Celebrate! A “musical montage” for Charlie Chan creator Earl Derr Biggers’ 136th Birthday, August 26th.

Get ready for some feet tappin‘ and finger snappin‘! We’re celebrating Charlie Chan creator Author Earl Derr Biggers’ 136th birthday this month (August 26, 1884) with some sweet sounds germane to one of America’s first “icons” of mystery fiction. Most mystery buffs easily recognize the theme song for their favorite sleuth: Peter Gunn, Mike Hammer, Hercule Peroit, Sherlock Holmes, Jim Rockford and a personal favorite Harry Crumb (huh?) Not so though for Detective Charlie Chan of the Honolulu Police. Well, at least not one song. Here are some melodic, symphonic and euphonic associations between Detective Chan and the world of music you just may not be aware of. And if that isn’t enough–a choreographic treat for good measure! Oh yes, I almost forgot! What’s the connection with Charlie Chan and Captain America? The answer to that mystery is somewhere below!  

Cab Calloway, Rochester New York (American Jazz Singer, Band Leader, and Dancer): Often recognized for his close association with New York’s iconic Cotton Club in Harlem, “The Cab” led one of America’s most popular big bands in the 1930s & ‘40s. His composition, Chop, Chop, Charlie Chan, was released sometime around 1939-40 and is included on the 1991 LP Cab Calloway: 1939-1940. If you’d like to know more about this music icon visit https://www.cabcalloway.com/. As Minnie The Moocher might say, “Hi Dee, Hi Dee, Hi Dee Ho!”

Chop, Chop, Charlie Chan from China, He’s the heppest cat in town

Here’s the way he spiels to Dinah,

A-dai-yon, dai-yon, dai-yon, dai-yon ta-da-dit

Charlie Chan, Australia (Composer): Author and biographer Barbara Gregorich told me she often came across this artist when first doing research on her book Charlie Chan’s Poppa: Earl Derr Biggers (2018.) With title credits, such as: Australian TV crime-dramas Killing Time (2011) and Persons of Interest (2013-2014) and TV science program Tales of the Unexpected (2014), it’s hard to imagine Ms. Chan is not in touch with her inner detective! A renowned composer and performer, she has many more credits to her name as an innovator within film, music, concerts and more. Visit her at: http://www.charliechan.com.au/.

Joe Lovano, Hudson River Valley, New York (Saxophonist-Composer): World-renowned saxophonist, Joe Lovano, originally hails from Cleveland, Ohio and has no less than 36 albums to his name. His CD, 52nd Street, was the 2001 Grammy Award Winner “Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album.” On that CD you’ll find his original tune Charlie Chan! According to his website, “The music on 52nd Street Themes holds a deep, personal meaning for saxophonist Joe Lovano.” And his tune Charlie Chan is actually a tribute to famed jazz legend Charlie Parker Jr. Mr. Parker frequently used the pseudonym Charlie Chan to play gigs in NY, when his “Cabaret Card” (license to play) was revoked. The name was a combination of his (Charlie) and common-law wife’s (Chan Richardson) first names. Still, it’s an unusual coincidence! And perhaps it’s not too far a stretch of the imagination Mr. Parker purposely chose it with our detective in mind. After all, 52d Street and New York’s Chinatown do both reside on Manhattan Island. Visit Joe Lovano at: http://www.joelovano.com/.  

Dana Tai Soon Burgess Dance: Charlie Chan and the Mystery of Love. Dana Tai Soon Burgess (Resident Choreographer) is a leading American choreographer, dancer, and cultural figure. He has been referred to as the “poet laureate of Washington dance” and “…a national dance treasure” (Ref: Washington Post writer and Pulitzer-prize winning dance critic Sarah Kaufman). His artistic focus explores the idea of cultural “confluence” and many of Burgess’ dances have tended to focus on the “hyphenated person” – someone who is of mixed ethnic or cultural heritage – as well as issues of belonging and societal acceptance. At the link above view an excerpt from a performance of “Charlie Chan and the Mystery of Love,” choreographed, October 2010, Dance Place, Washington, DC. (look close at what the dancers are holding.) We couldn’t leave Charlie’s dance-card empty! Find Mr. Burgess at http://dtsbdc.org/.

And now, “le pièces de résistance!”

