Anna May Wong, who is considered the first Chinese-American Hollywood stars and was also known as one of the biggest fashion icons of her time, will soon find her place on the reverse of the US quarter. Wong is among the first group of American women to be depicted on US currency as part of the project American Women quarters. 

Wong will thus be joining a list of American women icons like Maya Angelou, Sally Ride, Wilma Mankiller, and Adelina Otero-Warren.

Who was Anna May Wong?

Anna May Wong, whose birth name was Wong Liu-tsong, was born on January 3, 1905, on Los Angeles‘ Flower Street, which is just one block away from the city’s Chinatown. Her parents’ names were Wong Sam Sing and Lee Gon Toy. 

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Wong was her father’s daughter from his second marriage. Wong Sam Sing had one family in China before he married Lee Gon Toy in the United States. Wong was the second of their seven children.

The would-be Hollywood star attended public school with her older sister at first, but racial discrimination forced them to later enroll into a Chinese Presbyterian school. 

This was also the time when the fledgling American film industry began to shift its base from the East Coast to Los Angeles. The young Wong was fascinated by movies and began missing school to watch films at the Nickelodeon movie theatres. She soon began asking producers for roles and came up with her screen name by the time she was 11.

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Her first film role was as an extra in The Red Lantern and her first screen credit came in 1921 for the world’s first anthology film, Bits of Life.

Wong received rave reviews for her performance in her first leading role in the film The Toll of the Sea. Despite her success and the positive reviews, it was difficult for Wong to get the role of a leading lady because the anti-miscegenation laws of the country prevented her from sharing an onscreen kiss with anyone but an Asian actor. Instead, she was being offered roles based on the new stereotype of the femme fatale.

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Tired of playing the same roles in Hollywood, Wong shifted base to Europe in 1928, and starred in a number of notable movies and theatre productions.

She was friends with some of the most notable film personalities of her time like the German filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl, as well as actors Marlene Dietrich and Cecil Cunningham. She returned to the US after her tryst in Europe but continued facing discrimination. Wong over turned to stage performances and cabaret to nurture her artistic side. She died in 1961 at the age of 56.