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Sidney Toler

Actor. Born: 1874. Died: 1947.

Toler came to Kansas in the 1880s when his family opened a grocery store in Anthony. They moved to Wichita and after graduation from high school Toler attended the University of Kansas. He left KU to join a theater company.

For a number of years he toured as an actor and worked on Broadway. After the stock market crash of 1929 he moved to California and got character actor parts in the movies. Warner Oland, the actor who created the cinematic character Charlie Chan, died in 1938 and Toler was selected to replace him. The Charlie Chan movie series was very popular and profitable. Toler, beginning with "Charlie Chan in Honolulu," made 22 Charlie Chan movies until his death. Other actors continued the role in movies and on television.

Although there were many ethnic Chinese actors who could have played the part, Oland, a Swede, and Toler, a Scot, got the role. The Charlie Chan movies still retain their ability to entertain. Some of the ethnic "humor" in the movies may make us cringe at its insensitivity and not-so-subtle racism. However, Chan was always the smartest one in the movie and inevitably caught the criminal through the use of his keen powers of observation, knowledge and intellect.

Entry: Toler, Sidney

Author: G. Joseph Pierron

Author information: Judge Pierron serves on the Kansas Court of Appeals and has an interest in Kansas history.

Date Created: November 2012

Date Modified: November 2012

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.