Anna May Wong Overview:

Legendary actress, Anna May Wong, was born Wong Liu Tsong on Jan 3, 1905 in Los Angeles, CA. Wong died at the age of 56 on Feb 2, 1961 in Santa Monica, CA and was laid to rest in Angelus Rosedale Cemetery in Los Angeles, CA.

Early Life

Anna May Wong was born Wong Lui Tsong on January 3, 1905 in Los Angeles, California. She was second oldest child of second-generation born but nonetheless very traditional Chinese-Americans, Wong Sam Sing and Lee Gon Toy. Her father owned his own Laundry Business, Sam Kee Laundry, while her mother mostly aided the father and looked after the family. Her most formative years were spent living above her father's laundry business on Flower Street right near Chinatown, where she enjoyed a diversified neighborhood of Chinese, Japanese, German, and Irish residents. When Wong was five, her father moved the family a predominantly Mexican and Eastern European neighborhood near downtown Los Angeles. The family was the only Chinese one on the block and Wong quickly began assimilating into American Culture. Despite this willingness to assimilate, Wong and her sister were forced to leave the Los Angeles public school system after relentless racial teasing from other students. This treatment would, unfortunately, continue in differing forms into her Hollywood career and the remainder of her life.

During this time, Wong began her life long fascination with "flickers" or motion pictures. Much to her father's chagrin, Wong often skipped school, spending much of spare time and money going to movies at her local Nickelodeon. She also lived in a production heavy area of L.A, with many movies being shot in her own neighborhood. It wouldn't take long for the precious young child to decide she wanted to be in the movie business and by age nine, she was asking filmmakers for roles. Although they didn't yield to young child's request immediately, they did give her the nickname C.C.C: Curious Chinese Child. During her early school years, she worked as photographers model and Hollywood's Ville de Paris department store.

Early Career

In 1919 the Alla Nazimova picture The Red Lantern was shooting in parts of China Town that called for 300 female extras. With the help of a family friend who was already in the movie business, Wong landed an uncredited role as an extra. The small role marked her film debut. She would spend the next couple year acting in extra and bit parts for movies starring Priscilla Dean, Colleen More, and the first major Asian Hollywood star, Sessue Hayakawa. Her father was unhappy with her choices and demanded Wong always have an adult guardian at all times while on set. In hopes of alienating her from her white cast mates, she would also lock her in her dressing room if she as the only Asian cast member. With more roles being offered to young actress, Wong found it difficult to maintain both her schoolwork and her burgeoning career. In 1921, she dropped out of Los Angeles High School to pursue acting full-time. That same year she received her first screen credit for the anthology film Bits of Life and played a supporting role in the John Gilbert vehicle Shame.

Hollywood Stardom

In 1922, at the age of 17, Wong played her first starring role in the early Technicolor feature The Toll of the Sea. In the film she gave an incredibly subtle and mature performance in the cross continental love story. The film was a hit both audience and critics, with many trade papers singles out her performance as particularly extraordinarily fine acting, seemingly devoid of the theatrics of the stage acting - a perfect filmic performance. Although it was clear Wong was a hit with audiences, Hollywood was not ready to accept a Chinese-American as viable leading lady. For the next few years Wong remained in Hollywood, relegated to supporting and stereotypical roles. She followed The Toll of the Sea in the melodramatic Todd Browning film Drifting. In 1924 she was chose by Douglas Fairbanks to play the role of a cunning mongrel slave in the adventure film The Thief of Bagdad. Although her time on screen was brief, she was still noticed the audiences and critics. Although her popularity only grew, Wong still was not offered leading roles. Later that year she played the princess Tiger Lily in an early silent version of Peter Pan for which she received much praise. She was again praised for her turn as the exotic vamp in Forty Winks. Despite the praise, Wong was continually offered stereotypical "Dragon lady parts" in films such as A Trip to Chinatown, In Old San Francisco and Mr. Wu. Soon Wong began to get increasingly frustrated with her lack of leading roles. After playing a supporting player to the Asian make-uped Myrna Loy in The Crimson City, Wong decided to leave Hollywood and try her hand in Europe.


