I am continuing Steve Rhodes' series on Warner Oland in honor of Charlie Chan in London, our Monday Night Chat Movie at Rush Glick's www.charliechan.info (8:00 P.M. to 10:00 P.M. [EDT])
Warner Oland Insights, part 2: Beginnings
By Steve Rhodes
(December 15, 2001;
Most of us here know that Warner Oland was born in Sweden. His birth year is usually given as 1880, even his headstone states that, as does the IMDB, his NY Times obit and various other sources. My research indicates that it should be 1879, October 3rd.
My source for this info is the 1890 Swedish census, the online database through which I sifted until I found the Olund household containing our future Warner Oland. His real name was Johan Warner Olund and I'll try here to paint a picture of that day in the Olund household when the census taker knocked on their door.
The Olunds resided, according to the records, in the parish of Bjurholm in the county of Vasterbotten, near Umea on the Gulf of Bothnia, about 2/2/3rds of the way up the Scandinavian peninsula. (A pretty cold part of the world so I'd guess they'd have to do a census in the summer months.)
The Olund household on that day in 1890 consisted of the father, Jonas Oland, 44 at the time and his occupation was " skogselev" ( couldn't find the therm in any online Swedish dictionary but it is probably "woodsman" or a woodworker of some kind). His wife, Maria Johanna Olund (nee Forsberg) was 10 years younger and they were probably married around 1877 based on the birthdate of their first son, Jonas Arvid Olund in 1878 (12 in 1890). Number 2 son was our CC, Johan Werner Olund, probably a little short of his 11th birthday. Yet another son, August Albert Olund, was born in 1884 and yet another, Carl Gunnar Olund, in 1888, and so were 6 and 2 respectively that census day. [That's how Steve put it: "so were 6 and 2."] A pretty male dominated little household except for a 16 year old girl listed as also living with them, "Maria Amanda Andersdr." (That odd spelling may be a feminine form of "Anderson"?) Was she a relative or a maid? I'd say a relative as a "woodsman" with 4 kids isn't likely to e able to afford a maid.
Especially as only 2 years later, in 1892, the Olunds pulled up stakes and headed for the USA, in search of greener pastures. There was a lot of emigration from Sweden to the New World at that time and most seem to have headed to Minnesota, but our little band seem to have ended up in Boston because we next hear of Warner Oland graduating from high school there. Just what adventures the family had experienced in the intervening years can only be imagined, but when he stepped ashore in the US our Warner was about 12 and unlikely to have any English language skills coming from a small northern Swedish town.
But he must have made rapid progress because after leaving high school he enrolled in the Curry Dramatic School with a future before him of speaking English on stage for a living. His first break was not long in coming. What became of the rest of the family is a bit of a mystery, and a challenge for those with genealogy skills to delve into. His father is said to have been a "storekeeper" in the US, but what of his brothers?
Next I'll look into young Warner Oland's early stage career and entry into movies.
Waner Oland as Fu Manchu