July 2015

Jul 31 2015
August 1, 2015 Mary Jo Leddy, Catherine McKinnon, and Peter Gross are perfect examples of the old adage, “’Tis better to give than to receive.” Be inspired as they discuss what compels them to give of themselves to the charitable causes closest to their hearts. more...

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Jul 31 2015
August 1, 2015 Looking after yourself emotionally, spiritually, intellectually and physically, you will be well equipped to make it through difficult times at work. more...

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Jul 31 2015
August 1, 2015 The best communicators are those who can use words and actions so eloquently that they make the audience stop and think about the message according to high school student Lani. more...

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Jul 31 2015
People live differently when it’s the weekend. Our bodies are calmer and our mind is more at peace. On weekends we are able to relax and enjoy life more easily. Sadly when the workweek starts, things change and our bodies … Continue reading more...

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Jul 31 2015
July 31, 2015 Tranquility at Algonquin Island This photograph was taken by Shawn Micallef, editor of Spacing Magazine and author of The Trouble with Brunch. more...

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Jul 31 2015

Good ideas are only good ideas …UNTIL you find how to let the world know about your ideas. BUT before you do that.. you must first figure out where on earth (literally) these people are.. Heres a quicky video that talks exposure so you can rock n’ roll with your bizz!

The post Lets talk exposure for your Fitness & Health Business appeared first on Stephanie Joanne.

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Jul 31 2015
Image courtesy of tiverlylucky at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I have had a fascinating week, interviewing women for the One Red Lipstick book. 



One of the reasons we embarked on this project was that we knew instinctively that women who are successful by society’s standards, often have a story to tell.  

As women entrepreneurs, we all know that it is never plain sailing, that often there are obstacles to be overcome, but we’re really good at putting on the mask (and the red lipstick) and acting as if nothing is wrong.



Sometimes success comes with a hefty price tag when we have been so embroiled and focused in our business that we neglect our health, take our relationships for granted and are so driven that really our life is out of kilter.  


I remember years ago having a speaker who talked about just that.  In actual fact she was there to talk on a different topic, but her recent realization and wake up call of how she was missing the boat was top of mind, and that is what she focused on in her presentation.   I applaud her honesty and willingness to be vulnerable.


We take our health for granted.  It is not until we have lost our ability to do something – as simple as just getting up without pain -  that we realize how precious life and our health is.  Success takes on a different interpretation, and maybe we need to revisit what success means to us.


Certainly in the summer the pace is slower. We take time to stop and think, but why can’t we do that twelve months of the year?  I am challenging myself with the same question. When I come up with the answer, I’ll let you know.


One of the closing questions we ask the women is what advice they would give to someone starting out.  I loved the reply from my last interviewee -  “Join a gym and lift weights.”  Her rationale? You need to be physically strong to stay the course.


Maybe that’s advice that would work for all of us as we weave our way through life.  What do you think?


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Jul 31 2015
Image courtesy of tiverlylucky at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I have had a fascinating week, interviewing women for the One Red Lipstick book. 



One of the reasons we embarked on this project was that we knew instinctively that women who are successful by society’s standards, often have a story to tell.  

As women entrepreneurs, we all know that it is never plain sailing, that often there are obstacles to be overcome, but we’re really good at putting on the mask (and the red lipstick) and acting as if nothing is wrong.



Sometimes success comes with a hefty price tag when we have been so embroiled and focused in our business that we neglect our health, take our relationships for granted and are so driven that really our life is out of kilter.  


I remember years ago having a speaker who talked about just that.  In actual fact she was there to talk on a different topic, but her recent realization and wake up call of how she was missing the boat was top of mind, and that is what she focused on in her presentation.   I applaud her honesty and willingness to be vulnerable.


We take our health for granted.  It is not until we have lost our ability to do something – as simple as just getting up without pain -  that we realize how precious life and our health is.  Success takes on a different interpretation, and maybe we need to revisit what success means to us.


Certainly in the summer the pace is slower. We take time to stop and think, but why can’t we do that twelve months of the year?  I am challenging myself with the same question. When I come up with the answer, I’ll let you know.


