01 June 2011

Name Recognition: Shanghai Lily

Shanghai Express was Marlene Dietrich and Josef von Sternberg's most profitable collaboration, and the name "Shanghai Lily" was clearly on the tip of tongues at the Warner lot when James Cagney sang "Shanghai Lil" in 1933's Footlight Parade. That same year, Gene Kardos and his orchestra also recorded the song:

Unlike Dietrich's character, Shanghai Lil was Asian--played in yellowface by that cheap tap dancer Ruby Keeler.

Paul O'Grady's drag queen persona, Lily Savage, saw the link and conflated the Shanghai Lily/Shanghai Lil characters in this spoof:

Returning to the 1930s, the comic strip Jungle Jim featured a villainess named Shanghai Lil (this time a notorious White flower), played in radio adaptations from 1935-1937 by Vicki Vola and Franc Hale and in Universal's 1937 12-part screen adaptation by von Sternberg's former muse, Evelyn Brent.

Jungle Jim, Chapters 1-4

Jungle Jim, Chapters 5-8

Jungle Jim, Chapters 9-12:

And to think that it all started with this little coaster:

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