An online museum devoted to detective Charlie Chan
FAMILY ROOM: Meet Charlie Chan’s Multitudinous Family
Charlie Chan’s “multitudinous family” is a fascinating subject in and of itself. Most people probably know that Mr. Chan was often joined in his many adventures by his number one and number two sons. However, with an eventual total of FOURTEEN offspring, several other children from the Chan household appeared onscreen at least once during the Charlie Chan film series between the years 1931 and 1949.
A photograph of the entire Chan family, that includes Charlie Chan, his honorable wife, and the eleven children that they had at that time. They are apparently arranged, at least for the most part, by age and size from the oldest to the youngest. This photograph was shown in six films: Charlie Chan Carries On (1931), Charlie Chan in London (1934), Charlie Chan in Shanghai (1935), Charlie Chan’s Secret (1935), and sharp-eyed viewers will note that it is hanging on a wall in Charlie Chan’s office in Charlie Chan at the Olympics (1937). If we may be so bold as to figure that this photograph was probably taken sometime in the middle of the year 1930, we might be able to guess the approximate ages of some of the children.
A new addition to the Chan family makes her appearance in a photograph as seen in Charlie Chan in London (1934), the detective, who is packing his belongings in preparation for his trip back home to Honolulu, first looks lovingly upon the original full family portrait, and then proudly picks up the small picture of this little one, his family’s latest blessing.
However, we are tossed a few slightly troublesome curves in other movies. In Charlie Chan at the Circus (1936), the Chan family can be seen entering the show by apparent order of size and age. It should be noted that, while the above-mentioned Chan family photograph shows six boys and five girls, the entourage that traveled with the detective to the circus, as shown in the two images just above this text, shows the reverse numbers, plus the latest addition to the family, the infant girl who was pictured in the photograph mentioned above, who is held by Mrs. Chan.
In Charlie Chan in Honolulu (1939), the family again apparently appears in numbers of boys and girls that do not quite reflect those in the family group photo. With another addition, a new little boy who is maybe a year old, the Chan family now has a total of thirteen children. The photographs above, publicity stills from this film, only lay more dishes on our rather confusing Chan family table. The photo of the Chan family at dinner seems to indicate that the Chans have seven boys, two of them quite young, and four girls seated with Mr. and Mrs. Chan at the family meal. This, plus Lee, who is away at art school, and Ling, who is in the hospital about to give birth to the first Chan grandchild, gives us a total of eight boys and five girls in the family. Adding to our difficulty of defining the composition of the Chan family concerns the apparent ages of many of these children who do not quite match how those in the original photograph would have aged over the intervening years. So, in the end, more than a little “blending” of the portrayals is perhaps called for.
With all of the above information available to us, we might, with some measure of trepidation, suggest that the Chans may have left a son behind when they traveled to the mainland and visited the circus during their family trip to the Grand Canyon in 1935. Instead, for some reason, they may have taken a close relative’s daughter with them, perhaps the daughter of Mrs. Chan’s sister, Ling, the Aunt Ling who was mentioned by Lee Chan in Charlie Chan at the Race Track (1936). We might also consider the possibility that the Chans often had close relatives visit them at their house on the slopes of Punchbowl Hill, which would leave those of us who are but humble visitors with some confusion as to the exact makeup of the family of Charlie Chan.
If we use the original Chan family portrait as our basis for formulating the composition of the family, this would leave us, as of the year 1938, with thirteen children: seven boys and six girls. By the film Charlie Chan in the Secret Service (1944), it is established that there are fourteen children in the Chan family. However, nothing more definite is ever said of the final child.
Additional information regarding Charlie Chan’s family is presented to us in bits and pieces in a number of other films in the series. We may, with some care, also include a measure of information that has been provided by the author and Chan’s creator who penned six of the detective’s adventures, Earl Derr Biggers. This material, including some names and time frames, may also be helpful to us as we attempt to piece this interesting puzzle together.
What follows is a list of the children of the famous detective, Charlie Chan, and his venerable wife in the order of their probable ages, combining onscreen “facts” with a healthy dose of conjecture.