One of the closing questions we ask the women is what advice they would give to someone starting out.  I loved the reply from my last interviewee -  “Join a gym and lift weights.”  Her rationale? You need to be physically strong to stay the course.


Maybe that’s advice that would work for all of us as we weave our way through life.  What do you think?


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Jul 31 2015

While it’s true that the lace trend has some unfortunate history, it can be be worn with class. Abandon the mental imagery you may have of lace crop tops and short-shorts because there is another way. Lace can still make for a respectable outfit, both feminine and polished, if it’s done correctly. This Lilac Lace Mid-Sleeve Dress by Shoshanna is an ideal example of how to conquer this trend without […]

The post Frock Friday: Lilac Mid-Sleeve Lace Dress appeared first on Frockology.

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Jul 30 2015
Hello sweetness, Have you ever had a dream that was so clear, that you wanted… more...

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Jul 30 2015
“Who has time to sit down and read anymore?” I hear that often from many entrepreneurs and the sad part is……they just don’t get it. Reading is one of the habits of very successful entrepreneurs. I love to read.  And call me old fashioned but I love to hold a book in my hand, feel... more...

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Jul 30 2015

This week’s gorgeous frocker is Marta Young wearing the cute and sassy Tibi Red and Cream Short Sleeve Mini. This frock has  structured cut and is abstract giving it a chic and edgy feel while combining feminine elements through its detailing in the pattern. Its length and structure make it classy while its backless back makes it sassy. Marta emailed us to let us know how thrilled she was with […]

The post Customer of the Week: Marta Young appeared first on Frockology.

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Jul 29 2015

It’s a bit over the top out there, isn’t it? We’ve pulled together some ideas to help you find some relief from this extreme heat.

The post Beat the Heat appeared first on Toronto Mom Now.

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Jul 29 2015

All aboard! We’ve rounded up three fun ideas for outings your little conductor will love.

The post Train Lovers Guide to Toronto appeared first on Toronto Mom Now.

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Jul 28 2015
Drying Rack. Words. Cars. Roasting Veggies. Fires. Life. It is the space in the drying rack that allows the air to circulate and allows the clothes to dry. It is the space between letters that allow us to read the … Continue reading more...

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Jul 28 2015
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE TORONTO, July 28, 2015 — Tonight on Shannon Skinner Live episode 9, host Shannon Skinner speaks with […] more...

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Jul 28 2015
It started in February when I attended a Reiki Masters intensive in Arizona. I returned ready to make a daily commitment to my personal reiki practice. Don’t get me wrong – I practice almost daily in my work for clients, I use reiki as my 'go to' whenever issues arise but that is very different from spending time each day doing my self-reiki. Whether I have 10 minutes or 60 minutes, I have added this routine into my day. I have experienced a higher sense of inner balance and calm. Continue reading more...

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Jul 28 2015

Here at Rent Frock Repeat we strongly believe that beauty on a budget shouldn’t have to be an off-brand creation that can barely make it past one round in the laundry room. We know every woman wants to look good even when looking exceptional isn’t in this month’s budget break down. Luckily, we have a wide range of rentable frocks under $100! We have a list of designer favourites perfect […]

The post Trend Tuesday: Best Summer Dresses Under $100 appeared first on Frockology.

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Jul 28 2015

To keep you living a fabulous life we have another edition of our Where & Wear event listings – helping you fill your social calendars with events from across the country. We are here to help you with that dilemma that arises every weekend: Where are you going and what are you going to wear? What: Festival Mode & Design  Montreal is always a fashion forward city but for a […]

The post Where & Wear Event Listings: Festival Mode & Design, TOM and more. appeared first on Frockology.

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Jul 27 2015
I have reached that point in my life where I can look back as much as I can see forward. […] more...

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Jul 27 2015

Hotdogs, peanuts, cotton candy and Casey at the Bat, baseball means summer, and the field of dreams is a great way to while away a steamy afternoon.

The post Who’s on first? Kids baseball activities appeared first on Toronto Mom Now.

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Jul 26 2015
Youth springs to life with embarrassment and  self-consciousness, age  oftimes  dawns  with boring self-obsession. I know nothing more tedious whether in myself or in others than ‘woe is me’ sentimentality.  I dislike myself when I fall prey to ‘meism’, and … Continue reading more...

