Swedish actor Warner Oland was educated in Boston, but proudly retained his Scandinavian roots throughout his life, even devoting time to translating the works of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen into English for the benefit of theatrical scholars. Trained at Dr. Curry's Acting School, Oland took on a theatrical career, ultimately tackling the movie industry in 1915 with an appearance in Sin opposite Theda Bara. Oland's curious facial features enabled the occidental actor to specialize in oriental roles, most often as a villain. While his silent film appearances ranged from Cesar Borgia in Don Juan (1926) to Al Jolson's Jewish cantor father in The Jazz Singer (1927), Oland's oriental roles gained him the widest popularity, especially his portrayal as the insidious Dr. Fu Manchu in three early talking pictures. In 1931, Oland was cast as the wily, aphorism-spouting Chinese detective Charlie Chan in Charlie Chan Carries On for the Fox studios (later 20th Century-Fox). He would make annual appearances as Chan until 1934, when Fox decided to use the Earl Derr Biggers character as the focal point of a regular B-movie series; Oland would now be seen as Charlie Chan three times per year, and ultimately the actor would make a total of sixteen Chan pictures. From 1934 onward, Warner Oland was Charlie Chan - and vice versa. He remained in character on the set even when giving an interview or flubbing a line, and during a 1935 visit to China, Oland was mobbed by his enthusiastic Chinese movie fans, some of whom were so enchanted by his performance that (it is said) they actually believed Oland was genuinely Asian. During production of Charlie Chan at the Arena in 1938, Warner Oland died, and the movie was rearranged as a Peter Lorre vehicle, Mr. Moto's Gamble. The movie role of Charlie Chan was inherited by Sidney Toler, and later by Roland Winters.
by Hal Erickson biography