Study: Warner Oland (WO023)

Washington Post, August 7, 1938 

Warner Oland Succumbs to Pneumonia

The famed actor, noted for his Oriental movie roles, died in Stock
Holm, Sweden, his homeland.  Oland, who was 57, was on vacation
Abroad.  His best-known part was that of “Charlie Chan,” a fiction


Warner Oland, ‘Charlie Chan’
Of Movies, Dies in Stockholm


Portrayer of Oriental Screen Roles Succumbs at
57 on Visit to Native Sweden; Actor Once
Taken by Chinese for Member of Race


By the Associated Press

Stockholm, Aug. 6 – Warner Oland, Hollywood Actor best known for his Oriental roles, died of pneumonia in a Stockholm hospital today.

Active in recent years in the title role of the ‘Charlie Chan’ detective mystery series, Oland was taken ill in Hollywood last January, but he nevertheless had come to his native Sweden for a holiday.  He had been in the hospital for the past ten days.  He was 57.

When his condition became worse early today, his wife, in Hollywood, was informed and was asked to start for Stockholm immediately.  Arrangements were made here to fly her to Stockholm on the final leg of the trip.

Although Oland had asked to be buried in Sweden – which he left when he was 13 – funeral arrangements awaited consultation by relatives.

Oland was Sweden’s second best known contributor to the American screen, second only to Greta Garbo.  After many years on the stage, Oland entered the films in 1920, playing with Theda Bara, Douglas Fairbanks, sr., and other famous old-timers of the cinema.


Estranged Wife Greives.

Santa Barbara, Calif., Aug. 6 (AP) – Warner Oland, the Charlie Chan who escaped a thousand terrible deaths on the screen, died of bronchial pneumonia today in his native Sweden.

When the 57-year-old star of the stage and screen died, his estranged wife, the former Edith Shearn of the stage, was preparing for a hurried trip from here to his bedside.

Mrs. Oland was so overcome by the news that she canceled reservations on airplanes and steamer, made five days ago when she first learned of her husband’s illness.  She received word only yesterday that his condition was critical.

Harrison Ryan, the widow’s attorney, said that Oland would be buried in the little Sweden town of Umea, his birthplace, as he requested.

Quarreled With Studio.

Oland’s departure for Sweden more than a month ago was almost as mysterious as were the movements of Earl Derr Bigger’s [sic] famous detective he portrayed.

He had reached a separate maintenance agreement with his wife after her suit was filed a year ago, and patched up differences with his Hollywood studio, which temporarily suspended him after an unannounced departure from the set.

Mrs. Oland charged in her suit that Oland had disregarded his duties as a husband, that he caused her much mental anguish.” [sic]  She declared that excessive drinking was the cause of their trouble.  As Charlie Chan, she said, he earned $90,000 in 1936.

Mistaken for Chinese.

So convincing were his roles as Chinese, he was mistaken by Chinese for one of their countrymen on a vacation trip in the Orient.

Oland came to America in 1893 with his father, Jonas Oland, a half-Russian, and his brother Arvid.  They settled on a wind-swept farm in Connecticut, but before many years he was in Boston, working in a machine shop to earn $6 a week while he took voice lessons.

His first stage appearance there was in a Sarah Burnhardt production.  Then he understudied Edward J. Morgan, creator of the role of John Storm in “The Christian.”  After that he went on the road playing in another of Hall Caine’s productions, “The Eternal City,” with Viola Allen.

Oland saved his money and after his marriage in 1906 produced and played in Ibsen’s “Peer Gynt.”  As a producer Oland made and lost a small fortune.

Entered Films in 1910.

In 1910 he made his motion picture debut, getting $25 a day for playing in Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress.”  That was produced at Fort Lee, N.J., and Oland liked to recall that he almost was drowned in the Pool of Despond, a mud hole.

Again he returned to the stage, purchased a little theater in New York, and lost all he had.  The soles of his shoes were gone and his clothing was shabby when he finally got a part in the play, “A Fool There Was.”  In 1914-15 he starred in “The Yellow Ticket.”

It was in the silent days of Hollywood that he started playing Oriental roles and Caucasian heavies, starting out in Theda Bara’s picture, “Jewels of the Madonna.”  He also appeared in Douglas Fairbank’s [sic] “Don Q,” “The Jazz Singer,” “In Old San Francisco,” “Chinatown Nights,” “The Mysterious Dr. Fu Manchu” and many others.

Charlie Chan was brought to life on the screen by Oland in 1931 and he made 11 Chan pictures.  By a muscular contraction of his eye lids and by brushing the ends of his eyebrows up and his mustache down he would without make-up, look like an Oriental.

Oland had no great love for Hollywood, and stayed there only while he worked.  The Rincon home, near where his wife mourned his passing tonight, was of adobe built in a Cape Cod farmhouse style.

He also owned a small farm in Connecticut and about 7,000 acres comprising the northern end of Palmeto de la Virgen, off the west coast of Mexico.

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