Oakland Tribune from Oakland, California on November 4, 1934 · Page 78
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Oakland Tribune from Oakland, California · Page 78

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Oakland, California
Issue Date:
Sunday, November 4, 1934
Page:
Page 78
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SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 4, 1934 - - - By Grace Wilcox school loaded down with three sweaters and two coats! "He stuck the pins in my back but they went into the coats instead!" AT IS ingenuity like this, developed at an early age, which has made Anna May Wong one of the most interesting of contemporary personalities. There is a reflective look in her luminous eyes, as she proceeds with this narrative of her school days: "From 8:30 to 3:30 we went to the American school and from 4 until 7 we attended Chinese school in Chinatown. After a time, the American children learned to accept us and we played their games and romped with them, thoroughfy enjoying ourselves. We didn't learn very much, but we had a lot of fun. ' "How different the Chinese school! In a little red brick School-house, we sat on hard, backless, teakwood benches and brushed the Chinese characters into our copy books. "Here a species of witch and devil, known as the schoolmaster, taught us the Confucian Analects, the Mencius teachings and the sayings of Lao Tze. If we failed to pay attention, we were rapped on the knuckles or across the shoulders with a stout bamboo stick. I was one of the more unruly pupils and finally took to running away entirely.' Wong Liu Tsong had given herself the name of Anna May Wong. "Anna" was in honor of a friend, "May" for her favorite month in the year and "Wong" her family name. Sometimes in Chinese costume, sometimes in starched ginghams, she remembers running around Chinatown, when she should have been in school. In this small, compact community where yellow pagodas gleam ornately among fading brick structures, where blue and gold doors, draped with crimson, open on green and red balconies, gay with potted geraniums and creamy lilies, she flitted about like a bright butterfly, in and out of the painted doors of relatives and friends, shops and chop suey parlors. Always gay, always laughing, a merry little figure, her round, magnolia face alight with eagerness, her eyes curiously wise. Her home now became quarters adjacent to the laundry, where fascinating things happened and where her father employed several cousins and relatives to help him with his growing business. But SCHOOL! School! School! It all became a nightmare to her the American teaching, the Chinese teaching, the American discipline and the Chinese raps across the back! Finally, having reached adoles-sence, the little Chinese girl collapsed. In a siege of St. Vitus Dance, which lasted for endless weeks, she nearly ascended the Yellow Dragon, and worried her parents into calling both American and Chinese physicians. The latter was just a shade less drastic in his methods than the schoolmaster. In order to give her a counter-irritant against nerves, he rubbed her arm with an ancient Chinese coin a luck piece 500 years old making an open wound and frightening the young girl into attacks of hysterics which finally miraculously cured her! "It was after recovering from my illness," explains Anna May Wong, "that I began going down on Main St. to see moving pictures. In the badly ventilated, more or less dirty Mexican theater I lived a life remote and removed from reality. I found a release from the actualities of life! I became devoted to Charlie Chaplin, Mae Murray, Ruth Roland, Pearl White, Grace Cunard and Francis Ford!" Then wonder of wonders! She saw a moving picture company on location making a picture in Chinatown! Marshall Neilan noticed her round little face peering from behind a blue door, but when he sent someone to find her, her quick feet in their Chinese slippers had disappeared through another door and she was safely hidden in the basement of a friend. Thus did Anna May Wong miss her first opportunity to appear in pictures! But the idea had taken firm hold of her imagination. She had seen Chinese people in pictures and she played marbles for nickels in order to go more often to the Main St. theaters. "Then I went into serious conference with an old cousin, James Wang, who went to the studios in Hollywood practically every day," she explains. "I asked him about it and he said: 'You big girl, you got big eyes: you come. along with me.' O O I ran home and into a storm of clashing wills and lashing tongues that lasted far into the night. My fathenjbjected soastrongly to my desire to appear in pictures that we were all ill! My quiet little mother let us fight it out and in the end I won ! It was the first great battle for my career! I am still fighting my father, despite the fact that I have made more money than he knows exists in the world. He still thinks I should have been happier married and bearing children as a true Chinese woman should." In this terrific family row, Anna May Wong gave the first indication of that spirit of independence and pluck, in the face of heartbreaking obstacles, which has characterized her entire career. From extra to bits to a part in Nazimova's "The Red Lantern," Anna May Wong ran from $5 a day to $100 a week ; from $100 a week to $250, and from then on to that outstanding part in Douglas Fairbanks' "Thief of Bagdad." She became the sensation of the hour. A Chinese girl on her way to stardom ! A Chinese girl who appeared in every newspaper and magazine in the Country! Anna May Wong, Hollywood's first outstanding Oriental actress! For a short period, the flattering tongues, the pleasant chatter, the gay comradeship of her American friends of the cinema went to the young girl's head like wine. She describes this period as her "flapper days!" Her long, ebony hair was bobbed and waved, her lovely Chinese "ails were clipped and shortened. Rouge touched her ivory cheeks and lipstick painted her mouth. Lau)ghinp)v she has confessed to me: went Hollywood for two months! That taught me a lesson! At the end of that time. I went back to my family and the little bungalow back of the laundry. "I had to go back, where I could hear the truth! "My father, who had seen me in several pictures, shook his head and there were tears in his eyes when he looked at my shorn locks! The hair grew again and he smiled again. It was over. I had learned a valuable lesson." Oddly enough, she was to learn another one. After a deluge of excellent parts in good pictures, Anna May ran into a lull. Things were quiet. There were no Chinese parts. Jobs were scarce. At this period of her career I met my friend Anna May Wong. She was disappointed, but not discouraged; she was hopeful in the face of what looked like defeat; she was a merry companion, keeping her worries to herself and never for a moment giving up in her attempts to get a job! OHE called on everybody. She chatted brightly and with true Chinese gregarious-necs with everybody. She told her funny, ti.r.ete siories and sne brought a ray of sunlight and happiness into our house, where two studious, retiring, more or less selfish souls pulled themselves together and played rummy with her every night! But she didn't get a Hollywood part! And then one day, all was changed. Amazingly, radiantly, gloriously changed! Anna May Wong had a cablegram from. Germany. A great screen story had been written for her by Dr. Karl Vollmoeller, author of "The Miracle." ' With her sister Ying, she set off on a long journey, leaving her family and me behind, looking at her, dripping with flowers and baskets of fruit, trying to smile stoically, as Chinese people are supposed to do. Oddly enough, I, an American, seemed to be the only one who managed it successfully. All .the others cried openly, with tears streaming down their faces. In Germany she made a tremendous hit in her first picture, "Tsong." She learned to speak German and went to Vienna to do a musical comedy. Vienna mobbed her. She moved continually under police escort. The Viennese had so little, yet they gave so much! They were gay! They were their tattered gar ments with dignity and elan. Her heart was touched by their kindness. Sh hopes to return there, after her November tour of Italy. From Vienna she went to London, .which city she prefers to all others. In England the atmosphere of age, of stability, of immutability appeals to her; she believes that here Occidental civilization has reached its apogee. While in England she learned to speak English as the English speak it. It cost her 100 guineas, but she says it is worth it. Since she appeared in the ."Circle of Chalk," a stage play, Londoners have taken the Chinese girl to their hearts. During the run of the play. Princess Beatrice, sister pf King George V, came personally to the theater to congratulate her on her interpretation of the role. In the London studios sjhe did "Piccadilly," written for her by the late Arnold Bennett. Recently she completed "Chu Chin Chow" and "Java Head." In order to do a French film, she learned French. Now, in order to appear in the music halls of Italy, she is learning Italian. "'Anyone who can speak Chinese can learn any other language," she says. Before her return to Hollywood, she did a tour of the English Sprov-inces and of Ireland and Scotland. She thinks the proper way to see the-world is to be doing something interesting while looking at it. On her return this time to do Pararnount's version of "Limehouse Night's " Anna May Wong was somewhat changed in appearance. The timid Chinese girl, looking with questioning eyes from beneath her black lacquer bang, has returned a European sophisticate, with her ivory forehead as exposed to the sun as a Chinese persimmon. Her fashionable clothes are the talk of Europe and America. Sometimes they are as modern as the Chrvcir RililHinir cnmlir,ic a Chinese as the pagodas in the Forbidden City. 3ut they are always smart and correct. As Anna May Wong sees civilization crumbling around her, she becomes more Chi-nese. She has learned not to struggle, but to accept; not to hurry, but to take all the time she needs. She is not less simple and natural because she is more sophisticated and more assured. Some day I hope to write tbe autobiography of Anna May Wong in collaboration with her. She should be painted on a huge can vas, iikc i-eari bucks uooa Earth. No mere sketch in blacly and white can do her justice, ,.: ,;'

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