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Jul 25 2015
I must admit that before volunteering with Not Far From The Tree, I knew little about cooking with fruit, let alone fruit that had been picked locally. I’ve learned so... Read more > more...

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Jul 25 2015
Danielle Klassen started Food Explore as a way to explore alternative ideas for a more socially conscious and environmentally sustainable food system, locally. We were lucky to have her along... Read more > more...

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Jul 25 2015
As a therapist, I’ve noticed that many couples who go through divorce realize when it’s too late that they didn’t discuss things they ended up fighting over. All marriages are a legal contract, a lot like a business partnership. If … Continue reading more...

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Jul 25 2015
July 25, 2015 The Best Place To Be This Summer! This photograph was taken by Gillian Prupas at Nathan Phillip Square during Panamania. more...

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Jul 25 2015
Beauty…breathtaking beauty after the storm. ————————————————————————————————————————- Homemade Deliciousness (click on image to be taken to recipe) ————————————————————————————————————————- Divine Wisdom is all around. These gems came courtesy of Mike and Hayley Jones who shared their incredible story of doing God’s Will … Continue reading more...

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Jul 24 2015
Summer Science - Engage your kids' curiosity with these fun summer science activities View activities> more...

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Jul 24 2015

Morgan Ratcliffe is the Rent frock Repeat employee of the month! Morgan is a relative newcomer to our team — but we’re not quite sure how we ever survived without her! She’s positive and a total team player — we’re blessed to call her RfR family! A few compliments from Morgan’s co-workers: “Morgan always comes into the office with a smile and a positive attitude. She definitely brightens up the showroom, and her […]

The post EMPLOYEE OF THE MONTH: Morgan Ratcliffe appeared first on Frockology.

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Jul 24 2015

Why Book a Private Fitting? The benefits of working with an RfR stylist. Although Rent frock Repeat started as an online-only based company, over the last four glorious (and albeit, crazy) years, we have grown to add not one, but two showrooms (our second is located at 107 Murray Street in Ottawa, Ont.) that we have filled to the rafters with frocks in all different shapes, sizes, colours and cuts […]

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Jul 24 2015

How To Style a Strapless Dress for Day and Night Strapless dresses are all the rage when summer hits. We see a number of maxi, floral and printed strapless dresses at various functions, but it’s hard to find one that can accommodate a formal event. Every strapless dress we own seems like it was purchased last minute for resort vacation. It’s hard to hit that sweet spot with strapless – […]

The post Frock Friday: Strapless Structured Ombré Dress appeared first on Frockology.

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Jul 24 2015

It’s amazing what you can do when you clear out all the old junk that’s been collecting dust in the back corner of your yard.

The post Remove the Junk and Plant a Garden appeared first on Toronto Mom Now.

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Jul 23 2015

Saturday, July 25th, Stella & Dot Senior Director Carmen Shera is holding a Stylist Opportunity Event at the Extended Stay Canada Hotel in Ottawa. The event, which begins at 6pm, is open to anyone interested in either becoming a Stella & Dot stylist or simply learning more about the incredibly successful (not to mention beautiful) brand. We spoke with Carmen Shera to get the scoop on this weekend’s event. A […]

The post Stella & Dot Stylist Opportunity Event in Ottawa appeared first on Frockology.

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Jul 23 2015

Rent frock repeat (RfR) is an ecommerce collaborative consumption company where women, from across Canada, can rent designer dresses straight off the fashion runways for up to 90% off the retail price. With over 61,000 members and growing, Rent frock Repeat is looking for a stylist to provide outstanding customer experiences for their new Ottawa, Ontario showroom location. Description: The RfR Stylist will provide outstanding customer service to RfR members […]

The post Job Posting: Stylist Position–Ottawa appeared first on Frockology.

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Jul 23 2015
“I’ve worked so hard over the past few years – I feel guilty when I take a break!” Have you ever felt like this? I hear it all the time from entrepreneurs who have been in business for a number of years. I have felt that way, too.  Another interesting part of all of this... more...