When Wong arrived in Europe, she became a sensation. In 1928 she starred in the German films Schmutziges Geld and Großstadtschmetterling and quickly made friends with the German film industry elite including Leni Riefenstahl and Marlene Dietrich.  Soon she began learning multiple languages and quickly adopted a European sense of the world. She became well liked among the European artistic/intellectual elite and surrounded herself with princes, playwrights and photographers quickly becoming the toast of the town. In 1929 she traveled to England to star opposite a young Laurence Olivier in the play A Circle of Chalk. Later that year she starred in her silent feature, Piccaddilly. The film was hugely successful in the UK. She would remain England for her first talkie, 1930's Road to Dishonour. Although Wong was praised for her performance, the film was mostly negatively reviewed.

Because of the transition from silent to sound pictures, Hollywood began looking across the pond for new talent. She accepted a contract from Paramount Pictures after promising her starring roles in major films. In 1930 she set sail back to the United States. Upon her arrival in the United States, Wong starred in the hit Broadway play On the Spot, lasting over 160 performances. She arrived back in Hollywood in 1931 to star in the film Daughter of the Dragon. Although the role was a starring one, she still portrayed yet another stereotypical dragon lady role. She soon began to become more vocal about her dissatisfaction with the roles offered to Chinese-Americans, advocating for better, less villainous roles. In 1932  she starred with her old pal Marlene Dietrich in the Joseph Von Sternberg hit Shanghai Express. Afterwards, Wong's career began to fall back into its old patterns. Due to the feneral racism permeating Hollywood and anti-miscegenation rules put forth by the Hays Code, MGM refused to cast her in the film The Son-Daughter and instead chose a yellow-faced Helen Hayes to play the role. She was again given supporting player status in the 1933 film A Study in Scarlet. After experiencing another disappointment in Hollywood, Wong returned to Europe.

Later Career

Upon arriving in England in 1934, she starred in four film, Tiger Bay, Chu Chin Chow, Java, and Limehouse Blues. She then went on a vaudeville tours in Scotland and Ireland. In 1937 Wong campaigned for the lead role of O-lan in The Good Earth. The film was based on the Pearl S. Buck that tells the story of Chinese Village just before World War One. MGM, however, offered yet another stereotypical of the dragon lady-esque supporting character, Lotus. Wong refused and set sale for China. She began studying Chinese cultural and theater is hopes of carrying her success in the west to the east. Although she was praised and welcomes by the most western cosmopolitan elite of Shanghai and Beijing, she found herself unwelcomed by the villages and workers of the country, who saw her as "too American." With the rise of Chinese nationalism in WWII, Wong was soon denounced by many Chinese and Chinese-Americans nationalists as an embarrassment due to the demeaning roles offered to her by Hollywood. Despite this treatment, she spent much of WWII curtailing her film career in order make appears at events in support of China.

During WWII, Wong starred in the anti-Japanese propaganda film Lady from Chungking and Bobs Over Burma. After World War, Wong's film career was non-existent. She soon invested in real estate and chose to concentrate on that for the next six years. She returned to film industry in 1949 with the B-Movie Impact. In the 1950's, she found a new wind in the medium of television and acted in series such as Producers Showcase, Mike Hammer, and Climax!. Her last performance came in 1961 with a guest appearance in The Barbara Stanwyck Show. Anna May Wong died on February 3, 1961 of a heart attack in Santa Monica, California. She was 56 years old. 

(Source: article by Minoo Allen for Classic Movie Hub).



She was honored with one star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in the category of Motion Pictures. Wong was never nominated for an Academy Award.

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Anna May Wong Quotes:

Mrs. Murphy: Then you've had to take me, Mr. Holmes?
Sherlock Holmes: I'll, ahh, take up your case.
Mrs. Murphy: Mind you, it'll have to be for love.
Sherlock Holmes: Love?
Mrs. Murphy: For nix. I've noticed how you like workin' for nothin'.
Sherlock Holmes: My interest is to bring the criminal to justice.
Mrs. Murphy: Well, never mind about justice, never mind about the crime. All I want is my husband's lawful money. And I want you to slap that thievin' lawyers face right across, between his greasy fat chops. Good night, Mr. Holmes. I'll be seeing you and thank you kindly.

read more quotes from Anna May Wong...

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Anna May Wong Facts
According to the British Film Institute biography, her birth name was Luong Liu Tsong.

She was more often cast in "sinister oriental" roles only after actresses like Nita Naldi were forced out of motion pictures owing to the coming of sound.

Along with contemporary Mae West, Wong was one of only two leading ladies who never kissed her leading man on-screen. However, such a scene was filmed for her 1929 film "The Road to Dishonour" with John Longden but was cut by censors who felt that moviegoers might be offended by an interracial kiss.

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