Birds of a feather: Tony the Parrot & Cookie the Cockatoo.

History doth repeat itself! Once upon a time Author Earl Derr Biggers wrote a novel, The Chinese Parrot (1926). This second in the Detective Charlie Chan series featured an Australian Gray Parrot named “Tony,” who spoke–you guessed it–Chinese. And in more recent times Biggers’ biographer, Author Barbara Gregorich, wrote about another bird: the sensation of the Brookfield, Illinois Zoo: Cookie the Cockatoo, Everything Changes (2020.)

Tony, The Chinese Parrot (1926-Present.) Since he came along first let’s begin with him. Tony was not a real bird, but he did produce quite a stirr as the topic of Earl Derr Biggers’ second Charlie Chan novel The Chinese Parrot. You could say that Tony (or his novel) in one way helped launch Charlie Chan into national recognition. While the first Chan novel introduced Detective Chan, he was not originally intended as a primary character in the story. As Biggers put it, “he began to emerge on his own.” So when the public’s initial response to his first Hawaiian-themed mystery The House Without a Key (1925) was ecstatic (especially his detective,) Biggers didn’t hesitate to act. He introduced Tony, a Gray Australian Chinese-speaking Parrot and gift to a wealthy financier from an Australian ship captain.

I’m not quite sure if Tony would be considered a Deuteragonist or Tertiary character (second or third level?) However, Biggers did give him top billing in the novel’s title. Not only did Biggers immortalize Tony with his novel, he was cast in celluloid as a promotional giveaway by publisher Bobbs-Merrill and distributed nationwide to booksellers! I have my own thoughts about the origin of Tony the parrot. You can read about that in my blog: The Chinese Parrott…well, perhaps not!

Cookie the Cockatoo (1934-2016.) Now we come to our real-life feathered friend, Cookie the Cockatoo, once the sensation of the Brookfield Zoo! Author Barbara Gregorich writes in many genres: mysteries, YA novels, children’s books, magazine and web articles, and a biographical Charlie Chan’s Poppa: Earl Derr Biggers (2018). Unexpectedly, I found her book Cookie The Cockatoo: Everything Changes a fun history lesson before I even realized it (yep, she’s also a teacher.) The book targets middle grade to adult readers, commenting on major world events through the eyes and voice of Cookie’s lifetime. And he lived a long one! Cookie holds a Guinness World Record 82 years, 88 days (at that time) for the longest living Parrot! He actually lived till 83. If you want a unique way to introduce your offspring to poetry and history at the same time–try this book. Or if you been around a bit, like me, and just want to reminisce with a smile through seasons of your own lifetime, same thing. It is written in a very interesting style (short poems.) Here’s the author talking on the background of writing Cookie the Cockatoo: Everything Changes.

Perhaps my opening quote on history repeating itself does not exactly apply. After all a parrot and a cockatoo aren’t the same. However, it is a bit ironic some 94 years after Author Earl Derr Biggers immortalized the fictional Tony, a gray Australian Parrot who chattered incessantly in Chinese, his biographer Barbara Gregorich chronicled a similar winged chatterbox; the real-life Cookie the Cockatoo 82-year resident of the Brookfield, IL Zoo. One commemorated in celluloid and the other a world record holder, but both secured in literature. What’s that old saying about “Great minds…?” (Um, I mean the authors not the birds.)

“The long arm of coincidence, I believe it is called.”

Charlie Chan, Keeper of the Keys, 1930

6 thoughts on “Birds of a feather: Tony the Parrot & Cookie the Cockatoo.

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