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Jul 23 2015

  Ready for some more fool-proof health and fitness business tips. Today I am sharing five steps to help you create and then sell your very own fitness services. These easy-to-follow steps produce real results and have helped me build a platform as a brand. Remember, you get what you put in and short-cutting any […]

The post Create & Sell Your Own Fitness Services In 5 Steps! appeared first on Stephanie Joanne.

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Jul 23 2015

I have been blogging for over ten years now.  I’ve garnered a loyal audience, but nothing like the readership I got recently when I wrote about indecision.  Clearly this is a hot topic as over 2,000 readers stopped by to read what I had to say, which leads me to ask why?


Why is it that indecision is epidemic in our culture?  My first conclusion is that perhaps we just have too many choices.  “Back in the day” we were much more limited in what we could pursue as a career, for example.  At the risk of aging myself, when I left high school, you could be a nurse, teacher or secretary, that was it.  Today the options are endless.


But I suspect the more underlying problem is fear.  Fear of making the wrong decision . Fear of making mistakes.  Fear of failure.  And maybe even fear of success. So many of us strive for perfection, even when we know deep down it doesn’t exist.  So we wait until we think it is a sure thing before we make the final decision.  But if you wait too long, it could be too late and you miss out on an exciting opportunity.


Perhaps because I am an entrepreneur, I am more comfortable with risk.  I am used to ambiguity, as it goes with the territory.  So making a decision does not paralyze me.  Right now in fact I am poised to embark on a new venture which will shake things up.  Am I nervous?  You bet.  Am I worried it will bomb? Yup.  Will I be on a steep learning curve?  Yes.  But is this going to stop me?  No.  I get excited at the potential and I am building in time to plan.  This is not something that is going to happen overnight.


For me, staying still or with the status quo is never an option.  Perhaps it should be, but I want to grow and evolve personally and professionally, and sometimes that can get messy.  I need to be prepared for the worse case scenario, but at the same time have the faith and confidence that this will work.


In my original blog I spoke about how indecision was a decision in itself.  Sometimes in order to move forward we have to choose. Perhaps as a society we have started to overthink things instead of listening to our intuition.  It does in fairness, help if you have done some self-awareness work, in that you know and understand your strengths, weaknesses and foibles.  Being in tune with your values and your “code of ethics” can also help point you in the right direction.


If you are faced with some tough decisions, ask yourself what is the worst thing that could happen if I do A or B?  Think through what you could do to soften a bad landing. But I encourage you – make a decision – move ahead.  Nothing is carved in stone. If it doesn’t work, learn from it and move on. 


Just don’t sit there, literally stuck in the mud.  Break free from the indecision that is holding you hostage.  You deserve better.



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Jul 23 2015

I have been blogging for over ten years now.  I’ve garnered a loyal audience, but nothing like the readership I got recently when I wrote about indecision.  Clearly this is a hot topic as over 2,000 readers stopped by to read what I had to say, which leads me to ask why?


Why is it that indecision is epidemic in our culture?  My first conclusion is that perhaps we just have too many choices.  “Back in the day” we were much more limited in what we could pursue as a career, for example.  At the risk of aging myself, when I left high school, you could be a nurse, teacher or secretary, that was it.  Today the options are endless.


But I suspect the more underlying problem is fear.  Fear of making the wrong decision . Fear of making mistakes.  Fear of failure.  And maybe even fear of success. So many of us strive for perfection, even when we know deep down it doesn’t exist.  So we wait until we think it is a sure thing before we make the final decision.  But if you wait too long, it could be too late and you miss out on an exciting opportunity.


Perhaps because I am an entrepreneur, I am more comfortable with risk.  I am used to ambiguity, as it goes with the territory.  So making a decision does not paralyze me.  Right now in fact I am poised to embark on a new venture which will shake things up.  Am I nervous?  You bet.  Am I worried it will bomb? Yup.  Will I be on a steep learning curve?  Yes.  But is this going to stop me?  No.  I get excited at the potential and I am building in time to plan.  This is not something that is going to happen overnight.


For me, staying still or with the status quo is never an option.  Perhaps it should be, but I want to grow and evolve personally and professionally, and sometimes that can get messy.  I need to be prepared for the worse case scenario, but at the same time have the faith and confidence that this will work.


