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Warner Oland

Warner Oland born October 3, 1879 - died August 6, 1938, was a Swedish actor most remembered for his role as Charlie Chan.

Born Johan Verner Ölund in the village of Nyby, Västerbotten County, Sweden, at age thirteen his family emigrated to the United States. An intellect educated in Boston, Massachusetts, he spoke English and his native Swedish, and eventually translated some of the plays of August Strindberg. As a young man he pursued a career in theater, at first working on set design while developing his acting skills. Trained as a dramatic actor, in 1906, he was signed to tour the country with the troupe led by actress Alla Nazimova. The following year he met and married the playright and portrait painter, Edith Gardener Shearn. The brillant woman made an ideal partner for Oland and she mastered the Swedish language, helping him with the translation of Strindberg's works that they jointly had published in book form in 1912.

After several years in theater, including appearances on Broadway as Warner Oland, in 1912 he made his silent film debut in Pilgrim's Progress, a film based on the John Bunyan novel. It would be another three years before he returned to film work with a role in The Romance of Elaine, an adventure film starring the extremely popular Pearl White. As a result of his training as a Shakespearean actor and his easy adaptation to a sinister look, he was much in demand as a villain and in ethic roles. He made several more films with Pearl White including his first portrayal of an oriental character in her 1919 film, The Lightning Raider. Over the next fifteen years he appeared in more than thirty films, including a major role in 1927's The Jazz Singer, one of the first talkies produced.

Oland's facial features, aided by makeup, allowed him to easily play the part of oriental characters. With a lack of skilled oriental actors available in Hollywood, he portrayed a variety of oriental characters in several movies before being offered the leading role in the 1929 film, The Mysterious Dr. Fu Manchu. A box office success, the film made Oland a star and during the next two years, he portrayed the evil Dr. Fu Manchu in three more films. Firmly locked into oriental roles, he was cast as Charlie Chan in the 1931 international detective mystery film, Charlie Chan Carries On and then in director Josef von Sternberg's 1932 film, Shanghai Express.

Although Oland did act in other films, the enormous worldwide box office success of his Charlie Chan film led to a Charlie Chan industry with Oland starring in sixteen films in total. Despite his wealth and success, Oland suffered from alcoholism that severely affected his heath and his thirty-year marriage. Signed to a new contract by Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation to make three more Charlie Chan films, in early 1938 Oland's health problems worsened and he spent several weeks in hospital then took time off to travel to his native Sweden. While there, he contacted bronchial pneumonia and hampered by the apparent onset of emphysema from years of heavy cigarette smoking, he passed away at a hospital in Stockholm.

Warner Oland and his wife made a historic farmhouse near the village of Southborough, Massachusetts their primary residence. Following cremation in Sweden, his ashes were brought back to the U.S. by his wife for interrment in the Southborough Rural Cemetery.

Note: This profile was written in or before 2004.

Warner Oland Facts

Birth NameJohan Verner Ölund
BirthdayOctober 3, 1879
BirthplaceNyby, Sweden
Date of deathAugust 6, 1938 (age 58)
Height5' 11" (1m80)  How tall is Warner Oland compared to you?

Selected Filmography

The Wolf Man: Complete Legacy Collection
Charlie Chan Collection, Vol. 1
Charlie Chan at Monte Carlo
Charlie Chan Collection, Volume 3
Charlie Chan Collection, Vol. 2
Jazz Singer, The
The Jazz Singer
Werewolf Of London
Don Q, Son of Zorro
The Wolf Man
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