Friday, June 8, 2018

REEL INFATUATION BLOGATHON: Keye Luke as Lee Chan


Maedez of Font and Frock and Ruth of Silver Screenings are once again hosting the popular Reel Infatuation Blogathon on June 8th - 10th. Those fictional crushes can be so real!  Day 1  Day 2   Day 3


My tween years were devoted to sneaking up late at night and watching whatever old movie I could find. One momentous night I was introduced to Inspector Charlie Chan, 60 summers young and 60 winters old, and his number one son, Lee in Charlie Chan in Shanghai. Warner Oland played the internationally known crimefighter and Keye Luke his assistant.


Here's Lee's entrance joining his Pop at the dock in Shanghai. The first scene in the movie had introduced me to Inspector Chan who seemed a movie detective worth following. Lee immediately impressed me with his good looks and enthusiasm. It's even more fun to solve a fictional crime if you have a crush on one of the detectives! 


Lee, looking spiffy in his pajamas and robe, always has a theory or two to help his Pop wrap up his current case. It seemed to me Pop was too quick to dismiss some of these theories.


A Scotland Yard compatriot of Inspector Chan's has been murdered. A fiendish dope ring is behind the business and they want to get rid of Chan. Lee realizes his Pop has been kidnapped and is hot on the trail of the crooks. He'll do anything, face any danger to save his Pop.


The Chans find themselves in a very risky situation, but fans need never fear. Together they are more than equal to any enemy. 


The element of surprise!


Quick reflexes and a quick escape.


Check it out! That clever and good looking Lee Chan is also a master of disguise.


The Chans are happy with the conclusion of the case. I was happy watching this movie for the first time and looked forward to seeing more of Lee Chan ... and, his father the venerable Inspector.

Charlie Chan in Shanghai was the second Chan movie to feature Keye Luke as Lee. The first, also released in 1935, was Charlie Chan in Paris.


The earlier 1935 feature, Charlie Chan in Egypt hinted at Stepin Fetchit possibly joining the series as Chan's assistant. However, someone had the bright idea to find a sidekick in Chan's legendary large family. Lee made his first appearance with his head in a towel as the Inspector hears an intruder in his Paris hotel room.


Ta-da! Here you go, girls. Um, I mean, here you go, general audience. A new, fresh, young character for you to enjoy. The popularity of this actor and this character helped sustain the Charlie Chan series.


Immediately, we can sense the bond of affection between Charlie and his firstborn. Warner Oland and Keye Luke became close, with Oland a mentor to the young man, and Luke a fond protector to his often troubled older friend.


Charlie Chan at the Circus in 1936 has Lee going incognito as a child's nurse to tail a suspect. He's teamed up with little person entertainer George Brasno to solve the murder and save the circus. Lee's costume does not impress a pretty contortionist played by Shia Jung. Lee's romances often conflict with his detecting.


Here's another disguise as Lee drives a laundry truck and sets off a distraction of fireworks in Charlie Chan at the Race Track in 1936.


Charlie Chan at the Opera is a favourite of mine featuring Boris Karloff as a mad baritone. Lee goes undercover in the ensemble of an Opera Company plagued by threats, secrets and murder.


In 1937s Charlie Chan at the Olympics, Lee Chan is on America's team going to Berlin. Here on shipboard, the athletes observe the Hindenberg Zeppelin unaware that Inspector Chan is flying above them on the way to Berlin as well. The Inspector is not after medals, but spies.


Actual footage of the Berlin Olympics is incorporated into the movie, and in our fantasy portion, Lee Chan is a medal winner. Only after his kidnapping by spies and a most harrowing time for Pop.


Another 1937 release, Charlie Chan on Broadway has Chan and Son dealing with the newshounds and big shots who populate The Big Apple. Here Lee startles and then charms (naturally) a pretty girl played by Toshia Mori, who works at a nightclub.


Charlie Chan at Monte Carlo is the last feature we have starring Warner Oland with Keye Luke. Here the helpful Lee used his supposed proficiency at French, and managed to get them thrown in the clink!

Charlie Chan at Ringside was in production in 1938 when Warner Oland, experiencing physical and mental problems, walked out of the production. A few months later he would pass away in his native Sweden of bronchial pneumonia.

Keye Luke, Harold Huber, Peter Lorre

Charlie Chan at Ringside found a home with another Fox series and became Mr. Moto's Gamble starring Peter Lorre. The connection to the Chan series is kept alive by Keye Luke as Lee taking a criminology course being taught by Mr. Moto. Moto, Lee, and a pickpocket classmate played by Maxie Rosenbloom help Lt. Riggs played by Harold Huber with a case involving big-time gamblers and the murder of a boxer.