In my original blog I spoke about how indecision was a decision in itself.  Sometimes in order to move forward we have to choose. Perhaps as a society we have started to overthink things instead of listening to our intuition.  It does in fairness, help if you have done some self-awareness work, in that you know and understand your strengths, weaknesses and foibles.  Being in tune with your values and your “code of ethics” can also help point you in the right direction.


If you are faced with some tough decisions, ask yourself what is the worst thing that could happen if I do A or B?  Think through what you could do to soften a bad landing. But I encourage you – make a decision – move ahead.  Nothing is carved in stone. If it doesn’t work, learn from it and move on. 


Just don’t sit there, literally stuck in the mud.  Break free from the indecision that is holding you hostage.  You deserve better.



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Jul 22 2015
Over the weekend, I went with friends to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. While we were there, I took the opportunity to go through the China: Through the Looking Glass exhibit again (I discovered that I’d completely missed two whole floors of the exhibit). Once again, I was drawn to the section of the exhibit dealing with Anna May Wong (1905-1961) who was the first Chinese American movie star. Along with her costume from Limehouse Blues, the exhibit featured dresses that were inspired by dresses that Anna May had worn in her films, along with clips of several of her movies including Toll of the Sea, one of the first Technicolor films, Shanghai Express with Marlene Dietrich (one of her best remembered films), and Limehouse Blues where George Raft unfortunately cast as Asian.  Even with the sound off, Anna May Wong is so vibrant and alive in these clips, particularly the scenes from Toll of the Sea (1922) which is based on Madame Butterfly. The film and Anna May’s performance seem incredibly modern, not dated at all. It’s hard to believe that she was only 17 when the movie was made.


During her career she made dozens of films in Hollywood, London and Berlin. She was glamorous and sophisticated; photographers flocked to take her portrait. Despite never having graduated high school, she was worldly and articulate, with friends like Carl van Vechten, Evelyn Waugh and Paul Robeson. Yet she spent most of her career typecast either as a demure, submissive, painted doll ‘Butterfly’ roles or a scheming Dragon Lady. Some people see Anna May as a victim of Hollywood, condemned to play stereotyped Asian roles — lotus flower or dragon lady, and shouldered aside by white actors such as Luise Rainer and Myrna Loy in yellow face. Anna May Wong’s reputation has suffered over the years because of the roles that she played. The older generation blame her for playing stereotypical roles in the same way that Hattie McDaniel was condemned for playing maids. It’s hard to be the first one, whether it’s flying across the Atlantic or becoming the first Chinese-American film star. People had expectations that Anna found almost impossible to fulfill. She had no role models to look up to. And Hollywood didn’t jump at the chance to develop films for her or groom her for stardom. They just didn’t see her as leading lady material.


The newspapers and film critics in China were also harsh in their criticism of her film roles, that they were shameful. As if she were in a position to pick and choose, and she just chose the ones that had her playing prostitutes and dragon ladies. They didn’t know what to make of her, she looked Chinese but she was thoroughly American, with her western clothes and California accent. She partied hard, dancing the Charleston, the fox-trot and the tango, showing her knees.


Anna was born and raised in L.A., the daughter of a laundryman and his wife who were both second generation Chinese-American. She was given the name Wong Liu Tsong which means “yellow willow frost” on January 3, 1905.  She was the second child and second girl, eventually the family included several more children including the much longed for sons. She didn’t grow up in Chinatown but just outside it, in a neighborhood of mainly Mexican and European residents.  Initially Anna and her older sister went to a public school but after enduring racial taunts from her classmates, her parents enrolled them in a Presbyterian Chinese school. The classes were taught in English, but Anna attended a Chinese language school on the weekends. Although Anna's family had been in the United States since before the Civil War, they were still subject to intense scrutiny.  Chinese immigration had been curtailed since the 1880's.  Every time Anna made plans to travel abroad, she had to fill out paperwork detailing her plans, otherwise there was also the chance that she would not be able to return. Given her outspokenness, it wouldn't be surprising to find that the FBI kept a file on her activities. 


