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Friday, December 4, 2015

Well Blow Me Down. The history of Anna Leonowens.

Deborah Kerr
You may know about Anna Leonowens, the pale-skinned, red-headed Welsh widow of a British military officer who brought civilization to the sexy King Monghut of Thailand in The King And I, and Anna And the King of Siam.
Gertie Lawrence: 

I knew a long time ago that King Monghut ((King Phra Bat Somdet Phra  Poramanthra Maha Mongkut Phra Chom Klao Chao Yu Hua) looked like this:

rather than this:

What I didn't know was that Anna Leonowens was passing, all over the place. Her mother was of mixed Anglo-Indian race, her husband was a clerk who was bad at holding down a job. She cut off her sister, Eliza, after Eliza married a man of mixed race, and she reinvented herself. A brutal cut-off--when a nephew approached her, she said she would kill herself if he continued to try to make contact.

She made her father a Captain and made up a birthplace in Wales, and she managed to move herself, and her children and grandchildren across the line to gentility in a time when being of mixed race was a prison of its own.

(By the way, Eliza's grandson, William Henry Pratt, also remade himself, as actor Boris Karloff.)  
So here she is, gang, the bold, brave woman herself: Anna Leon Owens. Let's celebrate her courage and inventiveness as we mourn the world that made it necessary for her to lie her way to success. 

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