(Henry Oswald Lee Chan)
Born: 1912 (as established in Charlie Chan at Monte Carlo, 1937)
Portrayed by FRANK TANG (as the Chans’ Number One Son, Oswald), and KEYE LUKE in Charlie Chan in Paris (1935), Charlie Chan in Shanghai (1935), Charlie Chan at the Circus (1936), Charlie Chan at the Race Track (1936), Charlie Chan at the Opera (1936), Charlie Chan at the Olympics (1937), Charlie Chan on Broadway (1937), Charlie Chan at Monte Carlo (1937), Mr. Moto’s Gamble (1938), The Feathered Serpent (1948), and The Sky Dragon (1949)
The Chan’s Number One Son, and the oldest of the Chan children, is best known as “Lee.” However, the first brief appearance of the Chan’s eldest son was in the film Charlie Chan Carries On (1931), in which he was referred to as “Henry,” a name he also carried in the book The Black Camel, by Earl Derr Biggers. This son next appeared in Charlie Chan’s Greatest Case (1933) as “Oswald,” who helped his father and was assisted by a younger brother, presumably Jimmy. When Charlie Chan’s Number One Son showed up in Charlie Chan in Paris (1935), he was referred to by his familiar name of “Lee,” the name by which we would know him through the remainder of the series.
“Oswald,” as Charlie Chan’s
Number One Son was called in Charlie Chan’s Greatest Case (1933)
Although he had attended art school and had worked for a firm that would send him out to study the markets in Europe (Charlie Chan in Paris, 1935) and Asia (Charlie Chan in Shanghai, 1935), Lee seemed to have much more than a passing interest in his father’s profession. Returning to art school in 1938 as mentioned in Charlie Chan in Honolulu (1939), Lee did not assist his father on another onscreen case until ten years later in Mexico in The Feathered Serpent (1948). In this adventure, Lee also worked for the first time in fifteen years with his younger brother Jimmy who, by then, was going by the name of “Tommy.” A couple of months later, in The Sky Dragon (1949), Lee joined his Pop in what would prove to be Charlie Chan’s last adventure of the film series. By this time, Lee appears destined to become a professional airplane pilot. Perhaps it was the promise of adventure that called him to this latest interest. It is also very possible that, with the approaching retirement of his famous father, Lee would have chosen to remain close to his Pop and work for the Honolulu Police Department, using his both artistic skills and his sharp powers of observation to help solve crimes.
LING CHAN (FOO)
(Ling Rose Chan)
Born: circa 1913
Portrayed by IVY LING (as the Chans’ Number One Daughter) in The Black Camel (1931), DOROTHY HOO (as the Chans’ Number One Daughter) in Charlie Chan’s Greatest Case (1933), and FLORENCE UNG (as the Chans’ Number One Daughter) in Charlie Chan at the Circus (1936) and
Charlie Chan in Honolulu (1939)
Ling was Mr. and Mrs. Chan’s second child and their first daughter. In Biggers’ book The Black Camel, she is referred to as “Rose.” This daughter appeared briefly and anonymously in several films, including The Black Camel (1931), Charlie Chan at the Circus (1936), and probably Charlie Chan’s Greatest Case (1933), but she appeared by name only once, in Charlie Chan in Honolulu, as she gave birth to the Chan’s first grandchild in 1938.
Ling, was, perhaps, named after her Aunt Ling who, as mentioned by Lee Chan in Charlie Chan at the Race Track (1936), lived “at the other end of the island” of Oahu. The Chan’s Number One Daughter was married to a shopkeeper named Wing Foo, and was, as mentioned above, the mother of Mr. and Mrs. Chan’s first, and only mentioned grandchild, a boy whom the proud parents named “Leng” (pronounced “lung,” and meaning “beautiful” in the Chans’ Cantonese dialect).
(Iris Evelyn Chan)
Born: circa 1915
Portrayed by MABEL HOO (as the Chans’ Number Two Daughter) in Charlie Chan’s Greatest Case (1933), IRIS WONG (as the Chans’
Number Two Daughter) in Charlie Chan in Honolulu (1939), and MARIANNE QUON in Charlie Chan in the Secret Service (1944)
Although it is her only appearance, by name, in the film Charlie Chan in the Secret Service (1944), Iris is referred to as “Charlie Chan’s Number Two Daughter” by her father’s old friend, Sgt. Billings. She seems to have a fairly close relationship with her brother Tommy, who was much younger than herself. Iris traveled with her brother to Washington, D.C. as the pair visited their famous father who was then, during wartime, working for the Secret Service. If one pays attention to their onscreen interactions, it can be noted at times that they are trying to out-do each other in what can best be described as a “sibling rivalry” during their father’s murder investigation. Iris and her brother also bewildered their Pop with their use of “hep” talk, the language of modern youth in the mid-1940s.