The 44 Charlie Chan Films (Composers and Music Directors or Supervisors): Unlike those detectives at the beginning of this blog, Charlie Chan did not have one particular theme song. However, on the other hand he had the distinction of many scores from some significant composers and musical directors! Here are the talented people behind the music heard inside those marvelous movies in the Charlie Chan film proper. A “C” following the film indicates they were officially credited (composer), while a “CU” indicates they composed the music, however, were not recognized for the film score (composer uncredited.) Otherwise (Neither ID), they were either the musical or sound director for the film scores and the composer was unknown, not listed, or stock music may have been used under their direction. A “tip of the Panama Hat” to Mike-n-Rachel (in DC) for sparking the idea for this one. (Note: These are as listed on the IMDb and not taken off the film clip credits.)

Samuel Kaylin (1892-1983). His all time music credits (these will include the Chan films) are: Music Department (192), Composer (80), Sound Track (2). Mr. Kaylin composed and/or directed music for more Charlie Chan films than anyone else–21 to be exact. Of note, He was also the music director for six of the Mr. Moto films of the 1930s.

  • Charlie Chan Carries On (1931) CU
  • The Black Camel (1931) C
  • Charlie Chan’s Greatest Case (1933)
  • Charlie Chan’s Courage (1934) C
  • Charlie Chan in London (1934) C
  • Charlie Chan in Paris (1935) CU
  • Charlie Chan in Egypt (1935) C
  • Charlie Chan in Shanghai (1936)
  • Charlie Chan’s Secret (1936) C
  • Charlie Chan at the Circus (1936) C
  • Charlie Chan at the Race Track (1936)
  • Charlie Chan at the Opera (1936)
  • Charlie Chan at the Olympics (1937) CU
  • Charlie Chan on Broadway (1937) CU
  • Charlie Chan at Monte Carlo (1937)
  • Charlie Chan in Honolulu (1938) CU
  • Charlie Chan in Reno (1939) CU
  • Charlie Chan at Treasure Island (1939) CU
  • Charlie Chan in City in Darkness CU
  • Charlie Chan in Panama (1940) CU
  • Charlie Chan’s Murder Cruise (1940)

Edward J. Kay (1898 – 1973). Mr. Kay’s all time music credits are: Music Department (345), Composer (80), Sound Track (22). Mr. Kay was the music director or composer for 13 Chan films and uncredited composer (CU) on one of those. (He also co-composed music for The Jade Mask (1945) with Dave Torbitt, which we listed under his name below.) Of note, Mr. Kay had 4 (or 5) Oscar nominations for his compositions including one for King of The Zombies (1941), which starred veteran Chan films Actor Mantan Moreland!

  • The Scarlet Clue (1945)
  • The Shanghai Cobra (1945)
  • The Red Dragon (1945)
  • Dark Alibi (1946) CU
  • Shadows Over Chinatown (1946)
  • Dangerous Money (1946)
  • The Trap (1946)
  • The Chinese Ring (1947)
  • Dock of New Orleans (1948)
  • Shanghai Chest (1948)
  • The Golden Eye (1948)
  • The Feathered Serpent (1948)
  • The Sky Dragon (1949)

Cyril J. Mockridge (1896 – 1979). Mr. Mockridge’s all time music credits are: Music Department (97), Composer (252), Sound Track (16). Mr. Mockridge had one Oscar Nomination for Music Score, Guys and Dolls (1956) featuring Marlon Brando, Jeanne Simmons and Frank Sinatra. He was the uncredited composer (CU) on 3 Chan Films. Of Note: Mr. Mockridge also composed music for some movie great, such as: Sherlock Holmes Dressed to Kill (1941) and The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939), Miracle on 34th Street (1947), Daddy Long Legs (1955) and others recognizable music scores too numerous to mention here.

  • Murder Over New York (1940) CU
  • Charlie Chan at the Wax Museum (1940) CU
  • Castle in the Desert (1942) CU

Emil Newman (1884-1916). All time music credits are: Music Department (179), Composer (44), Sound Track (7) including one Oscar nominee for Best Music Score, Sun Valley Seranade (1941.) Mr. Newman was music director for 5 Chan films, but we’re just listing one here. (Those others four we’ve credited to Cyril J. Mockridge (3) & David Raksin (1), who composed the music scores.) Of Note, Mr. Newman has the distinction of being the only credited (or uncredited) “composer” on any of the 39 episodes of the British TV shows The New Adventures of Charlie Chan (1957-1958); specifically, Episode 8, “Charlies Highland Fling” (A Mr. Fred Turtle was Sound Supervisor on 33 episodes of the TV series, possibly using stock music.) Mr. Newman was also Music Director on the 1944 classic film, Laura.

