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September 26 - November 15

Centennial Starlets: Anna May Wong and Janet Gaynor

Born only a year apart, Anna May Wong and Janet Gaynor both made their Hollywood debuts as teenagers and found breakthrough roles before they were twenty, The Toll of the Sea and The Johnstown Flood, respectively.  Embodying flapper chic and challenging traditional ideals of Chinese womanhood, Los Angeles-born Anna May Wong achieved international stardom despite the racism of her time. Wong subverted stereotypes by imbuing her characters with power and self-sufficiency.  One of the most popular Hollywood stars of the silent and early sound eras, Janet Gaynor started out as an extra in silent pictures and soon signed a long-term contract with Fox that led to starring roles which brought her to the attention of directors F.W. Murnau and Frank Borzage.  Gaynor remained a top box-office draw well into the 1930s, portraying variants on her sincere but spunky waif persona in a series of popular musicals, melodramas, and romantic comedies conceived especially for her at Fox.  She famously won the first ever Academy Award for Best Actress for her combined performances in Sunrise, 7th Heaven, and Street Angel.  All of the Janet Gaynor films are presented as restored 35mm prints.

Program notes from the AmericanMuseum of the Moving Image’s Anna May Wong Retrospective and the UCLA Film & Television Archive’s Janet Gaynor: A Centenary Retrospective, Sponsored by the Mayer Foundation.  Special thanks to Livia Bloom and David Schwartz (American Museum of the Moving Image), Paul Ginsberg (Universal Pictures) Nadja Tennstedt (Milestone Films), Jesse Zigelstein (UCLA Film and Television Archive), Fleur Buckley (BFI), Fred MacDonald (MacDonald & Associates).

September 26 (Tuesday) 9 pm

Hollywood on Parade

Directed by Lewis Lewyn
1933, 35mm, b/w, 20 min.
With Anna May Wong, Eddie Kane

Wong recites a Chinese poem in this revue-style short. 
Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

King of Chinatown

Directed by Nick Grinde
US 1939, 16mm, b/w, 60 min.
With Anna May Wong, Akim Tamiroff, J. Carrol Naish, Anthony Quinn

This gangster film is also a tribute to Dr. Margaret “Mom” Chung, the first American-born Chinese female physician and founder of the first clinic in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Based on Chung, Wong’s character is a surgeon who saves a mobster’s life.

September 29 (Friday) 7 pm


Directed by E. A. Dupont
UK 1929, 35mm, silent, b/w, 108 min.
With Anna May Wong, Gilda Gray, Charles Laughton
Live Piano Accompaniment

In her most famous performance, Wong is a scullery maid turned nightclub performer who steals the screen—and the leading man—from her rival (Gray). “She shimmers and so does this newly restored, alternately blue- and amber-tinted print,” writes critic J. Hoberman.  Restored 35mm print.

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September 29 (Friday) 9:15 pm

A Star is Born

Directed by William A. Wellman
US 1937, 35mm, b/w, 107 min.
With Janet Gaynor, Fredric March, Adolphe Menjou

After leaving Fox, Gaynor starred in David O. Selznick’s gimlet-eyed melodrama about the Hollywood movie colony. A Star is Born traces the rise of an aspiring actress (Gaynor) to the heights of fame and fortune, while also charting the obverse trajectory of her matinée idol husband (Fredric March), whose own career nosedives as hers soars to even greater success. Nominated for numerous Academy Awards—including one for Gaynor’s subtle, sympathetic lead performance—A Star is Born became the biggest box-office hit of the year and provided Gaynor with her most famous line—and one of the most memorable last lines in movie history—“This is Mrs. Norman Maine.”

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September 30 (Saturday) 7 pm

The Johnstown Flood

Directed by Irving Cummings
US 1926, 35mm, silent, b/w, approx. 75 min.
With George O’ Brien, Janet Gaynor, Florence Gilbert
Live Piano Accompaniment

Fox poached Gaynor from Universal with the offer of a supporting role in this proto-disaster movie, a period melodrama inspired by the actual catastrophe that struck the titular Pennsylvania town in 1889. George O’Brien stars as a prescient engineer who spots flaws in the local dam and Florence Gilbert is O’Brien’s love interest, but Gaynor steals the show in the minor but crucial role of Anna Burger, a workman’s daughter who rides through the valley on horseback to warn the people of the impending deluge. Gaynor’s memorably tragic performance earned her a five-year contract from, as well as a coveted spot on the 1926 Wampas (Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers) Baby Star roster of up-and-coming starlets most likely to succeed.