Maxie Rosenbloom, Keye Luke

At one point Mr. Moto lets a rural sheriff lock the overly helpful Lee and Maxie up. When Maxie wonder why, Lee tells him that Pop used to do that to him all the time. It's a cute line, and Lee looks swell in that fedora, don't you think? 

Twentieth Century Fox was continuing the successful Chan series and, of course, popular Keye Luke was asked to stay on as Lee Chan. Keye Luke, however, could not see himself in the series without Warner Oland. 

Sen Yung, Sidney Toler

Jimmy: "Say Pop, I've been thinking ... I wish you'd let me be a detective. Now that brother Lee is in the New York Art School I can take his place."

Charlie Chan in Honolulu in 1938 featured the changing of the guard. Sidney Toler, at 64, took over the role of Inspector Chan and 23-year-old Sen Yung played Number 2 son, Jimmy.



Keye Luke was a trained professional artist whose work was sometimes mentioned or used in his films. In Charlie Chan in Shanghai Lee used his talent to woo the pretty object of a shipboard romance. Here is an excellent article on Keye Luke's career as an artist from Silver Scenes.

Victor Sen Yung, Carol Forman, Keye Luke

Ten years later, Keye Luke returned to the role of Lee Chan at Monogram Studios where Roland Winters was playing the Inspector. The Feathered Serpent also features Victor Sen Yung as Jimmy. Sky Dragon was Keye Luke's last go around as #1 son. Trivia buffs like to point out that Winters and Luke playing father and son were both born in 1904. 

Van Johnson, Keye Luke, Lionel Barrymore

Keye Luke played other continuing roles in the movies. He played Dr. Lee Wong How in the Dr. Gillespie series for MGM. Dr. How even makes an appearance in Andy Hardy's Double Trouble. He played detective James Wong in The Phantom of Chinatown, as the younger version of the character played by Boris Karloff in a series. Unfortunately, "Phantom" did not become a series for Keye Luke. He was also Kato in the 1940 serial The Green Hornet Strikes Again!.


Keye Luke's movie credits total the nice round number of 99 with his final role in 1990s Alice. His television work lists 119 titles on the IMDb beginning with 1950s Mysteries in Chinatown and including Star Trek, Gunsmoke, General Hospital, Night Court, Adam-12, Kung Fu as Master Po, and the voice of Charlie Chan in the Saturday morning cartoon show The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan. He also starred on Broadway and on the road in Rodgers and Hammerstein's Flower Drum Song.

Keye Luke played many roles and played them well. It makes me happy every time I see him in a movie or on a classic television program. My admiration and affection for the actor runs deep, but my crush, the crush of that tween girl up late when she was supposed to be sleeping on a school night, is only for Lee Chan, #1 son.


Please have a look at KEYE LUKE on Vimeo, a short film from 2012 directed by Timothy Tau. It is a charming and thoughtful piece of work.



















52 comments:

  1. Ah, you are a faithful soul! While so many first crushes get kicked to the curb in favor of new loves, I can see you have remained forever faithful. Wonderful - and very representative - post, my friend.

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    1. Thank you so much (as Pop would say)!

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  2. Terrific! I love this tribute to Keye Luke. Really, how could a person NOT have a crush on him? Like FlickChick said in her comment, you didn't kick this crush to the curb. Now that's loyalty!

    I could just imagine a teenage you sneaking around the house and watching this film with the volume on Low. A wonderful story.

    Thanks for sharing some of Luke's career and the Vimeo link. I'm going to check it out right away.

    And thanks for joining the blogathon! It's never a party until you arrive.

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    1. Thanks. You're a doll. I had the best time writing this and revisiting those favourite old movies, and that "late night" feeling.

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  3. Your story is mine also, and I was lucky enough to meet Keye at a CC film fest in Venice CA in the 70s. Most delightful, gracious and handsome. His eyes sparkled as he spoke about Oland. My crush was exactly like I had hoped, and I never miss his movies!

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    1. Thank you for sharing your crush and your delightful meeting with the man who came to mean so much to so many.

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  4. How did CC find time to make such a big family when he was off solving cases? Did they ever show Mrs. Chan?

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    1. It's a mystery worthy of a great detective!

      We get to see Mrs. Chan in pictures of the family that Charlie takes on his travels, and in Charlie Chan at the Circus (Anna Mar) and Charlie Chan in Honolulu (Grace Key).

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  5. As someone else mentioned, you are faithful! I have so many crushes I can barely keep track of them. What can I say? My heart is big. Of course I missed the blogathon.

    This is a lovely tribute. I love the entire Charlie Chan series. Talk about perfect family entertainment. You mentioned some of the best, at the Circus, Olympics and Shanghai. I loved the few times when we saw the entire Chan clan.

