Anna May was born on January 3, 1905, in Los Angeles to second-generation Chinese-American parents.
At 17, she landed her first lead role in a film in color, The Toll of the Sea.
At 19, she starred in The Thief of Baghdad, which introduced her to the public. However, her race prevented her from getting further lead roles in Hollywood.
Anna May was considered a fashion icon. In 1934, the Mayfair Mannequin Society of New York named her the “world’s best-dressed woman,” and in 1938, Look magazine called her the “world’s most beautiful Chinese woman.”
After dealing with the great disappointment of losing a role in the film The Good Earth, Anna May went on a tour of China, visiting her family’s ancestral village and studying Chinese culture.
She died in 1961, at the age of 56. She was a pioneer as a leading Asian-American actor who became popular with white audiences during a historical period of racial discrimination in the U.S.