Like many teenage girls, Anna May dreamed of being in the movies.  She would sneak out of school, spending all the money she had saved going to the movies. But she managed to achieve her dream, first as an extra in films and then later on in featured and secondary roles.  Lucky for her that the movies had relocated from the East Coast to the sunny climate of Southern California.  Movies were being made in and around her neighborhood. From childhood, Anna May was pestering the filmmakers to get them to allow her to be in the movies. Eventually Anna May dropped out of high school to focus full-time on acting. “I was so young when I began that I knew I still had youth if I failed, so I determined to give myself 10 years to succeed as an actress.”


Despite her success, Anna May struggled her whole career to take somehow imbue the stereotypical roles she was cast in into something more.  She worked closely with the costume designers and hair and make-up artists to create her characters, often bringing in clothes from home to wear.  She lobbied hard to play the lead role in the MGM film of Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth only to discover that to the producers, she “too Chinese to play Chinese”. The Chinese government also apparently advised against casting her in the role.  Anna had to see a role that she had dreamed of playing given to a white Austrian woman, Luise Rainer, who won her first Academy Award for the role.  Instead, Anna was offered the only unsympathetic role in the film.


The production code of the 1930’s stymied her career.  Interracial love was taboo. If a non-Asian actor was cast to play an Asian male, Anna could not share an on-screen kiss with him. There was only one leading Asian man in U.S. films in the silent era, Sessue Hayakawa. Until other Asian leading men could be found, Anna’s career was stifled. In interviews, she was outspoken out the dangers of typecasting.  The salary that she was paid were nowhere near comparable to what her white counterparts or even her Asian male co-stars.  For Daughter of the Dragon (1931) Wong was paid $6,000 compared to Sessue Hayakawa who was paid $10,000 or Warner Oland who made $12,000 for 23 minutes of screen time.


In Europe, Anna May found fewer casting restrictions.  In 1934’s Java Head, she actually got to kiss the white actor who played her husband on screen. She made her stage debut in play based on an Edgar Wallace novel starring a young Laurence Olivier as well as 5 films in England over the years.  Moving on to Germany, she made four films before the Nazi’s came to power.  Anna picked up languages easily, adding German and French to her repertoire.  While in Germany, she became friends with Marlene Dietrich, leading to rumors that the two women were lovers which damaged her reputation and embarrassed her family. Even in Europe, Anna was considered wonderfully foreign, there were few Chinese living in England, France or Germany.  In some ways, she was like a exotic pet at the zoo.



Throughout her career, Anna May worked diligently on her craft. When English critics complained that her voice was too American, she learned to speak with an English accent.  She took voice lessons to work on her voice so that it could be heard in the theatre.  When film roles were thin on the ground, Anna May created a cabaret act which she toured through Europe and the United States. After the disappointment of losing the role of O-Lan in the film version of The Good Earth, Anna May decided it was time to visit China.  Her father and younger siblings had all moved back to the tiny village of her ancestors. She spent a year touring China, studying Mandarin and Chinese culture.  Her plans were to eventually bring English translations of Chinese plays to the West to promote a better understanding of Chinese culture.  Unfortunately those plans never came to fruition.



Returning to Hollywood in the late 1930s, Anna May Wong starred in a series of B pictures, where she finally got play Chinese Americans in a more positive light including King of Chinatown where she portrayed a surgeon! Once America entered World War II, Wong turned her attention more towards fundraising, devoting her time and her money to helping the Chinese cause against the Japan. Post-war, Anna returned to acting, but on television rather than film. In 1951, she had her own series entitled The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong, which was the first U.S. television show featuring an Asian-American lead.


Her personal life was just as tumultuous as her screen career. At 17, she had an affair with the director Tod Browning who was not only older but married as well.  Most of her relationships were with white men, which Anna May kept out of the public eye. An interracial relationship would have ended her career. She was openly admitted in interviews that she would most likely never marry, claiming that Chinese and Chinese-American men found her too independent. Her sister, Mary Wong, who had also pursued a career in film, committed suicide.  Suffering on and off from depression, Anna began to drink and smoke heavily, which over the years began to take its toll on her health. Still she forged on with her career, receiving a start on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960.  She was just about to start shooting Flower Drum Song in 1961, when she died suddenly of a heart attack during her sleep. She was only 56.


