The Who's Who of Charlie Chan's Family
Ling: Number One Daughter
In the 1929 novel, The Black Camel, the Chans' eldest daughter is named
Rose and like Henry, is absent from the 1931 movie. In Charlie Chan in
Honolulu (1938) though, Charlie's wife exclaims the daughter's
nameLing, when honorable son-in-law Wing Foo (Philip Ahn) informs his
in-laws that she is now in labor and has just been taken to the hospital. Only
at the film's end does Ling make a brief appearance, after having just given
birth to the Chan's first grandchild, a boy named Leung.
Incidentally, the grandchild is mentioned again in the
series' next film, Charlie Chan in Reno, where Charlie is seen in the
police crime laboratory trying to create an Easter egg for his Number One
grandchild. In the uncredited role with no lines, it is possible the Number One
daughter was probably named after an Aunt Ling who is mentioned by Number One
son Lee in a earlier film, Charlie Chan at the Race Track (1936), as
living "at the other end of the island."
Number One daughter Ling is portrayed by Florence Ung, who
was born April 20, 1918 in Los Angeles. Besides her uncredited role in
"Honolulu," she also appeared as one of the Chans' 12 children
in Charlie Chan at the Circus (1936). Ung is also a real-life first
cousin of Charlie Chan actors Layne Tom, Jr., and Barbara Jean Wong, both of
whom also appear with her in "Honolulu."
The Number Two Daughter
The Chan's Number Two daughter is first encountered in Charlie Chan in
Honolulu. In an brief, but uncredited role, she is not identified by name
but rather by number, and is played by Iris Wong.
The second eldest daughter appears a second time in Charlie Chan in the
Secret Service (1944), now by name as Iris Chan. Played by Marianne Quon,
Iris is paired with Number Three son Tommy (Benson Fong) in the first of the 17
Chan films released by Monogram. The rivalry between sister and brother,
along with the debut of Mantan Moreland as Birmingham Brown for comic relief,
makes for too many assistants. Although Tommy and Birmingham continue as
characters in the series, Iris Chan is never heard from again.
Marianne Quon's brief acting career included two other films besides
"Secret Service." In China (1943), Quon worked with
Chan actors Sen Yung, Barbara Jean Wong, Iris Wong, and Philip Ahn. In Anna
and the King of Siam (1946), she had an uncredited part as one of the many
wives of King Mongkut (Rex Harrison).
Marianne Quon as Number Two daughter Iris Chan and Benson
Fong in Charlie Chan in the Secret Service (1944).
Ralph Peters, Frances Chan, Sidney Toler, and Helen Beverley
in Black Magic. (1944). Photo courtesy of Gary Crawford.
The last of the Chan daughters to be credited by name is Frances Chan, who
appears in a single entry, Black Magic (1944), a.k.a. Meeting at
Midnight. She is not referred to by a number like her brothers but she has
the same yearning to help her father to solve a murder casea family trait
that viewers assume by now must be genetic. Unlike brothers Jimmy and Tommy,
Frances is not the recipient of Charlie's sharp digs disguised as words of
wisdom. On the contrary, he compliments her in the presence of a police
detective (Joseph Crehan), "The beauty of the Chan family also have
brains. Very fine combination."
In Black Magic, Frances is not paired up with any of her brothers, like Iris
and Tommy were two films earlier in "Secret Service." Instead,
Birmingham Brown serves as her sole partner for the film's comic relief. One
interesting item of note is that Frances Chan is played by namesake Frances
Chan! Nothing is known about her other than she appeared in three other films
in what seems to be a brief, two-year acting career.
Other Child Actors in the Series
Although they were not household names to film goers, most of the child actors
and actresses that made up the Chan family, apart from Key Luke, Victor Sen
Yung, Benson Fong, and Layne Tom, Jr., were nevertheless well-known to the Los
Angeles Chinese community. More than 60 years later after the series ended,
Virginia Kay and her mother Florence Ung, who played Ling, the Chan's Number
One daughter, have matched names with some of the faces of these uncredited
"bit" actors and extras, many which siblings. Two of Florence Ung's
relatives appeared in the series: brother Richard Ung ("Circus") and
cousin Barbara Jean Wong, the latter who appeared in "Honolulu" and
The Trap (1947).
Another of the uncredited Chan children was Iris Wong, once cast as
the Chan's unnamed Number Two daughter in Charlie Chan in Honolulu. She
also had two credited roles, as maids, in the series: as Choy Wong in
Charlie Chan in Reno (1939) and Lili Wong in Charlie Chan in Rio
(1941). Iris was born in Watsonville, California September 30, 1920 and was one
of the first Asian-American women to land featured roles in U.S. films. In
addition to about ten films, Wong also appeared in the brief TV series,
Mysteries Of Chinatown, which ran from 1949 to 1950.
