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Anna May Wong: Not Your China Doll Book Review

Anna May Wong has been a regular name for all of us at South West Silents for so many years; check out Mark Fuller's review of British silent film classic Piccadilly (1929) so a new biography all about the great star is very exciting! Co-director James Harrison review's this brand new biography by Katie Gee Salisbury and published by Faber.

Anna May Wong: Not Your China Doll by Katie Gee Salisbury:

From the outset, Katie Gee Salisbury’s much welcomed biography (her first publication) of the great Anna May Wong (1905-1961) establishes the kind of Hollywood that the soon to be star found herself in. It was a Hollywood which included racism, onscreen racial stereotypes and even paranoia of the ‘Yellow Peril’.

But was this much of a surprise to Anna May herself? Of course not. Born Wong Liu Tsong in Los Angeles on 3rd January 1905, Anna May Wong knew America and particularly her home town more than many others.

Thanks to Salisbury’s effortless research we are able to set the scene during Wong Liu Tsong childhood but also establish what kind of Hollywood she found herself in during the first part of her film career. A career which very much started from the get go. During this period there are major interactions with Anna May with the likes of Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Harry Carr, William Cameron Menzies, Josef von Sternberg and Irving Thalberg. All of which are thrilling to read about.

However, thankfully for Anna, Salisbury and ourselves, Anna May’s adventures weren’t just all set in America. In fact, a good chunk of her fascinating career takes us to a post First World War Europe. A Europe which had only just begun to recover from the devasting conflict and yet bring about a new heightened quality of European film output which Anna May found herself in.

Productions involving, Piccadilly (1929) and The Flame of Love/ The Road to Dishonour (1930) are all well covered in this biography, as well as Anna May Wong’s stage appearances. On top of all of this however there is also some fantastic coverage of Anna May’s ‘cultural experiences’ of 1920s Paris, London and Berlin. Particularly an interesting account of her encounter with a Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot painting.

There are some extra insights within the biography as well. Josef von Sternberg hardly mentions Anna May Wong in his 1965 autobiography (she is briefly credited for one of the photographs) but Salisbury goes into great depth about Anna May Wong’s involvement when it comes to von Sternberg’s and particularly Marlene Dietrich’s showpiece Shanghai Express (1932). So much in fact you just want to watch the film all over again.

There is plenty else to discuss and especially Anna May’s film career in post Second World War America. Although there is no mention of Arthur Lubin’s film noir Impact (1949) in the book bizarrely. But if there is any major criticism about the book (and there’s hardly anything to mention really) is that there should really be a filmography, especially for the many alternative titles involving her Anglo-German productions in the 1920s and 1930s.

Apart from that however, overall, Katie Gee Salisbury’s new biography is a perfect starting block for any film fan, it is thought provoking and perfectly balanced telling the life, work and world of Anna May Wong. High recommend!

Thanks to our friends Faber we also have a brand new copy of Salisbury's great book to give away. All you need to do is to answer the question below and message us via our contact page by Sunday 12th May 2024.

Question: Which German film director directed the British silent film Piccadilly (1929)?

Answers can be messaged to us via our contact page. Good Luck!

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