Curio Cabinet | February 11, 2020

The Many Lives of Anna May Wong

“Life is too serious to take seriously”
—Anna May Wong
While walking to school on the outskirts of LA’s Chinatown, Anna May Wong parted ways with her older sister, Lulu, and used her lunch money to go to the Nickelodeon Theater House to see the latest chapter in the serial film The Perils of Pauline. She memorized Pearl White’s melodramatic emotions—joy, surprise, bashfulness, frustration, and anger. When she returned home, she slipped into the house, avoiding her parents and siblings, and shut herself in her bedroom above the family laundry. In front of the mirror, Anna May recreated White’s scenes while daydreaming of stardom. In her recurring fantasy, she appeared at the top of a winding staircase dressed in a trailing white gown and blazing with diamonds. At the bottom step her director proclaimed, “You are a film star, Anna May Wong.” While she was bathing in the adulation of her imagined fans, her mother walked in on her and scolded, “You are needed in the laundry.” Anna May resumed her more pressing role as dutiful daughter.

If you are a student, faculty member, or staff member at an institution whose library subscribes to Project Muse, you can read this piece and the full archives of the Missouri Review for free. Check this list to see if your library is a Project Muse subscriber.