With her father giving her a task or two that night at the Melton house, Iris was at least able to exhibit her eagerness to assist her famous father during the case in which she and her younger brother found themselves. While Tommy continued to work with his father for the remainder of the war, Iris probably returned home to Honolulu.
In Earl Derr Biggers’ book The Black Camel, the Chans’ Number Two Daughter is called “Evelyn.”
(James Herbert Chan, later Tommy Chan)
Born: 1918 (as established in Charlie Chan at Treasure Island, 1939)
Portrayed by FRANK DONG (as Number Two Son, Herbert) in Charlie Chan’s Greatest Case (1933), RICHARD UNG (as the Chans’ Number Two Son) in Charlie Chan at the Circus (1936), by VICTOR SEN YUNG in Charlie Chan in Honolulu (1939), Charlie Chan in Reno (1939), Charlie Chan at Treasure Island (1939), Charlie Chan’s Murder Cruise (1940), Charlie Chan at the Wax Museum (1940), Charlie Chan in Panama (1940), Murder Over New York (1940), Dead Men Tell (1941), Charlie Chan in Rio (1941), Castle in the Desert (1942), Shadows Over Chinatown (1946), Dangerous Money (1946), The Trap (1947), and as “Tommy Chan” in The Chinese Ring (1947), Docks of New Orleans (1948), The Shanghai Chest (1948), The Golden Eye (1948), and The Feathered Serpent (1948)
Although Jimmy first assisted his famous father along with his older brother in Charlie Chan’s Greatest Case (1933), he did so for the first time by name in 1938 in the film Charlie Chan in Honolulu (1939). Of the Chan’s two eldest sons, Jimmy seemed most intent on following in his Pop’s footsteps. He hoped to open his own private detective practice, and later studied criminology in college at the University of Southern California, and also in the New York City area as mentioned in Charlie Chan at the Wax Museum in 1940.
Jimmy worked closely with his father until the time of the Second World War, when he was drafted by the army in the year 1941 during Charlie Chan in Rio. Even while he was in the service, Jimmy was able to assist his Pop once while on leave (Castle in the Desert, 1942). In 1946, following his discharge after the war, beginning with the film Dangerous Money, Jimmy rejoined his father while his younger brother, Tommy, stayed behind. About a year later, Jimmy took on his younger sibling’s name, which he kept for the remainder of the series. (Popular conjecture has it that Tommy suddenly died, thus prompting Jimmy to so honor his younger brother’s memory.)
Jimmy (now as “Tommy”) worked with his father for another year, even teaming up for the first time in fifteen years (and for the first and only time “officially”) with his older brother Lee in an adventure, The Feathered Serpent, in 1948. This was Number Two Son’s final appearance in the series.
Born: circa 1923
Portrayed by FRANCES CHAN (as the Chans’ Number Three Daughter) in Charlie Chan’s Greatest Case (1933), BARBARA JEAN WONG (as the Chans’ Number Three daughter) in Charlie Chan in Honolulu (1939), and FRANCES CHAN in Black Magic (also known as Meeting at Midnight) (1944).
The information that we are offered points to Frances as being the Chans’ fifth child and their Number Three Daughter. Although a third daughter can be seen in several Charlie Chan films, Frances appears by name only once, when she joined her famous father in Black Magic (also titled Meeting at Midnight) in 1944. Charlie Chan referred then to this daughter as “the beauty of the Chan family.”
Born: circa 1924, missing (deceased?) 1947
Portrayed by LAYNE TOM, JR. in Charlie Chan in Honolulu (1939) and by BENSON FONG in Charlie Chan in the Secret Service (1944), The Chinese Cat (1944), The Scarlet Clue (1945), The Shanghai Cobra (1945), The Red Dragon (1945), and Dark Alibi (1946)
Tommy, the Chan’s Number Three Son, first appears as a young teen in Charlie Chan in Honolulu (1939). Tommy, who is “mistakenly” referred to in that film by his father as Number Five Son,” did his best to “assist” his older brother Jimmy at the beginning of a murder case. It can be seen that there was a special “connection” between these two brothers that would figure years later.
