August 15, 2015


(CBS, September 9-December 30, 1972)

Hanna-Barbera Productions

Keye Luke – Charlie Chan
Robert Ito – Henry Chan
Brian Tochi – Alan Chan
Debbie Jue (original) & Beverly Kushida – Nancy Chan
Jay Jay Jue (original) & Gene Andrusco – Flip Chan
Leslie Kawai – Mimi Chan (original)
Virginia Ann Lee – Suzie Chan (original)
Cherylene Lee – Mimi Chan, Suzie Chan
Leslie Kumamota (original) & Jodie Foster – Anne Chan
Michael Takamoto (original) & John Gun – Tom Chan
Robin Toma (original) & Michael Morgan – Scooter Chan
Stephen Wong (original) & Lennie Weinrib – Stanley Chan
Don Messick – Chu Chu

Ron Dante – Singing voice

            Earl Derr Biggers had an idea for a detective novel he wanted to call The House Without a Key in 1919, but it took him four years to start it. He couldn’t find any inspiration until reading about Chang Apana and Lee Fook, two detectives on the Honolulu police force. Biggers was inspired by them to create a Chinese police officer to star in his book, as a counter to the rampant Yellow Peril stereotypes he encountered when he came to California. 

The first Charlie Chan novel.

            That police officer was Charlie Chan, a character depicted as being heavyset with a dainty step in order to appearing non-threatening compared to other Chinese characters at the time. He was a widower with ten children that were the only other family members ever mentioned. Many critics over the years have both praised Chan’s progressive characterization while others felt he still exemplified many of the stereotypes attributed to the Chinese. Regardless, the character was a success and appeared in a total of six books published by The Bobbs-Merrill Co. before Biggers’ death in 1932.

George Kuwa getting his make-up applied.

            In 1926, Pathè Studios produced the first film adaptation of Biggers’ character and work in the serial The House Without a Key. Chan was portrayed by George Kuwa. The following year, Universal Pictures produced The Chinese Parrot starring Kamiyama Sojin. Both actors were Japanese.  In 1929, Fox Film Corporation licensed the character and made Behind That Curtain, this time starring Korean actor E.L. Park. Unlike the novels on which they were based, Chan’s role was significantly minimized; more so in Fox’s production where Chan only appeared in the last ten minutes. The films were poorly received.

Charlie Chan Carries On poster.

            In 1931, the Chan film series found success with the casting of Swedish actor Warner Oland, who played the character as more gentle and self-effacing than he had been portrayed in the books. Oland brought a warmth and gentle humor to the role that made him popular with audiences. Beginning with Charlie Chan Carries On (which was simultaneously produced with a Spanish version using the same sets), Oland starred in fifteen films before his death in 1938; usually alongside Keye Luke as his “Number One Son” Lee Chan. The movies, when translated and shown in China, were the most popular American films at the time due to their unusually positive portrayal of a Chinese character. What would have been Oland’s final film in the series, Charlie Chan at the Ringside, was rewritten and had additional footage added to make it Mr. Moto’s Gamble; part of Fox’s Mr. Moto series which featured a Japanese secret agent played by Peter Lorre. Fox recast the role with white actor Sidney Toler who portrayed the character as less mild-mannered than Oland’s interpretation, bringing it closer to his portrayal in the books. Toler made eleven films with Fox, and his sidekick was his annoying “Number Two Son” Jimmy Chan, played by Victor Sen Yung. When Fox stopped producing Chan films, Toler bought the rights himself and produced ten more films with Monogram Pictures until his death in 1947. Roland Winters assumed the role for six more outings, rejoined by Luke for the last two.

The Charlie Chan comic strip.

            While the films were being made, the Chan character appeared in serialized radio shows, newspaper comic strips, comic books and even a television series. In 1970, Hanna-Barbera Productions acquired the rights to bring Charlie Chan to animation. Made by Eric Porter Studios, the series focused on Charlie Chan (voiced by Luke, making him the first actual Chinese actor to assume the role), a prolific detective and father of ten who frequently traveled with his children. Although Chan (whose first name was never given outside of episode titles) would work on solving mysteries on his own, his children often launched their own investigation in order to help. Luke’s portrayal of the character was also the first time Chan spoke in complete sentences, rather than the stereotypical broken English featured in other adaptations. Although it was a typical mystery/chase series that Hanna-Barbera would become known for following the success of Scooby-Doo, the series changed it up a bit by making it more of a “howdunnit?” than a “whodunnit?” in that the clan had to figure out how a crime was committed more than who did the actual theft.

Hanna-Barbera's Charlie Chan.

Like most other programs that followed The Archie Show, Hanna-Barbera incorporated a band element into the program in order to attempt to score a musical hit as well as a televised one like Filmation Associates did with their fictional band, The Archies. Chan’s children had their own band called The Chan Clan, whose music was supervised by Don Kirshner and performed by Ron Dante; both of whom were involved in making The Archies the success they were. Every episode featured a song from the Clan, either played on screen by the band or over the action. Hoyt Curtin provided the rest of the series’ incidental music.

The Chan Clan in the Chan Clan.