The Shamrock Handicap

Directed by John Ford
US 1926, 35mm, silent, b/w, approx. 73 min.
With Janet Gaynor, Leslie Fenton, J. Farrell McDonald
Live Piano Accompaniment

Gaynor got top billing in only her second feature-length assignment at Fox. Directed by John Ford during his studio journeyman period, The Shamrock Handicap is a lighthearted racehorse drama centered in Ireland. Gaynor plays the daughter of a kindly but destitute Irish aristocrat (Louis Payne) forced to sell the bulk of his equestrian stable to a wealthy American. Romance blooms with the young jockey (Fenton) who rides her father’s prize filly in a steeplechase to restore the family fortune. Ford displays earnest affection for the land of his forefathers, not to mention an ethnographic attention to Irish folk customs which anticipates the masterful treatment of similar material in his immigration epic How Green Was My Valley (1941).

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September 30 (Saturday) 9:30 pm

7th Heaven

Directed by Frank Borzage
US 1927, 35mm, silent with music track, b/w, 114 min.
With Janet Gaynor, Charles Farrell, Ben Bard

Frank Borzage auditioned a parade of major theater and movie stars before selecting Gaynor and Charles Farrell as the central couple in his magnum opus, 7th Heaven.  Based on the phenomenally successful Broadway play by Austin Strong, Borzage’s tender and luminous film version features Gaynor as the vulnerable gamine who falls in love with Farrell’s stoic Parisian street cleaner against the backdrop of WWI. The picture won a raft of awards, and Gaynor was praised for her ability “to combine ingénue sweetness with a certain suggestion of wideawake vivacity; to mix facial lyricism with a credible trace of earthiness” (New York Herald Tribune).

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October 1 (Sunday) 6:30 pm

Pep of the Lazy “J”

Directed by Victor Noerdinger
US 1926, 35mm, silent, b/w, 24 min.
With Edmund Cobb, Janet Gaynor
Live Piano Accompaniment

Pep of the Lazy “J” is typical of a series of Universal shorts that starred Janet Gaynor and Edmund Cobb.  Life at the Lazy “J” ranch is upset by the arrival of three strangers.  Pep O’Keefe (Cobb) is a down-on-his-luck cowpoke who saunters into the ranch looking for work.  Instead, he falls for missing heiress May Kennedy, who is accompanied by friend June Adams, played by the fetching 19-year-old Miss Gaynor.  This short makes up for its slight plot with all-out boxing matches, rousing horseback rescues, and the star-quality of Janet Gaynor, whose presence here was noticed by Fox, who cast her to co-star in The Johnstown Flood.

Lucky Star

Directed by Frank Borzage
US 1929, 35mm, silent, b/w, 99 min.
With Janet Gaynor, Charles Farrell, Guinn “Big Boy” Williams
Live Piano Accompaniment

Gaynor’s last collaboration with Borzage finds her once again playing opposite Charles Farrell in a melancholy melodrama about an embattled couple whose love for each other overcomes all odds. Set largely in a rural Midwestern village, Lucky Star features Gaynor as an impoverished, willful young woman enamored of Farrell’s wheelchair-bound WWI veteran. The misty, fairy-tale-like milieu, fabricated entirely inside the studio, is bathed in Borzage’s trademark chiaroscuro lighting and soft-focus camera style. Originally released with short sequences of spoken dialogue and sound effects, Lucky Star was technically a hybrid work, a picture poised on the transition point between the mature silent cinema and the nascent talkie boom. With no known prints in existence, the film was long considered “lost” to history until an intact nitrate copy (minus any sound elements) was recently rediscovered and restored by the Nederlands Filmmuseum.

