This week, for her WRITERS CHAT series, Sarah Gilligan talks to author Sarah Broughton about her recent release Brando's Bride.
You say several times in the book that Anna Kashfi was “both of her time and one of a kind” and that she was “a part of history and yet also extinguished from it.” Was part of your aim in writing this book to bring her – and her story – back into the folds of history and also popular culture? Did you see her as one of the forgotten women of history?
This is an area I’ve always been fascinated by! I’d written a film script about the Surrealist artist Claude Cahun, sadly as yet unmade, and a radio play about Sylvia Beach (who published Ulysses when no-one else would touch it) so there is definitely a theme going on here! I’ve always been interested in women who are seen as minor characters in history – yet their stories are significant – not least because they tell us something about the bigger picture.
Kashfi was very much one of these women. She is entirely dismissed by Brando biographers who regard her as a charlatan (I find it quite bizarre that, given her appearance, they made no attempt to investigate her story at all). Kashfi was very much part of the world of young women who went to Los Angeles in their thousands during the 1930s/40s and 50s trying to find work in the film industry. They were pretty invisible unless they made it as movie stars – which, of course, the vast majority didn’t. But she was also part of an almost entirely forgotten wave of Anglo-Indian immigrants who arrived in Britain after India gained her independence in 1947. Kashfi was unique in that she attempted to make it in Hollywood as a mixed-race actress at a time when Katharine Hepburn was doing ‘yellowface’ and Natalie Wood, an American of Russian descent, was playing a Puerto-Rican. Her ‘studio-bio’ enhanced her background – as they did with every contract player they were trying to turn into a star – which she was to pay a heavy price for. So one of my aims with this book was definitely to reclaim her in a sense; to place her story within the context of the times she rose to notoriety in. That is to say, we should look again at these stories and not just accept them at face value.