One of the most beloved characters of old time radio was the Chinese-American, Charlie Chan. Chan was a detective on the Honolulu police force though his adventures often took him around the world.
The character of Charlie Chan was created in 1923 by Earl Derr Biggers. As well as a detective, Chan was an avid stamp collector. He was also a devoted family man with fourteen children. His Number One Son often assisted him in capturing evil criminals. Number Two Son and Number One Daughter also helped their father in various story adaptations.
The Charlie Chan radio shows started on December 2, 1932 as part of Esso’s Five Star Theater. Walter Connolly played the part of Chan.
During 1944 – 1945 Ed Begley, Sr. continued the role in the NBC produced version called, “The Adventures of Charlie Chan”. In 1947 – 48 the role was played by Santos Ortega. Number One Son was played by Leon Janney and Rodney Jacobs.
Some of the most popular episodes of the radio shows were: “The Escaped Musician”, “The Curious Ride of the Sea Witch”, “Fiery Santa Claus”, and “Charlie Chan’s Daughter is Kidnapped.” In the latter, Chan’s number one daughter, Rose is kidnapped by bank robbers. But thanks to her cleverness in leaving clues behind (beads from her necklace) Chan was able to track her down. They then used Number One Son’s firecrackers to fool the criminals into thinking they had guns. Number One Daughter returns home safely.
Critics have debated the character of Charlie Chan for years. Originally the character was developed to provide an alternative to the negative Chinese portrayals such as Fu Manchu. Others felt Chan was too stereotypical and subservient. But despite what critics think, the public loved Charlie Chan.
His oft quoted sayings are often called Chanisms. The Confucius like sayings are what set Chan apart from other American detectives in the mystery genre. These include: “Suspicion often father of truth”, and “One grain of luck sometimes worth more than whole rice field of wisdom”.
Charlie Chan was so popular he was portrayed in approximately fifty movies, numerous books, comic books, a television series, as well as two board games. Several movies were made in Spanish and Chinese versions as well as English. In the Chinese versions, Chan was assisted by his daughter, Manna, instead of a son like the American versions.
Chan’s radio programs are very rare. But thanks to the internet, you can now listen to this honorable sage as he not only solves the case, but imparts the wisdom of the ancient ancestors at the same time. Old time radio shows live again.
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