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October 1 (Sunday) 9 pm

Street Angel

Directed by Frank Borzage
US 1928, 35mm, silent with music track, b/w, 99 min.
With Janet Gaynor, Charles Farrell, Alberto Rabagliati

Fox swiftly reunited Borzage with Gaynor and Farrell in a bid to repeat the popular and critical acclaim of 7th Heaven. Even more mystical and visually ravishing than its predecessor, this stylized studio melodrama rings a few variations on Borzage’s patented romantic formula. Gaynor stars in the title role as an impoverished Neapolitan waif running from the law who finds refuge in the arms of Farrell’s vagabond painter. The least-known of the three films for which Gaynor garnered her Oscar, Street Angel was adapted from a novel by Monckton Hoffe and incorporates authentic details into an expressionistic backlot design surely influenced by the émigré genius Murnau.

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October 3 (Tuesday) 9 pm

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans

Directed by F. W. Murnau
US 1927, 35mm, silent with music track, b/w, 91 min.
With George O’Brien, Janet Gaynor, Margaret Livingstone

The great German director F.W. Murnau handpicked Gaynor to star in his first Hollywood feature. A masterpiece of silent cinema widely considered among the greatest films ever made, Sunrise tells an elemental tale with virtuosic visual invention. The relatively simple story revolves around a hard-working farmer (O’Brien) torn between devotion to his virtuous wife (Gaynor) and desire for a seductive vamp from the city (Livingstone).

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October 4 (Wednesday) 9 pm

State Fair

Directed by Henry King
US 1933, 35mm, b/w, 94 min.
With Janet Gaynor, Will Rogers, Lew Ayres

Gaynor and Will Rogers headlined this family comedy celebrating the rural rituals of the annual State Fair. Based on a bestseller by Phil Stong, the picture gets big laughs out of farmer Rogers’ struggles to prepare his prize hog, Blue Boy, for the big competition. Variety preferred the charming love story over the broad humor, claiming the “chief interest is the debut of a new romance team in Janet Gaynor and Lew Ayres.” To heighten verisimilitude, director Henry King seamlessly incorporated documentary footage of an actual country fair into the staged drama.  An enduring touchstone of nostalgic Americana, State Fair has been remade twice (in 1945 and again in 1962) as a musical with songs written by Rodgers and Hammerstein.

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October 6 (Friday) 7 pm


Directed by David Butler
US 1931, 35mm, b/w, 104 min.
With Janet Gaynor, Charles Farrell, El Brendel

George Gershwin’s first original screen musical starred the popular romantic duo of Gaynor and Farrell in an immigrant saga about a Scottish lass who falls in love with a wealthy New York polo enthusiast. Though Gaynor performs only one song (“Somebody from Somewhere”), she’s the focal point of several major set pieces: the elaborate “Dream Sequence” that presages her welcome to the melting pot; and “New York Rhapsody,” an impressionistic urban tour that captures Gaynor’s fear and alienation as she wanders despairingly around Manhattan. Delicious combines the best of Broadway musical comedy with the visual dynamism unique to the medium of motion pictures.

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October 6 (Friday) 9 pm


Directed by William Dieterle,
US 1933, 35mm, b/w, 85 min.
With Janet Gaynor, Henry Garat, C. Aubrey Smith

Gaynor again essays musical comedy in this delightful costume romp based on a popular German film from the same period. Set in a mythical European kingdom lavishly realized on the studio backlot, Adorable spotlights Gaynor as a rebellious princess with a penchant for partying incognito with the proles, including a suave delicatessen owner (Garat) who is himself a lieutenant in disguise. This humorous tale of romance and mistaken identity is further enlivened by catchy songs added to the original German score and some positively whimsical flights of fantasy and cinematic legerdemain directed with great panache by the patrician German expat Wilhelm (aka William) Dieterle.

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October 7 (Saturday) 7 pm


Directed by Richard Eichberg
Germany/UK 1928, 35mm, silent, b/w, approx. 94 min.
With Anna May Wong, Heinrich George
Live Piano Accompaniment

In her first European film, Wong plays a dancer drawn into a tragic romantic triangle when she meets a cabaret knife thrower and his capricious sweetheart. Song is notable both for Wong’s dancing and for the dramatic power of her performance.  Archival 35mm print from the British Film Institute.

