Monday, January 19, 2009

Anna May - From Piccadilly to Dietrich

I note that Danwei today posted a clip from the 1929 Anna May Wong movie Piccadilly. Certainly this movie was made at a fascinating time in Wong’s life – her sojourn in Europe in the late 1920s. She spent time in Berlin and Paris before moving to London to make Piccadilly. She was a sensation in England, renting a Mayfair flat and being received almost as royalty when she headed down to the small Chinatown in Limehouse.

According to Graham Russell Gao Hodges biography of Anna May – Anna May Wong: From Laundryman’s Daughter to Hollywood Legend – she was “mobbed everywhere she went” in London and girls even tinted their skin to get the “Wong complexion”. As for the movie itself…well, it’s a different era now…but it was apparently the “most talked about film” of 1929 and she was praised for her performance at the time. It was a success – though the advertising for it across Europe might have helped! (left) certainly such posters weren’t going to go up back in the USA!

After making Piccadilly Wong returned to Weimar Berlin (1929 – perhaps one of the most fascinating times to have been in Germany) where she met Marlene Dietrich. Then things got interesting and we got two things that continue to fascinate many: 1) she made the contacts that meant she starred with Dietrich in von Sternberg’s Shanghai Express where both looked sensational (and Dietrich’s stroll down the train and final turn to camera can still make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck as she looks so amazing) and 2) we got the enduring rumour that Anna May and Marlene had a brief lesbian affair – Anna May Wong and Marlene Dietrich together wearing beautiful dresses, drinking and smoking – how Weimar is that!! More proof that some of us were born at the wrong time!!

Incidentally - standing next to Anna May and Marlene is Leni Riefenstahl - while Anna spent the war raising money for China and Marlene fighting the Nazis in her own unique way by entertaining the troops, Riefenstahl went on, of course, to become Hitler's camerwoman.


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