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    1. I have little rooms in the theatre of my heart where each of my crushes stay perfectly safe until I need them.

      The main thing that set Chan apart from the other series detectives was his family, and his age. You just can't see Mike Shayne married or The Falcon as a grandfather.

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    2. True. Charlie Chan is such a comforting presence. If I were ever in trouble, he's the one I'd like to talk to.

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    3. I was in a comfort zone writing this piece. Back with dear friends.

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  6. Paddy Lee, thank you for triggering my remembrances of being a youngster staying up late, on the sly, to watch the Channel 3 WREC-TV Late Movies. Those were the days my friend.

    I really enjoyed watching the Charlie Chan movies. I would watch those on the Channel 3 Saturday afternoon Early Movies. CHARLIE CHAN IN HONOLULU(1938), with Sidney Tolar as Charlie and Victor Sen Yung as number 2 son Jimmy, was the first of the series that I saw. Warner Oland and Keye Luke came later and I liked those also. I also liked the Hanna-Barbara Saturday morning cartoon series THE AMAZING CHAN AND CHAN CLAN(1972) with Keye Luke as the voice of Charlie Chan.

    Thank you so much for your enjoyable article and photos.

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    1. Thank you for your kind compliment.

      I'm glad I was able to resurrect those fond memories. The anticipation of a movie, especially when seen on the sly, added much to those days. We're lucky to have had those days when all types of movies were shown and we could soak them all in.

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  7. Mr Moto's Gamble became, I believe, movies' first franchise crossover. Les Lannom, on Facebook, co -starred with Luke in an unsold pilot from the HARRY O series.

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    1. I can't think of anything earlier. Nice.

      Very interesting. So many shows we never got to see.

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  8. Paddy Lee, I don't know if this would count as a movie franchise crossover, but Laurel and Hardy appeared on an OUR GANG short "Wild Poses(1933). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xf3I7zJDIos

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    1. The studio probably looked upon it as a cameo, but I think we could fudge it a bit and call it a cross-over. Who is to say us nay?

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  9. I remember when I was little KOMU would show either a Charlie Chan movie or a Sherlock Holmes movie on Saturday afternoons when there were no sports. Lee was always my favourite character in the series. He was such a sharp contrast to his more traditional father!

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    1. My favourite thing about this blogathon is connecting with a whole world of Keye Luke/Lee Chan fans. My outlook on humanity needed a lift.

      PS: You were quite the perceptive little fellow.

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  10. Chan movies are always a pleasure to relax to.

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  11. Love it! Great tribute! You've made me want to have a marathon one of these days :)

    Carol, The Old Hollywood Garden

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    1. Lock the door. A buffet on the coffee table. Comfy pajamas. And away we go, around the world with Charlie Chan.

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  12. The Charlie Chan movies just weren't the same without Keye Luke. (One of the reasons, perhaps, I prefer the Oland series entries). And I am so glad you mentioned him in the KUNG FU TV series, as his scenes were the best part of the show!

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    1. I was so impressed that Master Po was Lee Chan. I watched too much TV back then, but it was such fun to learn about someone's early career and then see them on prime time in new stuff.

      I've come to really enjoy the Toler/Yung Chans with their totally different vibe, but Oland/Luke will always place first in my heart.

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  13. This is such an amazing post/tribute to this character (and, by extension, Keye Luke). Some character crushes are eternal, aren't they? Thanks so much for participating in the blogathon. (This is Maedez of Font and Frock, really!)

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    1. It's really you? I really appreciate your kind thoughts on this post. It was a joy to write. It must be due to the eternal nature of the crush.

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  14. Yes, it's really me! I had to resurrect an old account in order to comment. Alley is just a short version of my first name (which literally no one has ever called me. I was trying to be different, I guess). Mae is my middle name. Anyhow, I think this post is fab. I really, really enjoyed it.

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    1. Thanks so much. Wish I knew why the blog can be so tricky for folks to access at times. To quote Frank Morgan regarding his balloon when the wizard is taking off from Oz: "I don't know how it works!"

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  15. I've never seen this series, but the pictures alone--not to mention the descriptions!--make it sound like so much fun to watch.

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    1. It is a wonderfully made series whose fans, as you can tell from this thread, are a devoted lot. We would be happy to welcome you to the club.

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    2. I've always loved Charlie Chan movies -- people can resent his pidgin English, but he *is* always right! And the way the stories contrasted his wisdom with the brash conclusion-jumping of Lee and Jimmy indicates respect for Charlie's traditionalism. Lee and Jimmy were extremely hep cats, however!

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    3. Hep cats to the max! The modern youngsters and their Pop had a lot to learn from each other.