After his brother Jimmy was drafted by the Army at the beginning of the Second World War, Tommy tried hard to fill his older brother’s shoes. Try as he might, Tommy often had a very difficult time as he did what he could to impress his famous detective father.
Tommy’s second appearance by name was in Charlie Chan in the Secret Service (1944), when, as mentioned above, he worked with his sister Iris as the duo tried to help their Pop on a murder case which transpired in the year 1943. For nearly three years and five more films, Tommy would work on cases with his Pop, usually alongside Charlie Chan’s other helper, aide and chauffeur Birmingham Brown. At this time, Tommy was also, as noted in The Chinese Cat (1944), attending the University of California in Berkeley, across the bay from San Francisco.
It should be mentioned that in The Red Dragon (1945), Tommy, speaking in Spanish, states that he is “18 years old.” As this conflicts slightly with other information, two possible explanations are offered for considereation. First, Tommy “misspoke,” perhaps, in the heat of the moment recalling an answer memorized earlier for a high school Spanish class. A second possibility could be that Tommy offered a younger age as a reason he was not in uniform, as the war, by this time, had just ended.
Although Tommy’s famous father was in the habit of lobbing verbal barbs at his third son (something that all of the Chan children experienced at one time or another!), Tommy’s help was also very much appreciated by the senior Chan. On at least two occasions (The Chinese Cat and The Shanghai Cobra) Tommy literally put his very life on the line while working with his Pop.
When Jimmy returned from military service following the war, Tommy stayed behind in Honolulu as his older brother resumed his role as Charlie Chan’s “assistant.” Sometime in the year 1947, it is generally held, although theories abound, that tragedy struck the Chan family as Tommy suddenly died (or otherwise disappeared), perhaps due to some sort of accident. At this time, it seems number two son Jimmy took Tommy’s name as something of a tribute to his younger brother.
Born: circa 1925
Portrayed by ALAN DONG (as the Chans’ Number Four Son) in Charlie Chan’s Greatest Case (1933) and EDWIN LUKE in The Jade Mask (1945)
According to Charlie Chan, “Number Four Son, Eddie, is very expensively educated bookworm.” Edward, the Chan’s number four son, did not like to be called “Eddie,” thinking it too childish for someone of his intellect and maturity. Although he was genuinely smart, Edward’s high opinion of his own abilities resulted in more than one embarrassing moment as his “scientific” approach to finding clues to the solution of the murder in the film The Jade Mask (1945) falls flat. Even though he did prove helpful to his renowned Pop, this was to be Edward’s only appearance with his father on a case.
(UNNAMED 4th CHAN DAUGHTER)
Born: circa 1926
Portrayed by ELLEN LIM (as the Chans’ Number Four Daughter) in Charlie Chan’s Greatest Case (1933) and FAYE LEE (as the Chans’ Number Four Daughter) in Charlie Chan in Honolulu (1938)
This unnamed Number Four Daughter can also be seen in scenes where the Chan family is shown as a group in Charlie Chan in Honolulu (1939).
(UNNAMED 5th CHAN DAUGHTER)
Born: circa 1927
Portrayed by MARGIE LEE (as the Chans’ Number Five Daughter) in Charlie Chan in Honolulu (1939)
This unnamed Number Five Daughter can be seen in scenes where the Chan family is shown as a group. This was perhaps the little sister who offered her older brother Jimmy some used supplies for his hoped-for office in Charlie Chan in Honolulu (1939).
CHARLIE CHAN, JR.
