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Ana May Wong

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Ana May Wong

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Ana May Wong was an American actress, considered to be the first Chinese American Hollywood movie star, as well as the first Chinese American actress to gain international recognition. Her long and varied career spanned silent film, sound film, television, stage, and radio.

Born in 1905 in Los Angeles to second-generation Chinese-American parents, Wong became infatuated with the movies and began acting in films at an early age. During the silent film era, she acted in The Toll of the Sea (1922), one of the first movies made in color and Douglas Fairbanks’ The Thief of Bagdad (1924). Wong became a fashion icon and had achieved international stardom in 1924. Frustrated by the stereotypical supporting roles she reluctantly played in Hollywood, Wong left for Europe in the late 1920s, where she starred in several notable plays and films.

In 1935 Wong was dealt the most severe disappointment of her career, when Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer refused to consider her for the leading role of the Chinese character “O-Lan” in the film version of Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth, choosing instead a white actress to play the leading role.

In 1951, Ms. Wong made history with her TV show The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong, the first ever U.S. television show starring an Asian American series lead. She had been planning to return to film in Flower Drum Song when she died in 1961, at the age of 56 from cirrhosis of the liver. For decades after her death, Wong was remembered principally for the stereotypical “Dragon Lady” and demure “Butterfly” roles that she was often given.

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