For added authenticity, Chan’s children were originally portrayed by Asian actors. But it was deemed that their thick accents would be too confusing for children to understand. As a result, most of their roles were recast with American actors, several of whom were Hanna-Barbera staples, and the earliest episodes redubbed. Henry Chan (Robert Ito) was the oldest son and the leader of his siblings in his father’s absence, as well as the band’s drummer. Stanley Chan (Stephen Wong & Lennie Weinrib) was the second eldest, often donned some sort of crazy disguise, and delivered the show’s catchphrase: “Wham-Bam; somebody’s in a jam!” Suzie Chan (Virginia Ann Lee & Cherylene Lee) was the eldest daughter and the band’s tambourine player. Suzie liked to knit and always had sore feet. Alan Chan (Brian Tochi) was a genius inventor who created whatever gadget the clan might need to solve a crime; notably the van they always traveled in which could transform into other vehicles. Originally seen playing the drums in the first episode, for the rest of the series Alan played the oboe. Anne Chan (Leslie Kumamota & Jodie Foster) was a feminist tomboy who alternated between guitar and percussion for the band. Tom Chan (Michael Takamoto & John Gun) was the most intellectual of the children and often spoke in scientific terms, and played the trombone in the band. Flip Chan (Jay Jay Jue & Gene Andrusco) was the natural leader amongst the younger siblings, and often the most enthusiastic at wanting to help their father on a case. Nancy Chan (Debbie Ju & Bevery Kushida) was the most accident-prone of the children and heavy-set due to her constantly being hungry. Mimi Chan (Leslie Kawai & Lee) was the youngest daughter and frequently bossed Scooter around. Scooter Chan (Robin Toma & Michael Morgan) was the youngest of the children and was fiercely loyal to Flip, calling him “chief.” Rounding out the clan was their dog, Chu Chu (Don Messick). Chu Chu aided the family in solving cases and an expert in making sound effects; notably a police siren to allow their van to get through traffic quickly.

The whole clan: Charlie, Henry, Stanley, Susie, Alan, Anne, Tom, Flip, Nancy, Mimi, Scooter and Chu-Chu.

Charlie Chan and the Chan Clan debuted on CBS on September 9, 1972. and was rerun again for the following season. Amongst one of the series’ writers was future M*A*S*H star Jamie Farr, who was hired alongside Eddie Carroll during the series’ early production stages (notably, a few of the original actors also appeared on M*A*S*H). Other writers included Willie Gilbert, Max Hodge, Mark Kammerman, Dennis Marks, Sidney Morse, Ray Parker, Henry Sharp and Harry Winkler. Gold Key Comics produced a four issue series based on the show with art by William Tufts. The first issue was an adaptation of the first episode and featured Mark Evanier’s first English-language comic book script to see publication. In 2009, “Scotland Yard” was included on Saturday Morning Cartoons: 1970s Volume 1 and the 2018 compilation collection, along with a short documentary about the making of the show. In 2012, Warner Archive released the complete series to DVD as part of their Hanna-Barbera Classics Collection. During the show’s run, Whitman produced a puzzle, board game and coloring book, Larami a cork gun set, and Thermos two lunch boxes.

The Chan Clan as Shoyu Weenie on Harvey Birdman.

Chan returned to the small screen in The Return of Charlie Chan, a 1979 film starring Ross Martin. Another theatrical attempt was made in 1981 with Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen, but it was a complete failure at the box office. Hanna-Barbera’s version, however, made a return n a 2002 episode of Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law as the band Shoyu Weenie (in the episode of the same name); who only spoke Japanese and was lorded over by their tyrannical manager and father. Mimi Chan was featured as one of Kevin Whitney’s (Alberto Ghisi) classmates in Krypto the Superdog, while Susie Chan appeared as one of the background students in Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated.


“The Crown Jewel Caper” (9/9/72) – Chan is hired to catch the thief of the Burmese Crown Jewel and his children defy his wishes to attempt to help.

“To Catch a Pitcher” (9/16/72) – At the World Series, Chan’s sons witness player Boo Blew being kidnapped.

“Will the Real Charlie Chan Please Stand Up?” (9/23/72) – The clan has to find out who’s committing burglaries disguised as Charlie.

“The Phantom Sea Thief” (9/30/72) – The clan has to locate a stolen painting before their cruise ship docks.

“Eye of the Idol” (10/7/72) – A crook steals a Jade Buddha Idol as it arrives in a shipyard.

“The Fat Lady Caper” (10/14/72) – A trip to the circus turns into an investigation of sabotage by a rival circus seeking to buy them out.

“Captain Kidd’s Doubloons” (10/21/72) – Attending Buccaneer Days in Trinidad leads to the search for stolen Doubloons belonging to the relative of Captain Kidd.

“The Bronze Idol” (10/28/72) – An idol is stealing everything a small island’s residents have.

“Double Trouble” (11/4/72) – During a race, Prince Hareem is kidnapped and replaced with a double.

“The Great Illusion Caper” (11/11/72) – The clan go to see the final performance of a magic troupe, one of whom is wanted for stealing a ruby.

“The Mummy’s Tomb” (11/18/72) – The pharaoh Ramosses’ mummy disappears after he appears to warn an archaeological dig of his curse.

“The Mardi Gras Caper” (11/25/72) – The clan attends Mardi Gras as Marie Antoinette’s ring goes missing.

“The Gypsie Caper” (12/2/72) – A group of visiting gypsies ends up blamed when the village’s most treasured possession goes missing.

“The Greek Caper” (12/9/72) – The clan witnesses the theft of a priceless Greek statue and its replacement by a plaster replica.

“White Elephant” (12/16/72) – While visiting an old friend in India, Charlie has to help the Sultan find his white elephant lest he lose his power.

“Scotland Yard” (12/30/72) – Charlie assists Scotland Yard in locating the stolen coronation stone, the Stone of Scone.

Originally posted in 2015. Updated in 2020.

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