(Charles Barry Chan)
Born: circa Spring 1928 (based on information contained in Behind That Curtain, 1928, by Earl Derr Biggers)
Portrayed by LAYNE TOM, JR. in Charlie Chan at the Olympics (1937)
Portrayed by JAMES HONG (as Barry Chan) in The New Adventures of Charlie Chan (1957)
Charlie, Junior, was the Number Five Son of Mr. and Mrs. Chan (“mistakenly” referred to as “Number Two Son” by his father in Charlie Chan at the Olympics (1937), whose mind was obviously focused on his investigation at the time!). He was with his Pop at the beginning of an important case that would take his detective father from Honolulu all the way to the Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany. As with the rest of his family, little Charlie showed an inherited aptitude and more than a small amount of interest in his father’s profession. The junior Charlie tried the patience of his Pop by repeatedly reminding him that the mysterious “woman in the white fox fur” was a major suspect in the case at hand. Charlie, Jr. actually played an important part in the investigation as he was the one who first spotted the missing plane on a deserted stretch of beach which had carried a top secret experimental remote control device.
Charlie, Junior got his middle name from Barry Kirk of San Francisco, who had worked closely with Charlie Chan in the book Behind That Curtain and also in the film version of this adventure, Charlie Chan’s Chance, filmed in 1932, but would have to be chronologically placed four years earlier.
When, in the late 1950s, the elder Charlie Chan culminated his lenghty career in a flurry of cases as seen in the television series The New Adventures of Charlie Chan, Charlie, Jr., by this time called “Barry,” is referred to as “Number One Son.” Perhaps his proud father so addressed him out of deep affection mixed with some of the same numerical confusion seen earlier with regard to this son. Barry, by this time a young man of about 30 years and a student of criminology, eagerly assisted in his father’s final cases.
(William Duff Chan)
Born: perhaps Spring 1929
Portrayed by LAYNE TOM, JR. in Charlie Chan’s Murder Cruise (1940)
Willie, the sixth son to be born to the Chans, was born while his father was in New York City. While Charlie Chan was originally there to observe the techniques used by that city’s police, it turned out, as it would so often for him, that he ultimately helped solve a complex murder case (Charlie Chan’s Chance). While this film was made in the year 1932, the events shown must have occurred years earlier, perhaps during the spring of 1929, as little Willie appears as the eleventh child in the often-shown and above-mentioned Chan family photograph which first appears in Charlie Chan Carries On of 1931, showing the youngest child (Willie) as being a year or so old.
In the film Charlie Chan Carries On. Inspector Duff of Scotland Yard mentions with some measure of pride that Charlie Chan’s youngest son was named after him. As this child is later called “Willie” in Charlie Chan’s Murder Cruise (1940), it might be suggested that “Duff” was actually the middle name of Charlie’s Number Six Son, who, as had happened on occasion with his siblings, was “erroneously” referred to as “Number Seven Son” by his momentarily confused Pop. (Charlie Chan’s use of the name of a friend in naming at least two of his children, “Barry” for Willie’s older brother Charlie, Jr., and “Duff” for his sixth son, can perhaps explain the variety of names by which his oldest son, Lee, as mentioned earlier, was called.)
Willie Chan’s only on screen appearance of note was rather inauspicious. On that occasion, his father had just discovered his young son’s attempted deceit regarding a poor report card. Just as his Pop was about to correct his bad judgement over his bent knee, a timely, and very ironic, appearance by none other than Inspector Duff saved him!
(UNNAMED 6th DAUGHTER)
Born: circa mid-1934
Portrayed by EUNICE SOO HOO in Charlie Chan at the Circus (1936)
This daughter, the sixth for the Chan family, made her appearance in Mrs. Chan’s arms in the film Charlie Chan at the Circus in 1935. As the picture takes place during late October or early November of the year 1935, it can be guessed that the Chans’ twelfth blessed event perhaps arrived in the middle part of the previous year. This would also be the same child shown as the Chans’ newest addition in a photo in Charlie Chan in London (1934).
(UNNAMED 6th SON)
Born: circa mid-1936
Appeared in Charlie Chan in Honolulu (1939)
At the very beginning of Charlie Chan in Honolulu (1939), seated next to Mr. Chan in a high chair can be seen the family’s newest son, the seventh. His only moment of note occurs when his father tells him, “Please do not imitate vacuum cleaner” as the toddler slurps a spoonful of noodles.
