Anna May Wong: One step from greatness
Anna May Wong was a Chinese actress and later icon to the gay community who never married. Some said it was because of her passion for women. However, she once declared: “I am wedded to my art.”
But despite her dedication to her acting, she was always one step away from greatness. Both her ethnicity as a Chinese and as a third generation Chinese-American prevented her from achieving movie stardom.
Becoming Anna May Wong
Born Huang Liu Tsong, which means “frosted yellow willows”, Anna May lived in the Mexican area of Los Angeles but felt that she never belonged.
In the early 1900s, Anna May’s neighborhood became the playground for the American movie business. Everywhere, films were being shot and this lured Anna May to the glittering lights of acting. By the age of 11, she adopted her stage name, Anna May Wong.
In 1921, at the age of 17, she dropped out of school to star in the film The Toll of the Sea. Playing the lead as the character Lotus Flower, Variety Magazine raved over her “extraordinary fine acting.”
While she was praised as an actress, lead roles were few and far between. Being Chinese, she was relegated to supporting roles and even losing major Chinese roles to American actresses.
This was because at that time, there was a ruling that a Chinese actress was only allowed to kiss an Oriental leading man. And so she was always paired with Japanese actor Sessue Hayakawa.
Anna May Wong: Most beautiful
Though Hollywood stardom evaded her, she was nonetheless considered one of the most fashionable actresses before the war.
As men fell for her smoldering beauty and sinuous figure, she was described as “sinfully graceful.” In 1938, TIME dubbed her “the most beautiful Chinese actress.”
Still, it wasn’t just men who were tripping themselves over Anna May Wong. She was also known to attract the attention of women.
One of them was the gay icon, Marlene Dietrich, who was a close friend.
She was also linked to Hollywood actress Alla Nazimova, stage actress Cecil Cunningham, and Director Leni Riefenstahl due to her close friendship with them.
Anna May Wong’s legacy
She eventually got tired of Hollywood and moved to Europe to become the celebrated actress she deserved to be.
Though she did better there, rumors of her bisexual relationships as well as being too American put the brakes on her career.
The same thing happened when she went to China to learn about Chinese theater, in that she was rejected for being American-born.
Still, though Anna May Wong was always relegated to second lead or B movies at the tail end of her career, her love of acting never stopped her from making movies. And her fans– both straight and gay– loved her for it.