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October 7 (Saturday) 9 pm

Ladies in Love

Directed by Edward H. Griffith
US 1936, 35mm, b/w, 94 min.
With Janet Gaynor, Loretta Young, Constance Bennett

In her last film for Fox, Gaynor appears alongside Constance Bennett and Loretta Young in a romantic drama about three girlfriends sharing a deluxe apartment while they search for husbands in modern-day Budapest. Gaynor got top billing to play the sensible gal enamored of a dignified doctor (Don Ameche).  Tyrone Power makes the most of his small part as Young’s aristocratic love interest; his popularity in the picture convinced the studio to groom him for even greater stardom.  The film’s storyline, based on the play Three Girls by Ladislaus Bus-Fekete, became a virtual template at the studio, inspiring later iterations of the formula such as How to Marry a Millionaire (1953).

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October 8 (Sunday) 7 pm

The Toll of the Sea

Directed by Chester M. Franklin
US 1922, 35mm, silent, b/w, approx. 48 min.
With Anna May Wong, Kenneth Harlan, Beatrice Bentley
Live Piano Accompaniment

The first color feature film was also seventeen-year-old Wong’s first leading role. In this popular melodrama based on Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, Variety singled out “the extraordinarily fine playing of Anna May Wong, who is an exquisite crier without glycerin.”  Restored 35mm print from UCLA Film and TV Archive.

Bold Journey: “Native Land”

US 1957, video, 30 min.

Wong narrates this television documentary about her 1936 trip to China.  Rare archival footage from private collector.

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October 8 (Sunday) 8:45 pm

The Thief of Bagdad

Directed by Raoul Walsh
US 1924, 35mm, silent, b/w, 140 min.
With Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., Snitz Edwards, Charles Belcher, Julanne Johnston.
Live Piano Accompaniment

Fairbanks, who wrote, produced, and starred in this lavish, action-packed Arabian Nights-inspired epic, was so impressed by The Toll of the Sea that he cast Wong as a double-crossing “Mongol Slave.” She delivered a sultry, scene-stealing performance that launched her to stardom.

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October 10 (Tuesday) 9 pm

Tess of the Storm Country

Directed by Alfred Santell
US 1932, 35mm, b/w, 75 min.
With Janet Gaynor, Charles Farrell, Dudley Digges

Based on the book by Grace Miller White, Tess of the Storm Country was such a hit for Mary Pickford at Famous Players in 1914 that she reprised the role—in the only remake of her career—for a 1922 version at United Artists. The success of both silent pictures guaranteed a sound adaptation, which Fox conceived as another vehicle for Gaynor and Farrell, their eleventh of twelve screen teamings. Gaynor shines in the title part as the plucky daughter of an ornery skipper (Digges), while Farrell portrays the son of a dastardly local landowner on the seafaring coastline of the otherwise nameless “Storm Country.”  Director Alfred Santell considerably softened the naturalistic, often brutal source novel in an effort to fashion an upbeat, affirmative film for Gaynor’s legion of faithful fans.

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October 11 (Wednesday) 9 pm

The Limejuice Mystery

Directed by Jack Harrison
UK 1930, 16mm, b/w, 8 min.

This comic short features the marionettes “Herlock Shomes” and “Anna Went Wrong.”  Archival  print from the Library of Congress.

Daughter of the Dragon

Directed by Lloyd Corrigan
US 1931, 35mm, b/w, 70 min.
With Anna May Wong, Warner Oland, Sessue Hayakawa

Impressed with her success abroad, Paramount gave Wong the lead in this thriller based on the pulp best-seller Daughter of Fu Manchu. As Princess Ling Moy, Wong must avenge the death of her father, Fu Manchu, who is the embodiment of negative Asian stereotypes. “The picture proves that white actors impersonating Orientals seemed more the Chinese type than did the two principal Oriental players,” sneered Variety, exemplifying the prevalent racism of the time.  Restored 35mm print from UCLA Film and TV Archive.

