Charlie Chan - Hawaiian Super Cop Part III
by Alan C. Elliott
Earl Biggers readily admitted the association between the real detective Chang Apana and the fictional Charlie Chan. In fact, Apana was invited to attend the filming of the Black Camel in 1931. Apana, already a respected detective in Honolulu, became even more of a local celebrity. Biggers had long discussions with Apana, and gleaned many ideas for future stories.
"Charlie Chan's Grave" (Chang Apana)-- Honolulu
Apana was, in fact, the perfect inspiration for Chan. Born of Chinese parents in Hawaii, he grew up in China, and returned to Hawaii as a teenager. A physically small but feisty individual, he first made his living as a cowboy and later tending horse stables on the Big Island of Hawaii. After moving to Oahu, he worked in the stables of a wealthy Hawaiian family. They used their influence to get him appointed as the first officer to oversee the humane treatment of animals in Honolulu. Apana’s reputation as a diligent, fair, and meticulous enforcer of the law led him to an appointment to the Honolulu Police Department in 1898. Disliking guns, he carried a leather bullwhip instead. Some Chan historians believe the whip-carrying, cowboy hat-wearing Apana influenced the creation of the Indiana Jones movie character. Both Steven Spielberg and George Lucas spent time in Hawaii, would have seen Chan movies, known about the writings of Earl Derr Biggers, and likely heard of the legendary Apana.
Once the Apana-Chan connection was public, Apana enjoyed autographing books (as Charlie Chan) for admirers. Although he managed an exemplary 30-year career with the police force, a growing hysteria against the “heathen” Chinese forced him into retirement. Because his retirement pay would be substantially lower than his salary, several prominent Honolulu citizens made up the difference. When he died in 1933, his funeral procession rivaled those of Hawaiian dignitaries. Chang is buried in the Manoa Chinese Cemetery where a sign points visitors to the grave of “Detective Charlie Chan (Chan (sp) Apana.)”
Today, you can watch a number of the full-length Chan movies on YouTube or late night TV. Movies are also available through Netflix and Blockbuster and on DVD. Most of the original Chan novels by Biggers are still in print. A movie about the real Hawaiian Super Cop, Chang Apana, is in the works by producer John Brekke, and a clip from “The Legend of Chang Apana” was recently shown at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. Hawaiian historian Gilbert Martines has been researching Apana since 1982 and keeps fans abreast of the latest Chan news at the charliechanshawaii.com website.
Continues... see part IV -- coming soon
May your days be full of good words.
For information on my latest story "Takeover" please go to www.alanelliott.com. This short story, Takeover: A Writer’s Nightmare, is a romp through the messed-up brain of a creative writer that takes you on a bumpy joy ride with a twisted ending.