“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”
— Mark Twain

Josef von Sternberg Week #3 – Harry Hervey – The Man who Wrote Shanghai Express

Posted: January 21st, 2015 | 2 Comments »

Re-reading Josef von Sternberg’s very funny autobiography, Fun in a Chinese Laundry, the other day I was reminded that the notion to make the film Shanghai Express came to von Sternberg from a one page idea from the writer Harry Hervey (1900-1951). As it’s such a great film, a Shanghai film, the film where Marlene Dietrich and Anna May Wong appear together, and where Marlene immortalises Shanghai Lily, it seems worth knowing a little more about Hervey.

Harry-Hervey-portrait-courtesy-Harlan-Greene-5001-300x290

Harry Hervey

Hervey had a strong interest in China and Asia related stories – his film credits, and he dated back to the silent era, as a story outliner and writer include Madame Butterfly (a Japanese set police story featuring a very young Cary Grant), The Road to Singapore (with Bing and Bob obviously), Night Plane from Chungking, and Peking Express (Joseph Cotten fleeing the Commies).

Hervey also wrote novels – several also set in Asia – most notably Congai: Mistress of Indo-Chine, the story of an Indo-Chinese girl (congai in Vietnamese). Hervey had travelled extensively in French Indo-China in the mid-1920s and written it up in his travelogue Travels in French Indo-China. He also visited China – photographed in 1926 (below) looking far more dapper than most visitors to Beijing these days (reminding  us how fleece, Gortex and trainers have cheapened our world immeasurably)..

1926-Harry-Hervey-China-500

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2 Comments on “Josef von Sternberg Week #3 – Harry Hervey – The Man who Wrote Shanghai Express”

  1. 1 Harlan Greene said at 11:37 am on January 24th, 2015:

    I’m writing the biography of Harry Hervey, who was indeed fascinating. I welcome comments or any information anyone has on him

  2. 2 Paul French said at 7:14 pm on January 25th, 2015:

    Do let me know when it appears – I’ll review it


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