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October 18 (Wednesday) 9 pm

The Young in Heart

Directed by Richard Wallace
US 1938, 35mm, b/w, 90 min.
With Janet Gaynor, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Paulette Goddard

A witty, heartfelt screwball comedy from super-producer David O. Selznick, The Young in Heart was also Gaynor’s last released feature before her retirement from the movies—and marriage to famed fashion designer Gilbert Adrian—in 1939. Gaynor stars as the wily daughter in a family of high-class con artists intent on fleecing a kindly old widow (Broadway veteran Minnie Dupree in her showstopping screen debut) out of her vast fortune. An original downbeat conclusion, derived from the source novel, apparently tested so poorly in previews that Selznick reassembled the cast and shot a new, upbeat ending for the final cut of the film.  The feature will be preceded by The Young in Heart short screen test.

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October 24 (Wednesday) 9:15 pm

Hearst Newsreel Outtakes: “Anna May Wong Visits Shanghai”


Shanghai Express

Directed by Josef von Sternberg
US 1932, 35mm, b/w, 80 min.
With Anna May Wong, Marlene Dietrich, Clive Brook, Warner Oland

In Josef von Sternberg’s classic film, Wong and Dietrich are notorious women of the night whose train is hijacked by rebel Chinese. Wong’s cool character remains aloof to snubs by her fellow passengers, all of whose lives she saves.  Restored 35mm print from UCLA Film and TV Archive.

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November 4 (Saturday) 9:30 pm

Servants’ Entrance

Directed by Frank Lloyd
US 1934, 35mm, b/w, 88 min.
With Janet Gaynor, Lew Ayres, Ned Sparks

A charming, unpretentious little programmer pumped up to “A”-class production standards, Servants’ Entrance was one in a series of immensely successful talkie vehicles Fox designed for Gaynor in the early ’30s. Gaynor stars as an erstwhile rich girl who takes work as a maid in preparation for an impoverished future and falls in love with a handsome chauffeur played by Lew Ayres. The press hailed the picture as “an agreeable romantic comedy which should—and unquestionably will—find high favor with those who visit the cinema primarily in search of entertainment” (New York Times). Especially noteworthy is Gaynor’s cartoon anxiety dream, an animated sequence produced for the film by none other than Walt Disney.

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November 7 (Tuesday) 9 pm

Hollywood Party

Directed by Roy Rowland
US 1937, 35mm, 21 min.
With Clark Gable, Joan Bennett, Joe E. Brown

This rare Technicolor footage of Wong shows the actress modeling fashions acquired during her recent trip to China.

Daughter of Shanghai

Directed by Robert Florey
US 1937, 35mm, b/w, 61 min.
With Philip Ahn, Larry “Buster” Crabbe, Anthony Quinn, Anna May Wong

This action-packed thriller is about a woman trying to avenge her murdered father and destroy a gang of immigrant smugglers. It is unusual for its time, featuring two top-billed Asian co-stars (Wong and Ahn). 
35mm print from the Library of Congress.

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November 8 (Wednesday) 9:15 pm

The Farmer Takes A Wife

Directed by Victor Fleming
US 1935, 35mm, b/w, 91 min.
With Janet Gaynor, Henry Fonda, Charles Bickford

Henry Fonda made his big-screen debut in this folksy period drama by reprising the role that had won him acclaim on the Broadway stage. Fonda plays a soft-spoken, progress-minded farmer who falls in love with the feisty cook (Gaynor) aboard a working canal barge. Gaynor’s forthright, spunky role in The Farmer Takes A Wife enabled her to stretch her wholesome star persona into fresh territory. As Variety noted, “Gaynor is given a part which permits her to get away from her sometimes too sweet assignments.”

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November 15 (Wednesday) 9 pm

Small Town Girl

Directed by William A. Wellman
US 1936, 35mm, b/w, 90 min.
With Janet Gaynor, Robert Taylor, Binnie Barnes

For the first time in 8 years under contract at Fox, Gaynor was loaned out to another studio (MGM) and attached to this project originally intended as a vehicle for Jean Harlow. Gaynor plays the title part of a sharp young woman stifled by the limits of provincial life. Rich brain surgeon (and charming lush!) Robert Taylor sweeps her away to Boston after a quickie marriage, but snobbish urban society is scandalized by the newlyweds’ spontaneous union. Based on a serialized novel by Ben Ames Williams, and reputedly doctored by a passel of scriptwriters, Small Town Girl was directed with wit and intelligence by William Wellman.

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