The Charlie Chans

The Actors Who Brought the Detective to Life


The first efforts to bring author Earl Derr Biggers’ Charlie Chan novels to life on the big screen placed the detective into a minor presence at best. The first of these was The House Without a Key (1926), a silent Pathé 10-part serial with George Kuwa as Charlie Chan. The following year saw the release of Universal’s silent feature-length film, The Chinese Parrot. In that picture, the renowned actor Sojin Kamiyama was called on to portray the detective. Two years later, in 1929, Fox Film produced an epic “talkie” version of Behind That Curtain. However, as had been the case thus far, E. L. Park as Charlie Chan was practically an afterthought, appearing at the very end of the picture in time to wrap up the case.

With Fox Film’s 1931 production of Charlie Chan Carries On with Warner Oland, who had box office drawing power, as Charlie Chan, the detective became a cultural phenomenon. The following actors, beginning with Warner Oland, brought Charlie Chan to life first, for nearly two decades in film, and later, one of them, J. Carrol Naish, took the detective into living rooms via the small screen.

Please use the links below to learn more about each of these actors who were The Charlie Chans.


Warner Oland


Sidney Toler


Roland Winters


J. Carrol Naish



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