Anna May Wong: From Laundryman's Daughter to Hollywood Legend

Graham Russell Gao Hodges

Chicago Review Press, 2023

Agent: Sandra Dijkstra

Anna May Wong remains one of Hollywood’s best-known Chinese American actors.
Between 1919 and 1960, Anna May Wong starred in over fifty movies, sharing billing with stars such as Douglas Fairbanks Sr., Marlene Dietrich, Joan Crawford, Ramon Novarro, and Warner Oland. Her life, though, is the prototypical story of an immigrant’s difficult path through the prejudices of American culture.
Born in Los Angeles in 1905, she was the second daughter of seven children born to a laundryman and his wife. Childhood experience fueled her fascination with Hollywood. By 1919 she secured a small part in her first film, The Red Lantern, and she continued to act up until her death. Her most famous film roles were in The Toll of the Sea, Peter Pan, The Thief of Baghdad, Old San Francisco, and Shanghai Express.
But discrimination against Asians, in both in the film industry and society, was commonplace, and when it came time to make a film version of Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth, she was passed over for the Chinese female lead role, which was ultimately given to the white actor Luise Rainer.

In a narrative that recalls the pathos of life in Los Angeles’s Chinese neighborhoods and the glamour of Hollywood’s pleasure palaces, Graham Russell Gao Hodges recovers the life of a Hollywood legend.


"Graham Russell Gao Hodges's fascinating biography of Anna May Wong is an important contribution to not only film studies but also Asian American history and women's history." —Iris Chang, author of The Rape of Nanking and The Chinese in America

"With great sympathy and insight, Hodges tells the story of the actress who was too 'Oriental' for the America of the time but too westernized to be accepted by the Chinese. This eminently readable and well-researched biography rescues a trailblazing figure from the fringes of film and Asian American history." —Stella Dong, author of Shanghai

"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 and Last Boat Out of Shanghai

"Hodges's biography succeeds in building an impressively rich and accessible collection of Anna May Wong materials. By providing such excellent groundwork, it encourages readers to further explore the significance of biography in recovering and redressing repressed legacies, individual and collective." —Yiman Wang, in Labour / Le Travail

"A well-illustrated, accessible, scholarly addition to film and women's studies." —Booklist

"[Anna May Wong] recounts many of the difficulties racism posed for Wong, as well as her attempts to resist or speak out against prejudice and ignorance." —Women's Review of Books

"As I read Hodges's story of this unique and pioneering woman, my heart went out to her. Intelligent, beautiful, hardworking, and talented, Anna May Wong never realized the happiness or success that she most wanted." —Suzanne Broderick, in Film & History