The Warmth of Other Suns

Katie Gee Salisbury
ZORA
Published in
14 min readJan 30, 2024

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how Paul Robeson & Josephine Baker’s success in Europe paved the way for Anna May Wong

Anna May Wong descending from a train, bouquet in hand, courtesy of Creative Commons

The story of Anna May Wong’s sojourn in Europe has become the stuff of legend. Seeing that there was nothing for her in Hollywood — except the same old exoticized roles where she never got the guy and died in the end (or sometimes died at the very beginning) — she gathered up every ounce of her youthful gumption and set sail for Germany in the spring of 1928. At UFA in Berlin, not only was Anna May cast in the leading role, but the screenplay was crafted specifically for her and the film was retitled in honor of her Chinese name, to boot! (If you ask me, Song is still one of the best films she ever made.)

By the time she returned to the U.S. three years later, she had been hailed as an international sensation. Studio heads suddenly realized they’d better give the Chinese American actress a second look. Los Angeles Times reporter Harry Carr put it this way: Anna May had to leave Hollywood “to glow and dazzle… Now that she has become world famous, Hollywood tries to assure us that they knew her all the time. But this is not true.”

Anna May, of course, was not the first entertainer of color to prove her mettle on the other side of the Atlantic. It’s impossible to talk about this period of her life without…

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Katie Gee Salisbury
ZORA
Writer for

Author of NOT YOUR CHINA DOLL, a new biography of Anna May Wong, forthcoming from Dutton on March 12, 2024. Available for pre-order: www.notyourchinadoll.com