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Anna May Wong: From Laundryman's Daughter to Hollywood Legend Hardcover – January 3, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

While Wong (1905-1961) has been called "the premier Asian-American actress," controversies surrounding her career have left her life and work largely unexamined. In this groundbreaking biography, Colgate University history professor Hodges reveals this captivating woman, offering readers a sense of the struggle her career represented. Although Wong was a third-generation Californian, she needed permits to re-enter the U.S. after her foreign tours. She could work in the movies, but only in Asian roles, replete with negative stereotypes. Even then, she was barred from roles involving marriage with non-Asians-even with white actors playing Asians. Off-screen romance wasn't much easier; a Chinese husband wouldn't accept her career, but marriage to a non-Asian violated anti-miscegenation laws. Still, Wong persevered, improving what roles she could get by supplying authentic costumes, hairstyles and gestures. When even bad roles disappeared, she turned to the stage or took work in European film productions. Wong's Chinese war relief work and post-WWII TV appearances provided some satisfaction in her last years. Yet her career and life were cut short by a world that simply wasn't ready for an Asian-American star. Hodges summarizes the plots of all of Wong's films, covers the chronology of her career and has done extensive research into Chinese sources. He's particularly adept at viewing Wong through the lens of Chinese culture, interpreting the meaning of her attire or hand movements. He also covers the Chinese and Chinese-American press's reaction to Wong, adding an important dimension to understanding her limbo between two worlds, unacceptable to racist Hollywood and to the conservative Chinese establishment. Illus. not seen by PW.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Hodges first encountered "the premier Asian American actress," who appeared in more than 50 movies during a career spanning some 40 years, in 1999 in a framed photo in a London bookstore. Internationally popular, Wong (1905-61) became the film personification of Chinese womanhood, angering her own family and Chiang Kai-shek's nationalist movement, who considered her callously exploited by Hollywood because her career coincided with the Chinese Exclusion Act and increased discrimination against Chinese Americans. Indeed, film codes forbade kissing between races, and the concept of "Orientalism" was forged to excuse such prejudice. Wong portrayed characters whose inevitable fate was lovelessness or death. Hodges not only rediscovers her films but also examines her life as a third-generation American in racist L.A. Rebelling against tradition, she became a Chinese flapper, but through her film work, she later found identity in her roots and sought to improve Americans' image of China and became a movie legend, gay camp favorite, and figure of continuing controversy. A well-illustrated, accessible, scholarly addition to film and women's studies. Whitney Scott
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan; 1st edition (January 3, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312293194
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312293192
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.5 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,051,888 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 27 people found the following review helpful By David C. Rive Jr. on March 19, 2005
Format: Hardcover
In a mysterious convergence of coincidence and good fortune reminiscent of that week in 1975 when then-immerging rocker, Bruce Springsteen, landed on the covers of both TIME and NEWSWEEK, we've witnessed the publication of three monographs on Anna May Wong in a one-year span. Let it be known that, heretofore, there have been no Anna May Wong books, no Anna May Wong "industry" (as there is for, say, Marilyn Monroe or dozens of other dead celebs), and that the unfortunate actress had been lucky to get a capsule bio or passing reference in most mainstream film histories.

Thus, after years of neglect, a full-length biography of Ana May Wong (1905-1961), the first Chinese American star, whose career spanned the silent era, the talkies, stage, radio and television, is cause for celebration.

I should alter that to cause for "qualified celebration," for Graham Russell Gao Hodges' always well-meaning but sometimes flawed ANNA MAY WONG: FROM LAUNDRYMAN'S DAUGHTER TO HOLLYWOOD LEGEND, is not the definitive bio her fans have longed for.

It is good on a whole, even excellent in some respects, but there are technical inconsistencies at hand and dubious interpretations proffered that prevent it from being a totally reliable, much less authoritative statement on its subject.

Furthermore, at the risk of appearing a crank, I'll say that I've encountered few books put out by a major publisher (Paragon Macmillan is an imprint of St Martin's Press) so fraught with repetitions, typos, imprecise language, faulty syntax and poorly constructed writing. At times, the reader feels compelled to cry out, "Is there an editor in the (publishing) house?
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Ruby Mae on November 25, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Anna May Wong was known as something of a sex symbol in her day, but she was also a very talented actress. From her first starring role in Toll of the Sea she had an ability to touch you from the screen. Unfortunately, she was constantly put in bad vehicles and is virtually unknown today.

While I was glad to find an affordable biography on Wong, I soon found that I got what I paid for. This book gives alot of facts about Wong, so many in such a hurried fashion that one gets bleary eyed reading them. The writing is terribly uneven and vague. Case in point, something happened to incur the wrath of the Chinese people against Wong when she arrived for her only trip to China. However, the author only says she was "uncharacteristically rude to her fans." So...what'd she do that was so bad they threatened her family if they allowed her to stay in China? He doesn't give us the details. I suppose it could be possible that his source was just as vague, but he could at least have let his readers know the facts were not available, especially when he went to such great detail later in the chaper describing the hatred Wong experienced at the hands of her countrymen due to the mysterious event.

Then at the end of the book Hodges describes one of Wong's last appearances on television with the fact that there was a problem with her lower lip "from her near fatal stroke two years before." The TV show in question was taped in 1960. For whatever reason, this is the first time the author mentions the stroke(I went back over the previous pages to see if, in my boredom, I had skipped over it; the last illness mentioned was a two day hospitalization she had sometime in 1955 or '56. I'm sure if this was the "near fatal stroke" she would have been hospitalized for more than two days).
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Clara on December 7, 2008
Format: Paperback
Sadly I have yet to read another biography on Anna May Wong, so I can not recommend one. But this one really should be passed over...or taken with a grain of salt.

Hodges writing style is dry. Its almost as if he took several documents...then told us he did. "Anna went to China in such and such year, she then returned on such and such date". Page after page this gets annoying. There are also several typos and odd thing for a published book.

My biggest complaint is Hodges perpetuated the myth that Anna May Wong was buried in an unmarked grave. Several biographers have repeated as such but in actuality Anna is buried under her chinese name (it took a website Forget the Talkies, to find this out). Seems simple enough to research; especially by someone claiming to be so in touch with Chinese history and symbolisim (he goes on and on about her hairstyles). Not worth the read, try another bio.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By reluctant curmudgeon on June 10, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Anna May Wong seems like a fascinating subject. I have found this book, however, to be seriously frustrating. The quality of the writing is often poor, particularly for someone who teaches in a university. An example: "Admiration was not the emotion used in China to describe the film" (p. 147. What's wrong with this? Well, first, admiration is not an emotion. Secondly, you do not "use an emotion" to "describe" something.) This may seem like nit-picking, but it becomes less so when such poor self-expression is to be found on so very many pages, along with an incredible number of typos. (These are of course not the fault of the author, but they do speak to the process of editing which is not inconsequential.) The author is married to a Chinese woman and he does indeed seem to have a unique insight into Anna May's duality as a result, and he seems to have done a lot of research, but there is much missing here. Anna May's musical performances seem to come out of the blue, for example-- there is no mention of training, background, etc. I also find the analyses of her costumes/hairstyles odd-- how did she have so much control over these elements? (Hodges does describe an early make-up session, so why should we assume that stars did their own hair?) It may well be that in the early days of cinema there were no hair-stylists or costumers... but then, a little more background would help to clarify. To me this book is too intent on analysis and speculation, and at the expense of writing quality. If I'm going to take that leap of faith, I want the author to earn it by thinking and expressing himself clearly. If he can't do those things, why should I trust his analysis?
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