Alexander Laszlo (1895 – 1970). Mr. Laszlo’s all time music credits are: Music Department (27), Composer (59), Sound Track (7) and Actor (1.) Mr. Laszlo composed the music for 2 Chan films. Of note, Mr. Laszlo invented a Color light device or “Sonchromatoskop,” a mechanism that reproduces music with color, which was first used at the Kiel Music Festival in 1924.

  • Black Magic (1944) C
  • Charlie Chan in The Chinese Cat (1944) C

Karl Hajos (1889-1950). All time music credits are: Music Department (151), Composer (92), Sound Track (12) including two Oscar nominees for Best Music Score, The Man Who Walked Alone (1945) and Summer Storm (1944.) Mr. Hajos composed 1 Chan film.

  • Charlie Chan in The Secret Service (1944) CU

Dave Torbett (1908-1996). All time music credits: Music Department (14), Composer (10), Sound Track (1). Mr. Torbet composed 1 Chan Film. Note: Mr. Torbett was also co-composed (uncredited) Charlie Chan in The Secret Service (1944) along with Karl Hajos . However we listed that film under Mr. Hajos (above), since Mr. Hajos was the music director on the film.

  • The Jade Mask (1945) C

Albert Protzman (1901-1981 – Sound Department (31 Credits). Hmmm, I looked and I looked, but could not find who either composed or was music director/supervisor for this film (one of the lost films!) However, Albert Protzman was head of the sound department and so did the recording. So we’re giving him all the credit and glory! Thanks Al…and um, try and find that film.

  • Charlie Chan’s Chance (1932)

David Raksin (1912-2004). All time music credits are: Music Department (168), Composer (120), Sound Track (36) including two Oscar nominees for Best Music Score, Separate Tables (1958) and Forever Amber (1947) Mr. Raksin composed 1 Chan film. He was also the composer uncredited on Mr. Moto’s Last Warning (1939.) Of Note: Mr. Raksin composed the haunting music score for the film noir classic, Laura (1944), starring Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews and Vincent Price.

  • Dead Men Tell (1941) CU

Finally, here’s the answer to that riddle at top. Mr. Raksin also wrote the “Newsreel March” heard inside the movie Captain America: The First Avenger (2011.) So does that make Charlie Chan the actual First Avenger? Probably not for Marvel Comics, but perhaps for some of us!

“You’re the man, Mr. Chan” Captain A

A thousand mile journey begins with one step

Charlie Chan, The Black Camel, 1929, Chapter 4

10 thoughts on “Celebrate! A “musical montage” for Charlie Chan creator Earl Derr Biggers’ 136th Birthday, August 26th.

  1. Fascinating! This must have taken you months to research and write. Question: Did the soundtrack music have a title, or was it just called something like “Soundtrack for Charlie Chan in Paris”? Or did different movements have titles? Not an important question, I’m just curious about how the composer thought about the piece. On another matter, I did figure out what the dancers were holding. Clever!


    1. That’s an interesting question Barbara. I didn’t see a single song title mentioned for any of the music on the 44 films–at least not on the IMDb. However, that may be the case regarding music, or musical releases in general. For example, the movie “Chinatown” with music score by Jerry Goldsmith was released on CD/LP with 32 song titles on it–including, the title score “The Love Theme from Chinatown.” That isn’t mentioned on the IMDb either. So I guess we’d need to start canvassing old 33 rpm records for sound tracks to Charlie Chan films–NOT! They probably weren’t titled is my guess, but don’t hold me to that. Thanks.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great work, Lou! I am VERY impressed with the completeness of this piece. With your permission, it might make a nice addition eventually to our Study at Charlie Chan Family.

    First, your mention of Charlie Chan the musician is interesting as I have come upon her in my Chan searches many times over the years! From Wikipedia: “Originally named Maryann Chan at birth, she was ‘christened’ Charlie Chan around this time by friends at a drama camp. The name stuck.” (So much for those who have complained about being called “Charlie Chan” by classmates!)

    We shared “Black Magic” at tonight’s Monday Evening Chat. You noted that Alexander Lazlo composed the music for that film as well as for “The Chinese Cat,” the film produced immediately before the former. This caused me to consider, admittedly for the first time, the similarities of his unique musical contributions to both pictures.

    Thanks again, Lou, for this thought-provoking – and FUN – essay!


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Rush, thank you so much and I did not know that about Maryann (Charlie) Chan. Another great fact in the old school of life. Please “be my guest” to use the blog, or pieces of it, in your “Study”…my favorite place on your website!


    1. Thanks Jon. Yep, “The Cap” was definitely one of those entertainers who seems to span across generations. Just like that one singer…what’s his name; oh yeah, Sinatra :).


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