She then moved to Honolulu and became a reservations manager for Pan
American Airways. She also was an artist and had written a Chinese cookbook. On
September 2, 1989 she died at age 68, being survived by a daughter, two
stepchildren, her mother, sister, and brother.
Other child actors who are known to have appeared in the series are brothers
Frank, David, and Allan Dong; Lily and Stanton Mui; Frances and Mabel Hoo;
Richard, Margie, and Faye Lee; and Mae Jean Quon.
The matriarch of the Chan family, although rarely seen on screen, appears
always to be a an important asset to her detective husband. Charlie obviously
appreciates his "honorable wife" when he declares philosophically in
Charlie Chan Carries On (1931) and Charlie Chan at the Race Track
(1936), "Good wife best household furniture." It may be hard to think
of a wife as household furniture, such as a sofa, but one friend once praised
Mrs. Chan as "an institution," then referring to the 13 children she
Charlie often mentions his wife throughout the series at 20th Century-Fox
but there is virtually no mention of her in the 17 Monogram entries, a time
when Charlie is either working for the Government during World War II or is
based in San Francisco as a private detective. One might conclude that she
either passed away or the unthinkable has happeneda divorce!
Mrs. Chan is first encountered in Charlie Chan Carries On (1931). In
her only scene, she sees her husband off as he is about to board a ship bound
for San Francisco and is concerned that Charlie will not have enough clothes
for the voyage"You must wait and get big trunk." Three films
later at the conclusion of Charlie Chan's Greatest Case (1933), Mrs.
Chan notices a man and woman in an embrace. "Two lovers in moonlight cast
only one shadow," she notes. Charlie looks at his wife and his many
children and adds, "Yes. One shadow now; many shadows later." In
Charlie Chan at the Circus (1936), Mrs. Chan acts as the judge at her
husband's request, ruling that their vacation should be interrupted so that her
husband is free to solve a murder which would otherwise cause a circus to shut
Charlie Chan in Honolulu (1938) is the final film featuring the
family matriarch. She is just told that her "little Ling" is at the
maternity hospital about to give birth. Charlie tries to calm her down in the
||Look, Mama. You have same experience 13 times. There is no
cause to worry.
Then what's worrying you. You've been a father 13 times too.
Admit same, but this is first occasion as grandfather.
Several Chinese actresses portray Charlie's honorable wife throughout the
series. Although none were ever credited as such, it has now been determined
that Annie Mar portrays Mrs. Chan in "Circus" while Grace Key
has the role in "Honolulu."
The author wishes to acknowledge Rob Metz, Rush Glick, and Gary Crawford
for providing some of the needed stills. Also greatly appreciated is the
assistance of Virginia Quin Kay, the daughter of Florence Ung who played the
Chans' Number One daughter. Howard M. Berlin is the author of The Charlie
Chan Film Encyclopedia (McFarland, 2000) and Charlie Chan's Words of
Wisdom (Wildside Press, 2001).
Charlie Chan Filmography
The House Without a Key (1925)*, The Chinese Parrot
(1927)*, Behind That Curtain (1929), Charlie Chan Carries
On (1931)*, The Black Camel (1931), Charlie Chan's Chance
(1932)*, Charlie Chan's Greatest Case (1933)*, Charlie Chan's
Courage (1934)*, Charlie Chan in London (1934), Charlie Chan in
Paris (1935), Charlie Chan in Egypt (1935), Charlie Chan in
Shanghai (1935), Charlie Chan's Secret (1936), Charlie Chan at
the Circus (1936), Charlie Chan at the Race Track (1936), Charlie
Chan at the Opera (1936), Charlie Chan at the Olympics (1937),
Charlie Chan on Broadway (1937), Charlie Chan at Monte Carlo
(1937), Charlie Chan in Honolulu (1938), Charlie Chan in Reno
(1939), Charlie Chan at Treasure Island (1939), City in Darkness
(1939), Charlie Chan in Panama (1940), Charlie Chan's Murder
Cruise (1940), Charlie Chan at the Wax Museum (1940), Murder Over
New York (1940), Dead Men Tell (1941), Charlie Chan in Rio
(1941), Castle in the Desert (1942), Charlie Chan in the Secret
Service (1944), The Chinese Cat (1944), Black Magic (1944),
The Jade Mask (1945), The Scarlet Clue (1945), The Shanghai
Cobra (1945), The Red Dragon (1945), Dark Alibi (1946),
Shadows Over Chinatown (1946), Dangerous Money (1946), The
Trap (1947), The Chinese Ring (1947), Docks of New Orleans
(1948), The Shanghai Chest (1948), The Golden Eye (1948), The
Feathered Serpent (1948), Sky Dragon (1949).
Silent film *No copies currently known