(UNNAMED SON OR DAUGHTER)
Probably born by the year 1940
This, the final child born to the Chan family, was doubtless born before the year 1940, as Mrs. Chan was surely nearing her fiftieth birthday by this time. During the film Charlie Chan in the Secret Service (1944), Charlie Chan mentions that he and his honorable wife have fourteen children. We are given no more information than this, and we may only speculate as to whether this child was a boy or a girl. If we prefer symmetry, we can, perhaps, suggest that this final child was a girl, thus leaving Mr. and Mrs. Chan with a very nice (and abundant) balance of seven sons and seven daughters.
However, during the family dinner scene in Charlie Chan in Honolulu we catch a glimpse of an infant boy seated in a high chair next to Mrs. Chan. This child is also seen in the arms of the older lady, possibly Mrs. Chan’s mother.
As this infant boy is probably not too removed in age from the age of the toddler Chan son seated, also in a high chair, next to Mr. Chan, we can speculate on this child’s identity. In Charlie Chan at the Race Track (1936), Lee Chan mentions his Aunt Ling who lives “on the other side of the island.” This establishes that there is extended family living on the Hawaiian island of Oahu if not in the Honolulu area. The child we see could be a part of the extended Chan family, possibly a child, or grandchild, of Aunt Ling herself, temporarily in the care of the Chan family. This would make sense, too, if the older lady we see is, indeed, Mrs. Chan’s mother and also the mother of Aunt Ling, Mrs. Chan’s sister.
The Honorable Mrs. Chan
MRS. CHARLES CHAN
Born: circa 1892, missing (deceased?) 1947
Portrayed by ANNA MAR in Charlie Chan at the Circus (1936)
and by GRACE KEY in Charlie Chan in Honolulu (1939)
A multitudious family requires a very special mother…
While seen but rarely on the screen, the matriarch of the Chan family, Charlie Chan’s honorable wife was always a behind-the-scenes source of comfort and strength for the famous detective. Surely the adage “Behind every great man is a great woman,” applies in the case of Mrs. Charles Chan. Although she appeared, often quite briefly, in only five films during the run of the series, Mrs. Chan, whose first name was never given, is mentioned on numerous occasions, usually by her loving husband.
In the first film in what would be the Charlie Chan series, Charlie Chan Carries On (1931), Mrs. Chan is seen in only one scene where she meets her husband at the dock as he is about to board a ship bound for San Francisco on a mission to unmask the murderer who lurks among a group of around-the-world travelers. “Not enough clothes,” she says, “You must wait and get big trunk,” concerned that in the detective’s sudden departure he will not have enough clothes to wear. As Charlie Chan Carries On is now lost to us, we see Mrs. Chan as she was portrayed in Eran Trece (There Were Thirteen), the Spanish language version of the picture.
In the next film, The Black Camel, also from 1931, we catch only a glimpse of Charlie Chan’s wife at the heavily populated Chan family breakfast table as she waves goodbye to her husband as he heads off on his latest case.
Two years later, in Charlie Chan’s Greatest Case (1933), Mrs. Chan appears in several scenes. At the close of the movie, she is even heard to state an aphorism of her own, saying, as she watches the film’s two young lovers embrace, “Two lovers in moonlight cast only one shadow.”
By the time of Charlie Chan at the Circus (1936), the Chans had twelve children, and, as the Chan family enters the circus gate, Mrs. Chan carries in her arms the family’s latest blessing, a baby girl. Later in this film, the family votes to stop their vacation for the time being to allow their Pop the opportunity to solve a murder and thus save the small circus from going bankrupt. Charlie Chan defers the final judgment to his honorable wife, to which she quickly says with a smile, “Judge say yes, too!”
1939’s Charlie Chan in Honolulu marks the final screen appearance of the the matriarch of the Chan family. With her husband aboard a ship docked in Honolulu harbor solving another murder, Mrs. Chan waits with much of the family at a local hospital for her daughter Ling to give birth to her and her husband’s first grandchild.
If Charlie Chan’s venerable wife was about twenty years old when their first child, number one son, Lee, was born in the year 1912, we can, perhaps, safely assume that she was born close to the year 1892, which would have made her about a dozen years younger than her husband, Charlie. It was probably by the year 1940 when Mrs. Chan gave birth to her fourteenth, and last, child. By then, she was probably close to fifty years of age.
