Warner Oland, a native of Nyby, Sweden, was born Johan Verner Ölund on October 3, 1879, and emigrated to the United States with his parents in 1892. His first acting experience was in the theater, where he also was proficient in set design.
Film work began for him in 1912, and he soon became a successful character actor, specializing in playing “heavies.” His features suited believable portrayals of orientals, and he was a fine choice as Twentieth Century Fox’s first Charlie Chan.
Before his success playing Charlie Chan, Oland played Al Jolson’s father in “The Jazz Singer” (1927), notable of course because of its sound sequences.
During the run of the Chan series, Oland appeared in other films too, notably “Shanghai Express” (1932), with Marlene Dietrich; “The Painted Veil” (1934), with Greta Garbo; and “Werewolf of London” (1935).
Truly a remarkable man, Warner Oland (or “Jack” to his friends) spoke several languages, and was a scholar of philosophy, classical music and art, and a translator of the works of Strindberg. He was married to painter Edith Shearn in 1908.
Oland left the set one day in 1937, and did not return. Alcohol was ruining his marriage and his health, and he decided to sail to Europe to regroup. He died of bronchial pneumonia in Sweden on August 6, 1938.