eBook: Not Your China Doll von Katie Gee Salisbury | ISBN 978-0-571-38869-1 | Sofort-Download kaufen (2024)

'A deeply researched, hugely empathic biography.' HELEN O'HARA 'Sure to enthral anyone fascinated by audacious, before-their-time women.' KAREN ABBOTT 'This superbly detailed book does Wong's story proper justice.' BOB STANLEY 'A must read, for anyone who loves pop culture or cares about representation in Hollywood.' PHIL YU Set against the glittering backdrop of Los Angeles in the gin-soaked Jazz Age and the rise of Hollywood, this debut book celebrates Anna May Wong, the first Asian American movie star, to bring an unsung heroine to light and reclaim her place in cinema history. In her time, Anna May was a legendary beauty, witty conversationalist, and fashion icon. Plucked from her family's laundry business in Los Angeles, she rose to stardom in Douglas Fairbanks's blockbuster The Thief of Bagdad. Fans and the press clamored to see more of this unlikely actress, but when Hollywood repeatedly cast her in stereotypical roles, she headed abroad in protest. Anna May starred in acclaimed films in Berlin, Paris, and London; she dazzled royalty and heads of state across several nations, leaving trails of suitors in her wake. She returned to challenge Hollywood at its own game by speaking out about the industry's blatant racism. She used her new stature to move away from her typecasting as the China doll or dragon lady, and worked to reshape Asian American representation in film. Along with unprecedented access to Anna May's personal effects courtesy of the Wong family, in Not Your China Doll, Katie Gee Salisbury also draws on her own experiences as an Asian American woman to showcase the vibrant, radical life of a groundbreaking artist.

Katie Gee Salisbury is a writer and she has spoken about Anna May Wong on MSNBC and has written about her for the New York Times and Vanity Fair. She was a Jerome Hill Artist Fellowship finalist, she's given the TED Talk 'As American as Chop Suey,' and she speaks at the Museum of Chinese in America, Columbia, and NYU. She is a fifth-generation Chinese American and lives in Brooklyn. This is her debut book.

'A deeply researched, hugely empathic biography.' HELEN O'HARA'Sure to enthral anyone fascinated by audacious, before-their-time women.' KAREN ABBOTT'This superbly detailed book does Wong's story proper justice.' BOB STANLEY'A must read, for anyone who loves pop culture or cares about representation in Hollywood.' PHIL YUSet against the glittering backdrop of Los Angeles in the gin-soaked Jazz Age and the rise of Hollywood, this debut book celebrates Anna May Wong, the first Asian American movie star, to bring an unsung heroine to light and reclaim her place in cinema history. In her time, Anna May was a legendary beauty, witty conversationalist, and fashion icon. Plucked from her family's laundry business in Los Angeles, she rose to stardom in Douglas Fairbanks's blockbuster The Thief of Bagdad. Fans and the press clamored to see more of this unlikely actress, but when Hollywood repeatedly cast her in stereotypical roles, she headed abroad in protest. Anna May starred in acclaimed films in Berlin, Paris, and London; she dazzled royalty and heads of state across several nations, leaving trails of suitors in her wake. She returned to challenge Hollywood at its own game by speaking out about the industry's blatant racism. She used her new stature to move away from her typecasting as the China doll or dragon lady, and worked to reshape Asian American representation in film. Along with unprecedented access to Anna May's personal effects courtesy of the Wong family, in Not Your China Doll, Katie Gee Salisbury also draws on her own experiences as an Asian American woman to showcase the vibrant, radical life of a groundbreaking artist.


It started with a black-and-white photograph. To most it was merely an artifact from a bygone era, snapped by a dispassionate photojournalist on assignment. To me, however, it was remarkable. In the photo, a glamorous Chinese woman sat in the back seat of a convertible, the confidence of youth in her eyes as she smiled at spectators at a parade. She looked at once modern and chic, Chinese and American.

