Anna May Wong

From Laundryman’s Daughter to Hollywood Legend


Graham Russell Gao Hodges

ISBN : 978-988-8139-63-7

Film, Media, Fine Arts

June 2012

316 pages, 6″ x 9″, 33 b&w illus.

  • HK$195.00

Anna May Wong was the best known Chinese American actress during Hollywood’s golden age, a free spirit and embodiment of the flapper era much like Louise Brooks. She starred in over fifty movies between 1919 and 1960, sharing the screen with such luminaries as Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and Marlene Dietrich.

Born in Los Angeles in 1905, Wong was the second daughter of six children born to a laundryman and his wife. Obsessed with film at a young age, she managed to secure a small part in a 1919 drama about the Boxer Rebellion. Her most famous film roles were in The Thief of Baghdad, Old San Francisco, and Shanghai Express opposite Dietrich. Despite these successes, instances of overt racism plagued Wong’s career. When it came time to make a film version of Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth, she was passed over for the German actress, Luise Rainer. In a narrative that recalls both the gritty life in Los Angeles’ working-class Chinese neighborhoods and the glamor of Hollywood at its peak, Graham Hodges recounts the life of this elegant, beautiful, and underappreciated screen legend.

Graham Russell Gao Hodges is the George Dorland Langdon, Jr. Professor of History and Africana Studies at Colgate University.

“An illuminating, authoritative biography of Anna May Wong—one of the most enigmatic icons in Hollywood and in the history of Chinese America.” —Yunte Huang, author of Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous with American History

“Through a scrupulous examination of Anna May Wong’s life and work, Graham Russell Gao Hodges, a leading African American historian, deploys his keen understanding of American racial matters to transform Wong from merely a tragic figure to a real human being, vulnerable, and longing for appreciation, love and family. The Anna May Wong that comes to life in this definitive biography is admirable because of her honesty, hard work, and true dedication to her craft as an actress, despite repeated denials of opportunities and deserved recognition—due to her race. Her courage and humanity are a lesson to all who strive for a harmonious and just multiracial society.” —Peter Kwong, City University of New York, and author of Chinese America: The Untold Story of America’s Oldest New Community

“Graham Russell Gao Hodges’ fascinating biography of Anna May Wong is an important contribution to not only film studies but Asian American history and women’s history. The facts of Wong’s life—her humble origins as laundryman’s daughter, her tragic love affairs, her international political activism, and her celebrity status as the nation’s first Chinese American movie star—are far more compelling than any of her roles on film.” —Iris Chang, author of The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II and The Chinese in America: A Narrative History

“Graham Hodges has woven a spellbinding tale that sweeps you into Anna May Wong’s star-crossed life, with rich details of the passions and lost loves, conflicts and triumphs, brilliance and frustrations of this daring woman born far ahead of her time. Like a scene with the great diva, this book has nuance, complexity, and drama—and I did not want it to end.” —Helen Zia, author of Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People

“Hodges’ biography proves a valuable resource for further studies of Anna May Wong’s self-conscious manifestations of a fluid, hybrid identity at the intersections between performance/performativity, gender/sexuality and race/ethnicity.” —Miglena Ivanova, Asian Studies Review