Actress Anna May Wong was born on this day in 1905 in Los Angeles, and became one of the first Chinese-American movie stars. She appeared in the first two-strip Technicolor feature, The Toll of the Sea, which was a 1922 silent adapatation of Madame Butterfly. One of her early films you can watch on DVD is the 1924 version of The Thief of Bagdad, which starred Douglas Fairbanks, in which Wong plays a slave. Anti-Chinese prejudice of the time made it difficult for Wong to get leading roles -- she was not allowed to kiss non-Chinese men onscreen, so she often played supporting characters. She spent some time making films in Europe in the late 1920s, such as the 1929 silent film Piccadilly. Wong's best-known role may be in the 1932 Josef Von Sternberg film Shanghai Express, supporting Marlene Dietrich. In fact, some Wong fans claim she steals Shanghai Express from Dietrich, although that's debatable. I can't judge for myself -- Shanghai Express isn't currently available on DVD in the United States. Wong's film career essentially ended during World War II, although she appeared in a few films and hosted her own TV show briefly in the 1950s. She died in 1961.

Time's website includes an extensive Richard Corliss profile of Wong that provides helpful context and background about the era in which she worked. It's a comprehensive and interesting biography of Wong, as well as a discussion of her film and stage roles, and is certainly worth a read.
categories Features, Cinematical