This month we celebrate Earl Derr Biggers’ 138th birthday (August 26th, 1884) with a treasure hunt! Move over Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom, Lara Croft Tomb Raider, The Librarian and National Treasure…here I come Luigi and The Lost Charlie Chan Stuff (exciting music plays!) OK, maybe that doesn’t quite pass muster. However, I’m a firm believer as one matures if you stagnate you slowly fade away. So sitting in front of my laptop, daring the caverns and crannies that lie within the dark web, I search eBay, Amazon, collector pages, on-line auctions, and other remote sites hoping to one day find one of the rare treasures titled above. And I venture forth in full costume! (Well, with my Panama Hat on my head or close by in the closet.) So what exactly are these missing treasures you wonder? Ah, I’m glad you asked!
The Celluloid Parrot. I had no idea this existed until I read Author Barbara Gregorich’s Charlie Chan’s Poppa: Earl Derr Biggers (2018.) An uncovering such as this will cause the heart to skip a beat, and there it was on page thirty-seven! As part of their promotional campaign for the novel The Chinese Parrot (1926), Publisher Bobbs-Merrill commissioned celluloid parrots to be sent to bookstores to promote this second book in the series. I thought this would be a fairly easy find and I did come across several celluloid parrots. However, none of them I could affiliate in any way with the book or Bobbs-Merrill publishers. So, after three years searching I’m still on this quest. And should I find it; well, then on to the next!
The Charlie Chan Wax Figure. This would indeed be a prized treasure for any respectable Charlie Chan aficionado! And the probability it still exists is uncertain. The figure was featured in one of the most popular Chan films, Charlie Chan at the Wax Museum (1940.) Here’s what Rush Glick’s website The Charlie Chan Family Home has to say about this unusual piece:
NOTES: According to David Robert Cellitti, the wax figure of Charlie Chan (and, perhaps we may assume that the rest of the wax figures used in the film) was made by a studio in Los Angeles called The Stubergh’s, which was run by Katherine Stubergh. “The late Katherine Stubergh was my mentor. She supplied wax figures for such films as House of Wax, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, The Frozen Ghost and many other pictures…including Charlie Chan at the Wax Museum.”Adapted from: AMERICAN FILM INSTITUTE CATALOG – Within Our Gates: Ethnicity in American Feature Films, 1911-1960.
It’s rumored the likeness of Chan made it’s way back to the City of Angels in California (home of Stubergh Studio where it was crafted,) but I got that information from a dubious source. However, I do have another lead. The site WAXIPEDIA lists over 70 Houses of Wax in the U.S. alone! Anyone up for a road trip?
The Key to The City of Honolulu. Author Earl Derr Biggers, and his fictional creation Detective Charlie Chan, became so popular in Hawaii that he was presented with an honorary Key to The City of Honolulu. I first got wind of this fact reading a July 7th, 1928, Honolulu Star-Bulletin article on Rush Glick’s website in The Study. It briefly mentions the key and states the Community of Honolulu sent a Koa Wood Key to Biggers at his home in Pasadena, CA, where he kept it in his study. I wrote to the City of Honolulu Chamber of Commerce, but never heard back on the topic.
The only person I could find “documented” as receiving a Key to The City of Honolulu is golf legend Michelle Wie (can we call Wikipedia documentation?) But undeterred, unrelenting and indefatigable I did not stop there! Eventually, I contacted the Hawaii State Library, Hawaii & Pacific Division, and…I hit pay dirt!
Thank you to “Kat” at the Hawaii State Library, who researched their archives and not only found the above picture of the missing key, but three other articles to include a thank you letter from Biggers published in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, June 19th, 1925. Another articles found states the source of the Koa Key:
“The bureau discussed the matter (the key) at a meeting recently, and it was the opinion of the board that much publicity was given to the islands through Biggers’ story. It was proposed by W. H. Hussman that the key be made at the Hilo boarding school, which is noted for it’s excellency in workmanship. The key will be appropriately inscribed.”Honolulu Star-Bulletin, March 21, 1925, pg 2
So there it is our treasure hunt for Earl Derr Biggers’ 138th birthday anniversary; a fools errand or a search for significant treasures that need finding? You decide. I do have a lead where that Koa Wood key may be hiding though! Want a hint? The answer can be found inside last year’s Bigger’s Birthday Blog, August 1, 2021 on this site (scroll to the video!)
“We have been combing the hair of an iron donkey”Keeper of The Keys, 1932, Chapter 10
4 thoughts on “A Charlie Chan Treasure Hunt: The Celluloid Parrot, The Wax Figure and The Key to the City.”
So good of you dear amigo to share your research with us.
I am currently sitting and riding a train from Montreal to Toronto where I will be visiting with the rest of my Canadian family. It’s just for an overnight as I will be flying home to Israel tomorrow evening and will be home by noon Friday. I have been on the road since 14 April, visiting daughter Kc in Bossier City, LA [near Barksdale AFB], then on to Cozumel, Mexico, and few other states…so am ready to go home!
Hope this note will find you well and singing again. Big hugs 🤗 Yvonne
Really enjoyed this blog, Lou! And I have an idea where the key may be hidden . . . but I’m not going there to find it. My favorite of these is the celluloid parrot, and I hope you find it! What a coup that would be.
Thanks Barbara. And same here. The Parrot would be awesome (and probably more affordable :).
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