Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

Race, Celebrity and Fashion: Anna May Wong in Spanish Magazines of the 1930s

Bulletin of Hispanic Studies (2020), 97, (9), 931–953.

Abstract

Anna May Wong was the most widely known Asian American film actress of her generation, achieving unprecedented success in the Hollywood and European industry. When she traveled to Spain in 1935 to perform at the Teatro Casablanca in Madrid, she was already an international star and her visit garnered extensive coverage from the Spanish press, particularly film magazines of the period. These magazines provided their largely female readership with access to Hollywood stars such as Wong, whose celebrity was the site of complex negotiations of race, ethnicity and citizenship in the United States and Europe during the 1930s. Publications such as Cinegramas and Popular Film represented Wong for Spanish readers who, although removed from the particularities of race politics in the United States, were nevertheless intrigued by her ‘exotic allure’, positioned as she was at the intersection of racial otherness and Hollywood glamour. By reading Wong in Spanish magazines from the 1930s, this article considers how Spanish readers might have used these representations as a tool for negotiating their own identities as cosmopolitan at a moment when Spain was often perceived as existing on the cultural margins of Western Europe.

Anna May Wong fue la actriz asiática americana mas conocida de su generación y llegó a tener una fama sin precedentes en las industrias cinematográficas de Hollywood y Europa. Cuando viajó a España en 1935 para presentarse en el Teatro Casablanca de Madrid, ya era una estrella internacional y su visita recibió bastante atención de los medios de comunicaciones españoles, en particular de las revistas de cine de la época. Estas revistas ofrecían a su público, que en su mayoría consistía de mujeres, acceso a las estrellas de Hollywood, como Wong, cuya celebridad fue el lugar de unas negociaciones complejas de raza, etnicidad, y ciudadanía en los Estados Unidos y Europea durante los años 30. Publicaciones como Cinegramas y Popular Film representaron a Wong para los lectores españoles, quienes, a pesar de estar alejados de las particularidades de las políticas de raza en los Estados Unidos, se veían intrigados por ‘la atracción exótica’ de Wong, un producto de su posicionamiento entre la otredad radicalizada y el glamour de Hollywood. Al leer las representaciones de Wong en revistas españolas de los años 30, este artículo considera cómo lectores españoles pueden haberlas usado como herramienta para negociar sus propias identidades como cosmopolitas en un momento cuando se solía percibir a España como un país que existía en el margen cultural de la Europa occidental.

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Works cited

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‘Anna May Wong: fina porcelana oriental bajo los cielos de Hollywood’, 1934. Cinegramas 1.7, 28 October (Madrid): 22-23. Google Scholar

Bello, Gloria, 1932. ‘Otra vez Marlene Dietrich’, Popular Film 7.308, 1 July. Google Scholar

Chan, Anthony B., 2003. Perpetually Cool: The May Lives of Anna May Wong (1905-1961) (Plymouth, UK: The Scarecrow Press). Google Scholar

Charnon-Deutsch, Lou, 2000. ‘Travels of the Imaginary Spanish Gypsy’, in Constructing Identity in Contemporary Spain: Theoretical Debates and Cultural Practice, ed. Jo Labanyi (Oxford: Oxford University Press). Google Scholar

Charnon-Deutsch, Lou, 2004. The Spanish Gypsy: The History of a European Obsession (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press). Google Scholar

Cheng, Anne Anlin, 2019. Ornamentalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press). Google Scholar

Cheng, Anne Anlin, 2011. ‘Shine: On Race, Glamour, and the Modern’, PMLA 126.4 (October): 1022-41. Google Scholar

Colmeiro, José F., 2002. ‘Exorcising Exoticism: “Carmen” and the Construction of Oriental Spain’, Comparative Literature 54.2: 127-44. Google Scholar

De Certeau, Michel, 2001. The Practices of Everyday Life (Berkeley: University of California Press). Google Scholar

Gabilondo, Joseba, 2008. ‘On the Inception of Western Sex as Orientalist Theme Park: Tourism and Desire in Nineteenth-Century Spain’, in Spain is (Still) Different: Tourist Locations, Attractions, and Discourses in Modern Spanish Culture, ed. Eugenia Afinoguenova and Jaume Martí Olivella (New York: Lexington Books), pp. 19-61. Google Scholar

Gabirondo, Víctor, 1934. ‘La flores de los ojos de almendra’, Cinegramas 13, 9 December: 15. Google Scholar

Gautier, Téophile, 1873 [1846]. Voyage en Espagne (New York: D. C. Health & Co.). Google Scholar

Hernández Eguílez, Aitor, 2009. Testimonios en huecograbado: el cine de la Segunda República y su prensa especializada (1930-1939) (Valencia: Ediciones de la Filmoteca). Google Scholar

King, Homay, 2010. Lost in Translation: Orientalism, Cinema and the Enigmatic Signifier (Durham, NC: Duke University Press). Google Scholar

Leong, Karen J., 2005. The China Mystique: Pearl S. Buck, Anna May Wong, and the Transformation of American Orientalism (Berkeley: University of California Press). Google Scholar

Lim, Shirley Jennifer, 2005. A Feeling of Belonging: Asian American Women’s Public Culture 1930-1960 (New York: NYU Press). Google Scholar

Lim, Shirley Jennifer, 2012. ‘“Speaking German Like Nobody’s Business”: Anna May Wong, Walter Benjamin, and the Possibilities of Asian American Cosmopolitanism’, Journal of Transnational American Studies 4.1: 1-17. Google Scholar

