Did You Know That Anna May Wong, an Early Chinese American Movie Star, Made a TV Show in 1951?

Photo via AP Images.
Photo via AP Images.

Here is a compelling lost chapter from the history of American broadcasting: trailblazing Chinese American movie star Anna May Wong had an early television show in which she played a crime-solving, globe-trotting gallery owner.

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In a fascinating piece over at Vulture, Nicole Chung investigates 1951's The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong, the first television show featuring an Asian American protagonist. It premiered on the largely forgotten DuMont Television Network, which was such an also-ran in the nascent broadcast market that they were more adventurous than their rivals:

“NBC was excelling in live variety, CBS had sitcoms, so DuMont slipped in and tried to do weird things like the first TV game show, the first TV soap opera,” [Robert] Thompson [of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University] told me. “Even before The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong, DuMont broadcast The Hazel Scott Show, the first network TV show hosted by an African-American. Prime-time sermons, a detective show shot entirely from the eye-level point of view of the detective, proto-reality shows, the trippy comic Dada of Ernie Kovacs — these were all DuMont innovations.” Still, Thompson allowed, a show featuring an Asian-American lead character, actually played by an Asian-American actor was indeed a marked exception “and would remain one, for the most part, for decades to come.”

The fact that they were able to book Wong is a bit incredible—decent roles were tough for her to come by in Hollywood, but she was still a star, and DuMont was a budget operation. Contemporary coverage isn’t particularly positive, and Chung admits that, “As I read the poor reviews, I kept reminding myself that a show starring a Chinese-American woman in 1951 must have been rife with stereotypes.” Unfortunately, it’s impossible to see The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong for ourselves, because it got tossed in the goddamn Hudson in the 1970s with a bunch of the DuMont archive, according to testimony given to the Library of Congress in 1996. Consequently, we don’t have much to look at; here’s a promo photo that was lurking in the Associated Press photo archives.

Photo via AP Images.
Photo via AP Images.

Chung admits: “It’s highly unlikely that Madame Liu-Tsong — an unsolved mystery whose clues are now lost to us — was the show I wish it were. And in a way, it doesn’t matter: It’s increasingly clear that what we need isn’t a single type of show at all; it’s many. I want shows that allow Asian-American characters to be just as complex, important, and alive as their non-Asian counterparts.”

Read the article at Vulture.

Senior Editor at Jezebel, specializing in books, royals, romance novels, houses, history, and the stories we tell about domesticity and femininity. Resident Windsor expert.

DISCUSSION

iamnotanumber7
IAmNotANumber7

Do yourself a favor and google Hazel Scott Show. There are some pretty fantastic photos (I want her coat, but know I couldn’t pull it off as well as she did).