Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Discovering Oahu, Hawaii with Charlie Chan - Part 1

In July, Carlos and I traveled from Boston to Hawaii for our honeymoon. And what a grand time we had! We did lots of fun things including parasailing, kayaking, hiking, swimming, golfing and more. We ate lots of great local food and also got to see the U.S.S. Arizona at Pearl Harbor. We hadn't done much planning for our trip so a lot of what we did was on the fly. However, we did have one impromptu tour guide. His name was Charlie Chan.

Before we left Boston, I had started reading the book Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous with American History by Yunte Huang (check out my review of the book here). The timing of this couldn't be more perfect. I brought the book with me on the two 6 hours plane rides to Honolulu and I spent a lot of time reading about early Hawaiian history, Chang Apana (the Honolulu Detective who would inspire the character Charlie Chan),  author Earl Derr Biggers and the Charlie Chan film legacy.

What was really great about reading the book on my trip to Oahu was that we could visit any of the locations mentioned in the book because we were right on the island!

One of the places we went to was the House Without a Key Lounge on Waikiki. It's part of the Halekulani Resort hotel in Honolulu. Now this lounge wasn't mentioned in the book. In fact a fellow blogger and Charlie Chan enthusiast pointed it out to me before the trip. "House Without a Key" is very important in the history of the Charlie Chan legacy. It's the name of the first of the 6 Charlie Chan novels that author Earl Derr Biggers would write. In fact, the novel House Without a Key doesn't even feature Charlie Chan prominently (something that disappointed me when I first read that novel). Fans were so enamored with the Chinese detective from Honolulu that they begged for more! And it led to Biggers writing five more stories featuring Charlie Chan. These include: The Chinese Parrot, Behind That Curtain, The Black Camel, Charlie Chan Carries On and The Keeper of Keys.

While Earl Derr Biggers was alive, he only allowed movie studios to adapt his novels into film. All 6 novels were adapted but they could not create new Charlie Chan stories to meet the growing demand. When Biggers passed away in 1933, his widow sold the rights to the Charlie Chan character to Fox and thus the waive of Charlie Chan films started. Out of all of the film adaptations of Biggers novels, only one of those films exists. And that's The Black Camel (1931). More on that film to come!

So what's so important about the House Without a Key lounge in regards to the Charlie Chan legacy? Read below:

Here in the shade of the Halekulani's giant kiawe tree is the House Without a Key.
Once owned by retired Sea Captain Brown, this tranquil spot is world-famous thanks to Charlie Chan, the inscrutable Honolulu detective who always got his man and frequently coined old Chinese proverbs.
Chan's creator, novelist Earl Derr Biggers, is said to have conceived the series while staying in a nearby Halekulani cottage in 1925. His first Charlie Chan mystery - called "The House Without a Key" - focused on the keen-eyed detective's solution of a cunning murder of a former sea captain. Site of the murder was a home on this precise spot in the late 1800s.
 As for Charlie Chan, there is evidence Biggers didn't just dream him up. Many believe the character was based on Chang Apana, a real-life Chinese detective on the Honolulu police force in the '20s. Some say the two met during Biggers' first Hawaii visit. Others say the author only read accounts of Apana's daring deeds.
 Today's House Without a Key was rebuilt in  1983  as part of the new Halekulani, in tribute to the famous Chinese detective, who is as much a part of the hotel's folklore as is the great kiawe tree which has sheltered visitors on Waikiki Beach for more than a century.

And there is the big kiawe tree. Behind it is the famous Waikiki beach. The lounge is partly indoors but mostly outside with a bar area under the kiawe tree and a dining area just behind that.

It was quite a magical experience having dinner and drinks at the House Without a Key lounge. It's quite pricey but worth the expense. The food and drink were amazing but nothing beats the ambiance and the history.

From our table at the lounge we could see Diamond Head in the background.

This is a screen shot of Diamond Head from the Charlie Chan film The Black Camel (1931). It's probably stock footage put in the film to give it more of a sense of place. Here are some surfers and there is Diamond Head in the background, you know you are in Hawaii. Did you know that The Black Camel (1931) is the only Charlie Chan movie filmed on location in Hawaii? Not even Charlie Chan in Honolulu (1938) was filmed there. Stay tuned as I'll be including a post about a special filming location from The Black Camel.

Diamond Head is a volcanic tuff cone situated on the south east tip of Oahu. It's about a 45 minute walk to the top.

Once you get to the top of Diamond Head, you are greeted with spectacular views of Waikiki Beach, Honolulu, Pearl Harbor and the south east coast of Oahu.

Stay tuned for Part 2 in my 3-part series when I explore more of Oahu with Charlie Chan.


  1. Thanks for sharing the pics and the connection to Charlie Chan! I look forward to the rest of this series. I think knowing this kind of background info on films/characters makes watching movies all the more interesting. I know the next time I watch a Chan film I'll have an added interest.

    1. Many thanks for your comment Robby. Your blog is one of the reasons I'm so interested in finding filming locations. So it was a real treat to find some while we were on our trip.


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