As mentioned yesterday, if Charlie Chan is not classic movies’ most beloved detective, then he’s certainly not far from top of the list.
Our cherubic, inscrutable gumshoe — who cheerfully mangles the language as he spouts pointed aphorisms — began his adventures on the big screen in 1926. Some 50 films and at least a dozen tv editions later, Charlie Chan lives on.
How much do you know about this durable screen figure?
As Chan himself warns: ‘Guessing is cheap, but wrong guess expensive.’ So, guarding our pennies, let’s get to the answers to Monday’s Quiz. (To review the questions, just scroll down to the blog below.)
1) Answer: c) Earl Derr Biggers, a Ohio-born journalist who went to Harvard dreaming of a “prestigious” writing career, penned six novels featuring his creation, Charlie Chan, from 1925 to 1932. They quickly became immensely popular in both magazine serial and book forms. Movies based on the books soon followed. After his death in 1933, Biggers’ estate sold the rights to the Chan character to Fox, which extended Charlie’s adventures on the big screen.
2) Answer: a) True. The Chan character is indeed based on a real person, a Chinese police officer in Honolulu by the name of Chang Apana. He was an intrepid sleuth known for his fearlessness and smarts throughout the islands in the early 20th century. Interestingly, Chang was a slim, somewhat dapper figure who looked and acted nothing the rotund, slow-moving onscreen Chan. (For full details on Chang, consult author Yunte Huang’s 2010 biography, Charlie Chan.)
3) Answer: d) J. Carrol Naish never played Chan in the movies but did so in the 1958 tv series, The New Adventures of Charlie Chan.
4) Answer: b) and c) Stepin Fetchit and Mantan Moreland. When he joined (Warner) Oland in the making of (1935’s) ‘Charlie Chan in Egypt,’ Fetchit was at the height of his career, writes Huang.
5) Answer: b) In addition to playing Charlie Chan on tv, J. Carrol Nash was the eponymous Luigi in Life With Luigi on radio and tv. Talk about mixing ethnic stereotypes.
6) Answer: b) The Hawaiian island of Oahu. Chan was home in Hawaii as was his creator, Earl Biggers.
7) Answer: Warner Oland, the Swedish actor who played Chan in nearly 20 movies. (He was succeeded in the role by Sidney Toler — pictured above — and then Roland Winters.) Oland also appeared as an orthodox Jew (‘Cantor Rabinowitz’) in 1927’s The Jazz Singer, Hollywood’s first “talkie” with Al Jolson.
8) Answer: b) False. The early Chan films were a huge hit in China, playing to packed houses and enthusiastic audiences. Charlie Chan was accorded a near hero’s welcome in China, observed author Huang.
9) Answer: d) There is no record of the thrifty Chan ever pressing for swift delivery of the check.
10) Answer: a) Boris Karloff.