Further reading:


Graham Russell Gao Hodges, Anna May Wong: From Laundryman's Daughter to Hollywood Legend, Hong Kong University Press; 1 edition (June 1, 2012)


Anne Helen Petersen, Scandals of Classic Hollywood: Sex, Deviance, and Drama from the Golden Age of American Cinema, Plume (September 30, 2014)


Mark Bailey, Of All the Gin Joints: Stumbling through Hollywood History, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2014.



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Jul 22 2015
Over the weekend, I went with friends to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. While we were there, I took the opportunity to go through the China: Through the Looking Glass exhibit again (I discovered that I’d completely missed two whole floors of the exhibit). Once again, I was drawn to the section of the exhibit dealing with Anna May Wong (1905-1961) who was the first Chinese American movie star. Along with her costume from Limehouse Blues, the exhibit featured dresses that were inspired by dresses that Anna May had worn in her films, along with clips of several of her movies including Toll of the Sea, one of the first Technicolor films, Shanghai Express with Marlene Dietrich (one of her best remembered films), and Limehouse Blues where George Raft unfortunately cast as Asian.  Even with the sound off, Anna May Wong is so vibrant and alive in these clips, particularly the scenes from Toll of the Sea (1922) which is based on Madame Butterfly. The film and Anna May’s performance seem incredibly modern, not dated at all. It’s hard to believe that she was only 17 when the movie was made.


During her career she made dozens of films in Hollywood, London and Berlin. She was glamorous and sophisticated; photographers flocked to take her portrait. Despite never having graduated high school, she was worldly and articulate, with friends like Carl van Vechten, Evelyn Waugh and Paul Robeson. Yet she spent most of her career typecast either as a demure, submissive, painted doll ‘Butterfly’ roles or a scheming Dragon Lady. Some people see Anna May as a victim of Hollywood, condemned to play stereotyped Asian roles — lotus flower or dragon lady, and shouldered aside by white actors such as Luise Rainer and Myrna Loy in yellow face. Anna May Wong’s reputation has suffered over the years because of the roles that she played. The older generation blame her for playing stereotypical roles in the same way that Hattie McDaniel was condemned for playing maids. It’s hard to be the first one, whether it’s flying across the Atlantic or becoming the first Chinese-American film star. People had expectations that Anna found almost impossible to fulfill. She had no role models to look up to. And Hollywood didn’t jump at the chance to develop films for her or groom her for stardom. They just didn’t see her as leading lady material.


The newspapers and film critics in China were also harsh in their criticism of her film roles, that they were shameful. As if she were in a position to pick and choose, and she just chose the ones that had her playing prostitutes and dragon ladies. They didn’t know what to make of her, she looked Chinese but she was thoroughly American, with her western clothes and California accent. She partied hard, dancing the Charleston, the fox-trot and the tango, showing her knees.


Anna was born and raised in L.A., the daughter of a laundryman and his wife who were both second generation Chinese-American. She was given the name Wong Liu Tsong which means “yellow willow frost” on January 3, 1905.  She was the second child and second girl, eventually the family included several more children including the much longed for sons. She didn’t grow up in Chinatown but just outside it, in a neighborhood of mainly Mexican and European residents.  Initially Anna and her older sister went to a public school but after enduring racial taunts from her classmates, her parents enrolled them in a Presbyterian Chinese school. The classes were taught in English, but Anna attended a Chinese language school on the weekends. Although Anna's family had been in the United States since before the Civil War, they were still subject to intense scrutiny.  Chinese immigration had been curtailed since the 1880's.  Every time Anna made plans to travel abroad, she had to fill out paperwork detailing her plans, otherwise there was also the chance that she would not be able to return. Given her outspokenness, it wouldn't be surprising to find that the FBI kept a file on her activities. 


Like many teenage girls, Anna May dreamed of being in the movies.  She would sneak out of school, spending all the money she had saved going to the movies. But she managed to achieve her dream, first as an extra in films and then later on in featured and secondary roles.  Lucky for her that the movies had relocated from the East Coast to the sunny climate of Southern California.  Movies were being made in and around her neighborhood. From childhood, Anna May was pestering the filmmakers to get them to allow her to be in the movies. Eventually Anna May dropped out of high school to focus full-time on acting. “I was so young when I began that I knew I still had youth if I failed, so I determined to give myself 10 years to succeed as an actress.”