During the Second World War, while her famous husband worked for the Secret Service, Mrs. Chan probably saw Charlie Chan on just a few rare occasions. Following the war, Mr. Chan probably spent more time at home in Honolulu, but, by 1947, the detective became more firmly based on the mainland, and eventually, Charlie Chan was living and working as a detective in the city of San Francisco. It is during this time that Mrs. Chan is no longer mentioned, which may lead us to sadly surmise that sometime around the year 1947, Mrs. Chan, Charlie Chan’s honorable wife, joined her venerable ancestors.
Other Members of the Chan Family
Besides the immediate family, other family relations were mentioned or portrayed in both the Charlie Chan films and the books penned by Earl Derr Biggers. What follows is a list of other Charlie Chan family relatives.
CHARLIE CHAN’S GRANDFATHER
Mentioned in Charlie Chan in Monte Carlo (1937)
According to Charlie Chan as stated in Charlie Chan at Monte Carlo (1937), he “once have large holdings in Fan Tan house.”
MRS. CHAN’S MOTHER (?)
Appeared in Charlie Chan in Honolulu (1939)
During the family dinner scene in Charlie Chan in Honolulu (1939), an older woman can be seen helping out with the youngest children. In the books by Earl Derr Biggers, it was established that Charlie Chan’s mother was no longer among the living, so it is possible that this eldery woman is Mrs. Chan’s mother, Charlie Chan’s mother-in-law.
Mentioned in Charlie Chan at the Race Track (1936)
Aunt Ling, who lives “on the other side of the island” of Oahu, was mentioned by Lee Chan in Charlie Chan at the Race Track (1936). As Mrs. Chan had made a point of visiting her, it is perhaps probable that Ling would be her sister. It is also probable that Mr. and Mrs. Chan named their first daughter after this aunt.
Portrayed by PHILIP AHN in Charlie Chan in Honolulu (1939)
Wing Foo was married to the Chans’ oldest daughter, Ling. As was mentioned in script notes written in preparation for the film, Charlie Chan in Honolulu, Wing Foo was a shop keeper. He was also the proud father of Leng, his first son, and the first (and only mentioned) grandchild of Charlie Chan and his honorable wife.
Born: Fall 1938
Appeared in Charlie Chan in Honolulu (1939)
Leng (pronounced “Lung” and meaning “Beautiful” in the Cantonese language), the first and only mentioned grandchild of Mr. and Mrs. Chan. He was born to Ling, the Chans’ oldest daughter and her husband Wing Foo in Charlie Chan in Honolulu (1939).
COUSIN WILLIE CHAN
Appeared in the Earl Derr Biggers story The House Without a Key
Charlie Chan’s “Americanized” cousin who lived in Honolulu. According to Charlie Chan, “My cousin Willie Chan, captain of All-Chinese baseball team and demon backstop of Pacific!” It is possible, perhaps, that the Chans’ sixth son, Willie, was named after this cousin.
CHAN KEE LIM (Kee Lim Chan)
Appeared in the stories The Chinese Parrot and Behind That Curtain, both by Earl Derr Biggers
Charlie Chan’s very traditional Cantonese cousin who lived in an uptairs flat on Waverly Place near Washington Street in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Kee Lim is described as “tall, with a gray meager beard.” He and Charlie Chan apparently spent part of their youth together in their native China. Kee Lim was not pleased that his cousin from Hawaii worked for the “foreign devil police.”
Appeared in the story The Chinese Parrot, by Earl Derr Biggers
So Chan (Chan So) was the wife of Kee Lim Chan (Chan Kee Lim).
Appeared in the story The Chinese Parrot, by Earl Derr Biggers
The “Americanized” daughter of Kee Lim Chan and his wife So (both mentioned above). She is described: “Her eyes were dark and bright; her face pretty as a doll’s…her hair was bobbed and her walk, her gestures, her whole manner too obviously copied from her American sisters.” Rose was employed as a switchboard operator at the Chinatown telephone exchange. Probably older than Charlie Chan’s eldest daughter Ling, also refered to in earliest references as Rose, perhaps she was the latter’s namesake to some degree. Her very traditionalist father, Kee Lim, was not pleased by Rose’s American attitude, stating, “She…would be an American, insolent as the daughters of the foolish white men.” To which his daughter replied, “Why not? I was born here. I went to American grammar schools. And now I work in American fashion.”