The woman, I soon learned, was Anna May Wong, Hollywood’s first Asian American movie star.1 I was an impressionable nineteen-year-old beginning her first college internship at the Chinese American Museum in Los Angeles. I hardly could have imagined that a split-second gaze at this photo, while the curator gave me a tour of the galleries, would change the course of my life.

More than a decade later, when the idea for this book was merely an idle daydream, I contacted the museum and asked to see the photo again. The museum archives held exactly one photograph of Anna May Wong sitting in a convertible in a parade. It was from the 1941 Moon Festival celebrations held in Chinatown, and the dignitaries who accompanied her were Los Angeles mayor Fletcher Bowron and Chinese consul T. K. Chang.

The photo was not how I remembered it. I could have sworn the shot was closer up, her face more radiant in the glare from the flashbulbs. But in this version of the image, Anna May wasn’t even looking at the camera. For weeks, I continued to believe the photograph that had once dazzled me and converted me into a devotee was still out there somewhere, waiting to be rediscovered. Then I realized: just seeing her for the first time had been enough. Her aura shone through the black-and-white print and my imagination filled in the rest.

Before there was Constance Wu, Awkwafina, Lucy Liu, or what now seems like a plethora of Asian American female leads, there was Anna May Wong. Born in Los Angeles in 1905, when Hollywood was little more than a country town scattered with farmhouses and dirt roads, she was the original Asian American movie star. Beautiful, incredibly expressive on-screen, and shrewd at the art of self-promotion long before the advent of social media, Anna May Wong was a trailblazer. Silent films made her a star, and when the talkies caught on, she made the transition to sound seamlessly, surprising some, no doubt, with her flawless British-tinged English. Her natural magnetism, transmitted through the magic of film, made it hard to look away.

The importance of Anna May Wong’s life and career as a figure in early Hollywood cannot be overstated. She introduced the American public to a compelling vision of Chinese American and Asian American identity at a time when our visibility was either limited or vilified. She was also, significantly, the first woman of color to become a movie star in the Hollywood system.

For me, the idea that there were any Asian Americans at all working in the movies back then was mind-blowing. Anna May’s existence was a revelation that spoke to me in ways I’m still trying to comprehend.

Perhaps she understood this innately. Anna May once reflected that she was always looking for her father in her films, which is a sentiment I can relate to. It is human nature, I believe, to search for ourselves and the people who have shaped us, colored our everyday, intimate lives, in movies, television, books, art, and music. Growing up in the 1990s as a mixed child of Chinese and Anglo-Irish descent in an increasingly Asian suburb of Southern California, I could count on one hand the Asian American role models I looked up to: Michelle Kwan, world champion figure skater and Olympic medalist; BD Wong, the actor then best known for his recurring role as the forensic psychiatrist on Law & Order; and Margaret Cho, comedian and creator of All-American Girl, the first prime-time sitcom to center on an Asian American family.

So when I laid eyes on that photo of Anna May Wong, I instantly felt a pang of recognition. I had been searching for someone like her. That she’d lived nearly a hundred years before me was both a surprise and a reminder that Asian Americans have been here all along.

I thought I’d never seen anyone like her before, but in actuality I had. My Chinese American mother had been a black-haired beauty in the late 1960s, styling herself in A-line dresses and miniskirts that she sewed at home, not unlike a teenage Anna May, who wore the latest flapper fashions. Mom had told me stories about her childhood in Los Angeles’s Chinatown: how her grandfather, a prominent Chinese immigrant who owned the eponymous Sam Ward Co. on Hill Street, stuffed her pockets with buffalo nickels and spoiled her rotten. Her father, Peter Moon Gee, could often be seen behind the counter at Sam Ward Co., ringing up customers for soy sauce, rice wine, cans of bamboo shoots, and other imported goods at the general store.

