There’s a Mount Rushmore of Stockton natives who became super-rich or famous. On the other side of the mountain, however, are more amazing people.
Case in point: Lois Wheeler Snow. Snow died on April 3, 2018, in Geneva, Switzerland. She was 97.
An actress of stage and screen, and author, Snow by virtue of marriage became a VIP in red China. She would become an outspoken critic.
“She dedicated her life to speaking out and showing courage under fire,” said her Stockton niece, Katya Evanhoe. “Her motto was ‘show up, speak out.’”
Born in 1920 to Raymond J. Wheeler, Stockton’s mayor from 1923-27, and the former Katherine Kurtz, the raven-haired Wheeler graduated in 1941 with a drama degree from College of the Pacific.
She won a scholarship to study acting in New York and stayed.
A founding member of the famous Actors Studio, she originated the role of Ann Deever in the acclaimed Broadway debut of Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons” in 1947.
Directed by famed Elia Kazan, she shared the stage with Ed Begley, Arthur Kennedy and Karl Malden. A very auspicious beginning.
Hollywood gave her a role in “My Foolish Heart” (1949) with Dana Andrews and Susan Hayward. She acted in other Broadway and off-Broadway plays.
Older soap opera buffs also may remember her as the second nurse Janet Johnson on “The Guiding Light” from 1954-58.
The come-down from rising star of stage and screen may be explained by her 1949 marriage to Edgar Snow. Wheeler and Snow met in New York in 1946.
Journalist and author, Snow was world famous for his 1937 book, “Red Star Over China,” a history of the Chinese communist revolutionaries.
Snow got through Chiang Kai-shek’s military blockade to interview Mao Zedong and other leaders and give the West its first look at them.
His sympathetic, some say credulous, portrayal of Mao as a reformer landed him in hot water during the McCarthy era. After questioning by the FBI, both he and wife Lois were blacklisted.
“There were supporters, but people were afraid of losing their careers, their livelihoods,” Wheeler Snow wrote in a 2011 essay.
Desperate for work, they moved to Switzerland in 1959. They returned to Stockton to visit family.
Recalled nephew Chris Eley, “She was a very creative woman. A lot of fun. Dramatic, of course.”
For Eley’s 5th birthday, “She made me this big birthday cake that was made like a train, four or five cars, all sorts of bells and whistles. I was amazed.”
Eley also remembers Edgar Snow: “Very thoughtful. Very much an intellectual … I remember him playing chess in the house.”
The couple remained on good terms with China’s communist leaders. In 1970, Premier Zhou Enlai invited them to visit.
“I found myself on a balcony overlooking (a packed) Tiananmen Square, Ed and I on either side of Mao Zedong,” wrote Wheeler Snow. “So close to Mao Zedong I could have touched the mole on his face.”
In a private meeting, Mao revealed his ulterior motive: a back-channel invitation to President Richard Nixon to visit. Which Nixon historically accepted.
When Edgar Snow fell ill, Mao and Zhou sent a medical team to Switzerland.
After Snow’s death, Wheeler Snow visited China often, receiving the red carpet. Until the Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989. “It just woke me up,” Wheeler Snow said in an interview.
She condemned the crackdown and remained an outspoken critic of China’s human rights violations. Her protests earned her a blacklist in a second country.
When she visited Beijing in 2000 she was followed by security agents and blocked by soldiers from meeting with head of the Tiananmen Mothers.
From Switzerland, Wheeler Snow’s daughter Sian (named for the Chinese city) sent me an obituary.
“The portrait of Lois in the film by Peter Entell, ‘A Home Far Away,’ shows an extraordinarily warm and courageous human being,” it reads.
The obit quotes Edgar Snow’s biographer: “Lois Snow was accomplished in her profession. But I remember her most for her intellectual and moral courage.”
Added nephew Chris Eley, “She was a courageous person in a lot of ways. … Her life was more of statement — just to go out there and live it to the full, I think. And she did.”
Contact columnist Michael Fitzgerald at (209) 546-8270 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at recordnet.com/fitzgeraldblog and on Twitter @Stocktonopolis.