A Cigarette that Bears a Lipstick’s Traces

Katie Gee Salisbury
10 min readApr 12, 2023

the woman who inspired one of the most famous love songs ever written

Anna May Wong, circa 1933

Anna May Wong had many lovers. She was a movie star, after all, and a legendary beauty at that. Her slim-cut figure and graceful gait seduced more than a few in her day, sometimes without her even trying. British composer Constant Lambert, who first set eyes on the actress as the Mongol slave in The Thief of Bagdad (1924), spent many a late night in his Bloomsbury flat toasting his Hollywood muse from across the Atlantic with cups of Chinese rice wine, and that was years before he’d ever met her in the flesh.

While anti-miscegenation laws in America, statutes that criminalized romantic relationships and marriage between whites and people of color, certainly complicated Anna May’s love life, it never stopped her from following her heart. In London, where there were no such legal restrictions, Anna May was quite the regular on the high society social circuit. When she returned stateside, she slyly boasted to a reporter, “Well, for many months I did not buy myself a single meal.”

The men Anna May Wong fell in love with were often brilliant artists in their own right — composers, writers, filmmakers — visionaries who had something to say to the world.*

One of them, perhaps the most memorable of all, was Eric Maschwitz, a multi-talented literary man who sometimes went by the jazzy pen name Holt Marvell. He was an editor and later variety director at the then fledgling British Broadcasting Company (BBC). In his spare time, he wrote novels and the West End hit musical Balalaika (1936). In Hollywood, where he was lured by the slick execs at MGM who promised him a massive payday, he co-wrote the screenplay for Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939), for which he received an Oscar nomination. But his most famous work, the thing that outlived him and was reborn a hundred times over, was the standard “These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You).”

Eric Maschwitz

Whether you can recall the tune, you’ve surely heard it before. Leslie Hutchinson’s rendition was the first to make the song famous, but every major

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Katie Gee Salisbury

Author of NOT YOUR CHINA DOLL, a new biography of Anna May Wong, forthcoming from Dutton on March 12, 2024. Available for pre-order: www.notyourchinadoll.com