The Sidekick, we all love them. Robinson Crusoe had his man Friday and Tom Sawyer had Huckleberry Finn. And while Batman had Robin, Tony Stark engaged a computer-interface language system, J.A.R.V.I.S.–Just A Rather Very Intelligent System (in case you didn’t know.) But it can also get lonely when one is trying to solve those little mysteries. You know, like who decapitated the beautiful film star and where is her head? Or, who stabbed the infamous politician 35 times with that antique letter opener? So to avoid boredom with the mundane tasks of crime solving, one finds many sleuthing couples paired in mystery, such as: Archie Goodwin and Nero Wolfe, Sergeant Barbara Havers and Inspector Lynley, Captain Hastings and Hercule Poirot, Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes. While Nick Charles had both wife Nora and favorite pooch Asta helping him on the trail. So what about Detective Charlie Chan? Who did Author Earl Derr Biggers pair Chan with to assist him when solving those mysteries? Don’t be too quick to answer! It depends on whether your speaking of film or literature?
ON SCREEN. To the question of a favorite sidekick for Detective Charlie Chan, most would probably answer with “Son no. 1, or 2, or 3.” These characters were played primarily by veteran Chan-film favorites Keye Luke (11 times), Victor Sen Young (18 times), and Benson Fong (7 times), while actress Frances Chan (her real name) appeared twice to help her detective father solve a case. There was also his stereotypical chauffeur-taxicab driver Birmingham Brown (played by veteran actor Mantan Moreland), who appeared in a total 15 films. One might easily consider him a sidekick! Then, other characters gave repeat performance in the movies, like actor Harold Huber. Huber mainly played a policeman (or police relation) to assist Charlie in four Chan films: Charlie Chan on Broadway, Charlie Chan at Monte Carlo, Charlie Chan in City in Darkness, and Charlie Chan in Rio. And though he only appeared in one film, Charlie Chan in Reno, every Chan fan seems to know the lovable Sheriff “Tombstone” Fletcher (played by actor Slim Summerville.) Last, I could never forgive myself if I did not mention Charlie’s helper from the film The Black Camel, Kashimo (portrayed by actor Otto Yamaoka.) A true sidekick in every sense of the word, he was Charlie’s bumbling assistant on the police force. So you can see, not so simple to pick a sidekick for Charlie Chan from film!
WITHIN THE NOVELS. I’m afraid it doesn’t get much easier here! However, I will say upfront that “Kashimo” appeared in two of the six Chan novels as Charlie’s assistant on the force. Hoping to become a detective some day, he provided light humor somehow stumbling onto a clue every now and then, “Kashimo good at finding things, right boss?” But if truth be told, he also served as a mechanism for the author to deflect the Anti-Asian sentiment of the time away from Charlie. Still, to complicate matters even more, Charlie Chan was assisted by a variety of secondary characters in each novel. Usually, one of them a young person coming of age and the love interest of somebody within a subplot running through the story. All of Earl Derr Biggers Charlie Chan books were both mystery and romance novels. Here’s who stood by Charlie’s side on the pages of those mysteries to solve each case:
The House Without a Key (1925) – John Quincy Winterslip. A straitlaced Bostonian bond trader, who’s wealthy uncle has been murdered and who falls head-over-heals for a struggling local gal.
The Chinese Parrot (1926) – Bob Eden. The flippant son of a wealthy San Francisco jeweler, who helps Charlie deliver a valuable pearl necklace to a wealthy financier. He finds love with a movie set location finder; an independent gal and he’s met his match.
Behind That Curtain (1928) – Wealthy property owner Barry Kirk and Assistant District Attorney Jane V. Morrow. These two are the love interests in this story.
The Black Camel (1929) – Here we find Tarneverro-a mystic; Kashimo-Chan’s police assistant; and Jimmy Bradshaw-Tour guide and Hawaiian Isles promoter. Bradshaw is one-half of the love interest.
Charlie Chan Carries On (1930) – Inspector Duff-of Scotland Yard; Pamela Potter and Mark Kennaway-the love interests; Ms. Latimer Luce-a parody on Ms. Marple; and one last time Kashimo-Chan’s police assistant.
Keeper of The Keys (1932) – Sheriff Don Holt, the son of a famous western lawman, who’s trying to live up to his pa’s reputation. Holt falls for one of the suspects!
IN CONCLUSION. Whew! So there you have it. As you can see picking a sidekick for Charlie is like trying to find the proverbial needle in the haystack. So the real question is not “Who was Detective Charlie Chan’s sidekick,” but rather “Who’s your favorite?” Wasn’t it an Ancient philosopher who once said, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder?” (Or did Charlie say that?) Anyway, if you are wondering just “who” is my favorite Charlie Chan sidekick? That’s an easy one. It could only be !
(Ha! The oldest trick in the book…invisible ink.)
6 thoughts on “Those loveable “Sidekicks!” Who’s your favorite?”
“Sidekick important spice in baking second show.”
– Charla Chan Can Yu
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Great post Lou,I’m looking forward to going through this at my leisure.BestLen
Leonard Freeman firstname.lastname@example.org
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A September treat, and another good one…thank you (so much)! Interestingly, Frances Chan played FRANCES CHAN in “Black Magic” (AKA: “Meeting at Midnight”). Also, thank you for the insight regarding Chan’s assistant Kashimo. He’s maybe my favorite sidekick in the novels, due to his unintended ability to unintentionally exasperate Mr. Chan! He was nicely adapted to the big screen, I feel, in “The Black Camel.” My overall favorite “sidekick” (assistant, really!) from the film series would be Birmingham Brown, portrayed by Mantan Moreland in 15 Monogram Pictures Chan pictures.
Thank you, again, Lou, for this month’s ride!
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I love the sidekicks, but Inspector Carvaro of The Red Dragon has always struck me as someone who should’ve had more film time. More of a semi-equal than a sidekick really so of course not in the above lists… but a good
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Thanks for your blog/essay. I’m new to this discussion of Charlie Chan/Earl D. Biggers, so I’ll just listen (or read) for a bit without trying to add discourse. Silence golden, says wise old owl.
Murseykat, thanks for reading and following along on the blog. You might also like to visit the Charlie Chan Family Home Message Board (if you haven’t already), where the chat on a vast array of topics seems to never end: http://www.charliechan.info/id113.html. Aloha, Lou