KUALA LUMPUR: Despite having passed away 36 years ago on this very day, Rose Chan still holds a special place in the hearts of many a senior Malaysian who was dazzled by her beauty, talent and persona.
Younger Malaysians, who may not even have been born when she was in her prime have likely heard stories about her and are just as intrigued by her.
For those still in the dark though, Chan was a prominent figure in 1950s and 1960s Malaya.
She was no mere actress or singer though. Known for her risqué performances, Chan was a figure larger than life for many Malaysians and an icon of an age long past.
Her title of “Asia’s Striptease Queen” should say it all. And her story continues to captivate the imagination of those who knew of her or saw her perform in the flesh.
No one knows her story better than Chan’s lawyer, Cecil Rajendra, whose book, “No Bed of Roses: The Rose Chan Story” is the only biography to receive Chan’s blessing.
Cecil recently sat down with FMT to share some insights into the life of Malaysia’s fiercest beauty.
“It was 1981, I think, when Lee Ying asked me if I’d like to meet Rose Chan. I asked him, ‘Are you joking or what?’”
Lee was Chan’s manager and a client of young Cecil, a practising lawyer in Penang at the time.
“I was stunned,” recalled Cecil. “Chan was a real legend and even I was too young to have seen any of her shows when she was at her peak.”
Curious to finally see the legend in the flesh, Cecil took up the offer and hopped into Lee’s car, where he was driven to the hotel she was staying at.
At that time, Chan had already been diagnosed with cancer and had less than a year to live. “She said she had come to Penang to die,” Cecil recalled.
Given her circumstances, she needed a lawyer to draft a will and Cecil was the right man for the job, according to Lee.
At the same time, many were chomping at the bit to write her official biography. But Chan wanted someone “brave enough to write the full story”.
Once again, Lee believed the outspoken Cecil was right for that job too. Chan was initially unconvinced, but after working closely with Cecil on her will, she began to warm up to the idea.
With two bottles of wine and two bouquets of roses, Chan attended Cecil’s office party to give her seal of approval. “She said, ‘Yes, you can write my story now’. Quite the woman!” Cecil said.
He recalled how he brought tape recorders to capture her stories, but eventually put them away when Chan expressed her discomfort.
“So, I just had to talk to her, keep everything in my head, go back and sit down to write. Slowly, the story began to emerge.”
It would take over 20 years for Cecil to finally compile her story into his book, which was published in 2013.
Chan had already passed her prime when she met Cecil, so when she learnt that he had never seen her perform, she made up for it.
She organised two shows for him, with her equally stunning daughter, Jennifer, taking the lead. Needless to say, Cecil had the time of his life.
Cecil’s book is filled with a detailed retelling of the many events of Chan’s life, culminating with the fateful wardrobe malfunction of 1952.
“She was Malaysia’s first feminist,” Cecil said. “At a time when life was very difficult for women, she forged her own path.”
Afterwards, she reinvented herself as the striptease queen of Malaysia, where she would draw the gaze of many men for over a decade.
Asked if Chan would have appreciated her stories being told and loved today, Cecil said that Chan was never one for pride, doing charitable acts without seeking acknowledgement for them.
“She was very down-to-earth, but she’d be pleased that some of her real stories are still being told,” said Cecil.
And with recent rumours of an upcoming cinematic adaptation of her life, one suspects that Chan’s story still smells sweet even years after her passing.
‘No Bed of Roses: The Rose Chan Story’ is available for purchase at Clarity8 as well as major bookstores nationwide.