Lim, Shirley Jennifer, 2019. Anna May Wong: Performing the Modern (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press). Google Scholar

Martínez Gandia, Rafael, 1935. ‘Cuando Anna May Wong Canta…’, Crónica 27, 21 January. Google Scholar

Massey, Anne, 2000. Hollywood Beyond the Screen: Design and Material Culture (New York: Berg). Google Scholar

Miss Gladys, 1926. ‘La moda en el cine’, Popular Film 1.3, 19 August: 12. Google Scholar

Ojeda, Jose, 1935. ‘Anna May Wong: La estrella de las rutas atormendads’, La Libertad, 18 January. Google Scholar

‘Piccadilly’, 1930. ABC 8.479 (28 February): 10/ ‘Estrenos en Madrid’. Google Scholar

Pizarro, Jose, 1935. ‘Anna May Wong en Madrid’, La Voz 16.4.375, 17 January: 8. Google Scholar

Said, Edward, 1979. Orientalism (New York: Vintage Books). Google Scholar

Studlar, Gaylyn, 1996. ‘The Perils of Pleasure? Fan Magazine Discourse as Women’s Commodified Culture in the 1920s’, in Silent Film, ed. Richard Abel (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press), pp. 263-97. Google Scholar

‘Una star en Madrid’, 1935. Cinegramas 2.19, 21 January: n.p. Google Scholar

Vernon, Kathleen M., and Eva Woods Peiró, 2013. ‘The Construction of the Star System’, in A Companion to Spanish Cinema, ed. Jo Labanyi and Tatjana Pavlovic (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell), pp. 293-318. Google Scholar

Wang, Yiman, 2005. ‘The Art of Screen Passing: Ann May Wong’s Yellow Yellowface Performance in the Art Deco Era’, Camera Obscura: A Journal of Feminism, Culture, and Media Studies 20.60.1: 159-91. Google Scholar

Wang, Yiman, 2008. ‘Anna May Wong: A Border-crossing ‘Minor’ Star Mediating Performance’, Journal of Chinese Cinemas 2.2: 91-102. Google Scholar

Woods Peiró, Eva, 2012. White Gypsies: Race and Stardom in Spanish Musicals (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press). Google Scholar

Woods Peiró, Eva, 2017. ‘The Colour of Kisses: Eroticism and Exoticism in Spanish Film Culture of the 1920s and ’30s’, in Spanish Erotic Cinema, ed. Santiago Four-Hernández (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press). Google Scholar

Zamostny, Jeffrey, 2017. ‘Introduction: Kiosk Literature and the Enduring Ephemeral’, in Kiosk Literature of Silver Age Spain: Modernity and Mass Culture, ed. Susan Larson and Jeffrey Zamonstny (Chicago: Intellect), pp. 1-28. Google Scholar

Filmography

Charlie Chan Carries On. 1931, dir. Hamilton MacFadden (Fox Film Corporation). Google Scholar

The Cheat. 1915, dir. Cecile B. DeMille (Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company). Google Scholar

Chu Chin Chow. 1934, dir. Walter Forde (Gainsborough Pictures). Google Scholar

Daughter of the Dragon. 1931, dir. Lloyd Corrigan (Paramount Pictures). Google Scholar

The Devil is a Woman. 1935, dir. Josef Von Sternberg (Paramount Pictures). Google Scholar

East is West. 1930, dir. Monta Bell (Universal Pictures). Google Scholar

Eran trece. 1931, dir. David Howard (Fox Film Corporation). Google Scholar

Intolerance. 1916, dir. D. W. Griffith (Triangle Film Company). Google Scholar

Oriente es occidente. 1930, dir. George Melford and Enrique Tovar Ávalos (Universal Pictures). Google Scholar

Piccadilly. 1929, dir. Ewald André Dupont (British International Pictures). Google Scholar

Shanghai Express. 1932, dir. Josef von Sternberg (Paramount Pictures). Google Scholar

The Sheik. 1921, dir. George Melford (Paramount Pictures). Google Scholar

Charlie Chan Carries On. 1931, dir. Hamilton MacFadden (Fox Film Corporation). Google Scholar

The Cheat. 1915, dir. Cecile B. DeMille (Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company). Google Scholar

Chu Chin Chow. 1934, dir. Walter Forde (Gainsborough Pictures). Google Scholar

Daughter of the Dragon. 1931, dir. Lloyd Corrigan (Paramount Pictures). Google Scholar

The Devil is a Woman. 1935, dir. Josef Von Sternberg (Paramount Pictures). Google Scholar

East is West. 1930, dir. Monta Bell (Universal Pictures). Google Scholar

Eran trece. 1931, dir. David Howard (Fox Film Corporation). Google Scholar

Intolerance. 1916, dir. D. W. Griffith (Triangle Film Company). Google Scholar

Oriente es occidente. 1930, dir. George Melford and Enrique Tovar Ávalos (Universal Pictures). Google Scholar

Piccadilly. 1929, dir. Ewald André Dupont (British International Pictures). Google Scholar

Shanghai Express. 1932, dir. Josef von Sternberg (Paramount Pictures). Google Scholar

The Sheik. 1921, dir. George Melford (Paramount Pictures). Google Scholar

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Author details

DONOVAN, MARY KATE