|Anna May Wong|
Anna May Wong was a Hollywood deviant in every sense of the word. She defied the preconceived movie star prototype and surprised studios and the public alike with her automatic allure. However, she forever was forced to balance herself upon a tenuous beam of acceptance, both socially and personally. Shunned by prejudice in her home country of America, she was also slandered by the Chinese for being a "whore," otherwise known as an actress. Upon a visit to the nation of her forefathers, she was once pummeled with stones by an angry crowd. While she fortunately had more fans worldwide than villains, her choice to define her own life in her own terms would forever make her an outcast. The price of her independence would strangely be her liberty.
Anna's entry in film would be in the role of the featured servant girl or concubine. Naturally, her heritage would keep her from receiving leading roles or top billing in her projects. However, slowly but surely, her performances in larger supporting roles opposite big time stars like Lon Chaney and Douglas Fairbanks, and her alliance with director/lovers like Tod Browning and Marshall Neilan, would give her the opportunity to showcase her talents. The Toll of the Sea, The Thief of Bagdad, Peter Pan, Mr. Wu, and Piccadilly gave her increasing exposure to the audiences who fell in love with her almost spiritual essence. Her beauty was marked with an intelligence and profound depth that made her utterly fascinating to watch. As an outsider, she was able to move about as a free agent, deemed independent and often dangerous. She had a wisdom that was effective and even spellbinding, often distracting from her more popular Caucasian co-stars.
She went to Europe to seek more opportunities and had some luck, returning to the states for talkies like the classic Shanghai Express, but despite her magnetic personality, she would always hit a brick wall of bigotry. She was never allowed to fulfill her total potential because of her race. Roles, like that of "O'Lan" in The Good Earth, went to white actresses like Luise Rainer, and censorship kept her from being given leading roles of her own. A failed attempt at TV and an attraction to alcohol-- a popular tool for many in burying sorry-- would prematurely end her career and her life. She passed away from a heart-attack at 56. Now looking back on her performances, she looked even then like a ghost-- a beautiful, haunting image from another place, another plain of consciousness, whispering tales and truths that many of us are still not open-minded enough to absorb.