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  16. What a wonderful actor with a career that spanned the decades. Indeed, back in the day he was a heartthrob--today he would headlining movies, not just supporting.
    Great article, Caftan Woman, you've made me want to check out the Charlie Chan series again soon...
    -Chris

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    1. Thanks. I'm glad to have reminded you of the fun to be had in the Chan series.

      You are so right. Keye Luke would have been a leading man these days. How lucky we would have been.

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  17. Charlie Chan did not speak "pidgin English".

    He spoke English as a second language.
    The pauses and hesitations are thought processes - thinking in Chinese, then translating on the fly into English.
    Also, we can't rule out the possibility that Charlie might be using less-than-fluent speech as a method of keeping a suspect off-guard …


    I saw Keye Luke on talk shows a couple of times, late in his career.

    He was always witty and charming, and highly knowledgeable about his own role in the movies he made.

    I recall one appearance with Merv Griffin, when Keye Luke came onstage in a loud Hawaiian sport shirt; he'd come straight from the set of Here's Lucy, where he was playing a con-man character called Ping-Pong Fong.
    The whole idea amused him no end, and he charmed the audience into going along with it all.

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    1. Oland's speech, his whole "Humble Self" persona was designed to throw off not only suspects but everyone in the room. Lt Columbo stole his shtick. It was pidgin English to the degree that he left out the articles. Truman Capote screams at Peter Sellers' Chan analogue for that in Cheap Detective.

      When Toler inherited the role in the more aggressive forties, he dropped most such affectations. His Chan's obviously the smartest guy in the room.

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    2. Um, make Capote's movie Murder By Death...

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    3. AND admittedly while Oland talked that way all the time, even in private,I think it was more Fox not wanting to confuse the audience rather than Chan not being fluent in English.

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    4. Mike, I agree with you and would never label the brilliant, multi-lingual Chan as speaking "pidgin English." Nonetheless, we must admit that that is the sort of accusation that some like to use to vilify this series without understanding it.

      Sadly, I don't recall seeing Keye Luke on American talk shows, but he did do a wonderful interview for public television here in Ontario (Elwy Yost, Saturday Night at the Movies) in which he charmed the audience north of the border.

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    5. Bill, I get a little testy over the Chan spoof in Murder by Death, but then I recall that it is a spoof and just laugh at the whole thing. I've no doubt Neil Simon is as big a fan as the rest of us.

      Of course Chan is gulling his suspects. Sometimes even Lee and Jimmy forget that. Silly boys!

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    6. Gosford Park is an Agatha Christie sorta spoof with social commentary. Centered upon the British upper class, they have an American guest who's written a Chan film. Asked to describe it, she demurs, that she doesn't want to spoil it. Dowager Maggie Smith tells her "Don't worry, dear. None of us will ever see it."

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    7. I'll have to give Gosford Park another watch. I saw it when it was released, but was disappointed. It didn't seem to match the reviews I'd read. I did enjoy the inclusion of Charlie Chan in London and Stephen Frye's detective.

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  18. Great choice, CW! I shared your infatuation with Keye Luke in my teen years ( and its still running )....who wouldn't want to date a handsome enthusiastic youth whose father was also a world-famous detective? When I read your line about "Charlie Chan Ringside" I thought "hot-dog! A Chan film I haven't watched yet!" but pooh, it wasn't made. I'll check out Mr. Moto's Gamble regardless. Any film graced with Keye Luke's presence is entertaining.

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    1. Indeed, you speak the truth. We're lucky to be able to access Keye Luke's presence through his old movie roles.

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  19. Great post, and the Keye Luke film is a gas!

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    1. Thanks. I'm glad you checked out the film. Someone shared it on another blog I visit a while back, and I was glad to take this opportunity to continue the sharing.

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  20. Have you seen this? It showcases some of Keye Luke's art:

    chimericaneyes.blogspot.com/2015/05/keye-luke-and-lost-dove.html

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    1. I hadn't seen those illustrations before. I'm very impressed. Delicate and strong at the same time. Thank you. I really appreciate your sharing the article.

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  21. I, too, had lived in Arcady when young, sneaking up late to watch the Late Show, and even The Late, Late Show, on TV. It played hell with my wakefulness in school the next day, but who cares? I confess to a slight preference for Victor Sen Yung as #2 son; like Luke with Oland, Sen Yung had great rapport with Sidney Toler, and I enjoyed the asperity in their relationship. Sen Yung was also a terrific actor; his performance as the assistant to lawyer James Stephenson in The Letter (1940) is brilliant and one that should be more widely known.

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    1. Nobody did more in the cause of comic support than Victor Sen Yung. Nobody!

      Again, our thoughts are on the same wavelength especially when it comes to the talented young man and his work in The Letter: http://www.caftanwoman.com/2009/06/for-your-consideration-sen-yung.html

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