One year Sam Ward, who served as president of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association of Los Angeles, a kind of unofficial mayor of Chinatown, presided over the ceremony honoring the Miss Chinatown pageant winners. He chose my mother, his prized granddaughter, to bring along with him. She’s there in the publicity photos, a five-year-old girl posed next to the Miss Chinatowns in their elegant cheongsams. I remember examining those photographs with intense interest as a kid whenever I stepped into my mom’s office, where they were displayed. The memory of this moment from my mother’s childhood—a piece of Americana in its own right—came flooding back when Anna May Wong walked into my life.

Though separated by many decades, my mother’s life and Anna May’s share many similarities. And yet neither are the kind of stories we typically conjure up when we think of what America was like in the early to mid-twentieth century. By delving into Anna May’s story, I realized, I could help restore her legacy as well as shed light on an often overlooked part of American history.

Anna May’s career as an actress was filled with ups and downs, vacillating between periods when the gates of opportunity were opened wide and then, without warning, slammed shut in her face. Much has been written about the incredible challenges she had to surmount and the unspoken racism that plagued her constantly as the sole Asian American actress of popular recognition. Some have called her death in 1961 at age fifty-six, only weeks before she was to begin rehearsals for Flower Drum Song, a tragedy. Yet, in my opinion, it’s impossible to truly understand her life within the Western concept of tragedy or through contemporary society’s prevailing logic of success and failure, winners and losers. According to that model, Anna May is doomed to be a tragic figure, a victim of circ*mstance.

The Anna May Wong I know would never stand for such nonsense. Rather, I’ve found it helpful to examine her life through an Eastern lens and to see the highs and lows she experienced as the natural course of things in the undulating flow that is existence. Human lives do not necessarily follow the neat story arc of exposition, climax, and denouement the way we like to think they do. They are messy, composed of hundreds of narrative arcs big and small, and frequently difficult to make sense of. Take, for instance, the Taoist parable of the farmer.

The farmer is just living his life. Meanwhile, his neighbors take it upon themselves to comment on each and every turn of events that happens to him. They work themselves into a frenzy, alternately declaring the farmer’s good fortune—“How fantastic!”—or lamenting his bad luck—“What a disaster!” The farmer responds to his neighbors’ judgments with indifference. “Maybe,” he says. Maybe whatever has happened is good; maybe it is bad. But the farmer knows there is no way to tell. The only thing he controls is how he responds to these events.

Anna May rolled with the punches as gracefully as she could. She survived and even thrived, outlasting many of her Hollywood peers and working in film, television, and theater for more than four decades. Not Your China Doll endeavors to capture the grit and the passion, the heartbreak and the outrage, and most of all the pure radiance of Anna May Wong’s one wild and shimmering life. Somewhere between traditional biography and narrative-driven nonfiction, this book offers an immersive perspective into her world, based on years of extensive research. That said, it is by no means an exhaustive record of her life from cradle to grave, nor is it a catalog of her complete works, which other authors have ably tackled before me.

As I combed through thousands of newspaper clippings, interviews, photographs, pages of personal correspondence, 35mm prints, and studio files from archives across the country and around the world, a clear picture of the woman who has fascinated generations of moviegoers emerged. But if you ask ten biographers to write about the same person, they will inevitably produce ten different biographies, ten different refractions of who that person was. I don’t believe there is such a thing as objective truth, at least not where people are concerned. And yet we still try our darndest to get as close to it as we can.

With Not Your China Doll, I did my best to chip away at the rumors and...

Erscheint lt. Verlag2.4.2024
Sprache englisch
Themenwelt Literatur Biografien / Erfahrungsberichte
Literatur Romane / Erzählungen
Kunst / Musik / Theater Film / TV
Geschichte Teilgebiete der Geschichte Kulturgeschichte
ISBN-10 0-571-38869-8 / 0571388698
ISBN-13 978-0-571-38869-1 / 9780571388691

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eBook: Not Your China Doll von Katie Gee Salisbury | ISBN 978-0-571-38869-1 | Sofort-Download kaufen (2024)

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