Despite her success, Anna May struggled her whole career to take somehow imbue the stereotypical roles she was cast in into something more.  She worked closely with the costume designers and hair and make-up artists to create her characters, often bringing in clothes from home to wear.  She lobbied hard to play the lead role in the MGM film of Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth only to discover that to the producers, she “too Chinese to play Chinese”. The Chinese government also apparently advised against casting her in the role.  Anna had to see a role that she had dreamed of playing given to a white Austrian woman, Luise Rainer, who won her first Academy Award for the role.  Instead, Anna was offered the only unsympathetic role in the film.


The production code of the 1930’s stymied her career.  Interracial love was taboo. If a non-Asian actor was cast to play an Asian male, Anna could not share an on-screen kiss with him. There was only one leading Asian man in U.S. films in the silent era, Sessue Hayakawa. Until other Asian leading men could be found, Anna’s career was stifled. In interviews, she was outspoken out the dangers of typecasting.  The salary that she was paid were nowhere near comparable to what her white counterparts or even her Asian male co-stars.  For Daughter of the Dragon (1931) Wong was paid $6,000 compared to Sessue Hayakawa who was paid $10,000 or Warner Oland who made $12,000 for 23 minutes of screen time.


In Europe, Anna May found fewer casting restrictions.  In 1934’s Java Head, she actually got to kiss the white actor who played her husband on screen. She made her stage debut in play based on an Edgar Wallace novel starring a young Laurence Olivier as well as 5 films in England over the years.  Moving on to Germany, she made four films before the Nazi’s came to power.  Anna picked up languages easily, adding German and French to her repertoire.  While in Germany, she became friends with Marlene Dietrich, leading to rumors that the two women were lovers which damaged her reputation and embarrassed her family. Even in Europe, Anna was considered wonderfully foreign, there were few Chinese living in England, France or Germany.  In some ways, she was like a exotic pet at the zoo.



Throughout her career, Anna May worked diligently on her craft. When English critics complained that her voice was too American, she learned to speak with an English accent.  She took voice lessons to work on her voice so that it could be heard in the theatre.  When film roles were thin on the ground, Anna May created a cabaret act which she toured through Europe and the United States. After the disappointment of losing the role of O-Lan in the film version of The Good Earth, Anna May decided it was time to visit China.  Her father and younger siblings had all moved back to the tiny village of her ancestors. She spent a year touring China, studying Mandarin and Chinese culture.  Her plans were to eventually bring English translations of Chinese plays to the West to promote a better understanding of Chinese culture.  Unfortunately those plans never came to fruition.



Returning to Hollywood in the late 1930s, Anna May Wong starred in a series of B pictures, where she finally got play Chinese Americans in a more positive light including King of Chinatown where she portrayed a surgeon! Once America entered World War II, Wong turned her attention more towards fundraising, devoting her time and her money to helping the Chinese cause against the Japan. Post-war, Anna returned to acting, but on television rather than film. In 1951, she had her own series entitled The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong, which was the first U.S. television show featuring an Asian-American lead.


Her personal life was just as tumultuous as her screen career. At 17, she had an affair with the director Tod Browning who was not only older but married as well.  Most of her relationships were with white men, which Anna May kept out of the public eye. An interracial relationship would have ended her career. She was openly admitted in interviews that she would most likely never marry, claiming that Chinese and Chinese-American men found her too independent. Her sister, Mary Wong, who had also pursued a career in film, committed suicide.  Suffering on and off from depression, Anna began to drink and smoke heavily, which over the years began to take its toll on her health. Still she forged on with her career, receiving a start on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960.  She was just about to start shooting Flower Drum Song in 1961, when she died suddenly of a heart attack during her sleep. She was only 56.


Further reading:


Graham Russell Gao Hodges, Anna May Wong: From Laundryman's Daughter to Hollywood Legend, Hong Kong University Press; 1 edition (June 1, 2012)


Anne Helen Petersen, Scandals of Classic Hollywood: Sex, Deviance, and Drama from the Golden Age of American Cinema, Plume (September 30, 2014)


Mark Bailey, Of All the Gin Joints: Stumbling through Hollywood History, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2014.



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