the screenplay for this 57-minute movie.

Anna May Wong portrayed "Dr. Mary Ling".



Akin Tamiroff portrayed "Frank Baturin". Tamiroff had just been in the Bing Crosby, musical comedy, 1939's, "Paris Honeymoon", and would follow this picture with Cecil B. DeMille's, 1939, "Union Pacific".

J. Carrol Naish portrayed "The Professor". Naish was just in the 1939 crime drama, "Persons in Hiding", and followed the feature with 1939's, "Hotel Imperial".

Anthony Quinn portrayed "Mike Gordon". Quinn was just in 1938's, "King of Alcatraz", and would follow this feature with Cecil B. DeMille's, 1939, "Union Pacific".










Above Anthony Quinn and J. Carrol Naish.

Sidney Toler portrayed, in "Yellow Face", "Dr. Chang Ling". Toler has taken over for Warner Oland, who had suddenly passed away, as "Charlie Chan", in 1938's, "Charlie Chan in Honolulu". I couldn't locate even one still of Toler from this picture.

Philip Ahn portrayed "Robert 'Bob' Li". Ahn had just played a Chinese doctor in the James Craig, 1939, "North of Shanghai", and followed this picture with 1939's, action mystery, "Panama Patrol".

The screenplay has racketeer "Frank Baturin" terrorizing the "Chinatown " area of a unnamed big city. "Dr. Chang Ling" and his daughter "Dr. Mary Ling" stand-up to "Baturin" and will bring peace to the area.





















Two more pictures followed and then Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941.

BOMBS OVER BURMA released on June 5, 1942.


Joseph H. Lewis Directed and co-wrote the feature, he was mainly a "B" Western director, but had made a few action films and some of the East Side Kids series. Lewis was known for "Style over content" and approached each film as if it was a big budget production.

The story came from George Wellington Pardy, who also came up with a story for one other war film, 1943's, "Corregidor". The screenplay was co-written by Milton Raison, who would switch to 1950's television Westerns. 

Anna May Wong portrayed "Lin Ying".

Noel Madison, in "Yellow Face", portrayed the monk, "Me-Hoi". Madison was known for playing gangsters and low-life's.

Above, who is the traitor? Could it be Noel Madison in the monk's robes? Might it be Nedrick Young, as "Slim Jenkins", on the far left? What about Leslie Denison, as "Sir Roger Howe", pointing the gun at Anna May Wong? Then there's Frank Lacteen, as "Hallam", on the far right, is it him in this very low budget feature film.

LADY FROM CHUNGKING released December 21, 1942.

The feature was Directed by William Nigh, among his films had been Lon Chaney's, 1927, "Mr. Wu", and the excellent "Mr. Wong", detective series starring Boris Karloff, and 1940's, "The Ape", also starring Karloff.

The story was by Milton Raison and the screenplay by Sam Robbins.

Anna May Wong portrayed "Kwan Mei". 

Harold Huber, in "Yellow Face", portrayed "General Kaimura". Huber was known for gangster roles and between 1930 and 1959, the actor had over 100 roles.

Mae Clarke portrayed "Lavara". Clarke started out having James Cagney smash a grapefruit in her face, in 1931's, "Public Enemy". Also, in 1931, the actress was in two movies from Director James Whale, the tragic First World War love story, "Waterloo Bridge", and, portraying, "Elizabeth", in "Frankenstein". Then her career slowed down, but in 1949, she co-starred in the "Republic Pictures" "Cliff-Hanger", "King of the Rocket Men".

Chinese guerillas are causing problems for the Japanese and their leader, a young woman, plans to rescue two downed "Flying Tiger" flyers, but a new Japanese general arrives and plans a major offensive.

Anna May Wong didn't make any other motion pictures until a very small role in 1949's, "Impact".

On August 27, 1951, the "DuMont Television Network" premiered "The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong". Anna May Wong portrayed a Chinese Art Dealer, who is actually a detective, in what was the first television series with an Asian American star.

On June 13, 1960, Lana Turner, Anthony Quinn, Sandra Dee and John Saxton starred in the neo-noir thriller film, "Portrait in Black". This Ross Hunter production is mostly remembered as Anna May Wong's final on-screen appearance.

Above, eight billed Anna May Wong as "Tawny" confronting sixth billed Ray Walston as "Cobb".

Anna May Wong passed away on February 3, 1961 in Los Angeles.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Gordon Douglas: The Little Rascals (Our Gang) - Giant Ants - and Francis Albert Sinatra

When asked to name a "Classic Film Director", depending upon how much you're into motion pictures, what's your favorite ge...