When Anna May returned to Hollywood, film work began to dry up,
and most of her later roles were for television. One of the highlights of
her television career was in 1951, when she played an art dealer and amateur sleuth in The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong. She frequently guest-starred on popular variety shows and died in 1961 at fifty-six, two days
after appearing on The Barbara Stanwyck Show.
About her more than forty-year career and more than sixty films,
Anna May was circumspect. “This is such a short life that nothing can
matter very much either one way or another. I have learned not to struggle but to flow along with the tide. If I am to be rich and famous, that
will be fine. What do riches and fame count for in the long run?” The
precocious child in the bedroom above the laundry, who had dreamed
of stardom, found it briefly but then moved into the role of working
actress, taking the parts that were available. While her career was subjected to the forces and prejudices of her time, today she is recognized as
a personal and professional risk-taker who defied both traditional Chinese expectations and the movie industry, which often pigeonholed her
as “the exotic other” in supporting roles or B movies. Early film histories
of women left her out of the narrative, but she has now found her place
as one of the consummate actresses who could perform tragedy, comedy, horror, and stock melodrama while also maintaining a reputation
as one of the most stylish, talented, and hardworking women in a perilous business.