From Wichita to Legend: Sidney Toler

April 28th marks the 149 birthday of a Wichita man who starred in 89 movies.  Twenty-two of them he played one of the most famous police detectives in pop culture… Charlie Chan.

Hooper G. Toler Jr. was born on April 28, 1874 in Warrensburg, MO. Everyone called him Sidney. His father, Colonel H.G. Toler was a trotting horse breeder.

The family moved to Anthony, Kansas in the 1880s, and opened a grocery store.  They would later move to Wichita. He acted in several school plays and sang baritone in a number operas.  After his high school graduation, Toler attended the University of Kansas. He left KU to join a theater company in 1892.

In 1903, he made his Broadway debut in the musical comedy, The Office Boy.

On August 29, 1906, Toler married actress Vivian Marston

Over the next nine years, Toler had 12 stock theater companies on the road. He focused his career on being a playwright, writing The Man They Left Behind, The Belle of Richmond, The House on the Sands, The Dancing Master, and more than 70 other plays. Three of his plays reached Broadway: The Golden Days, The Exile, and Ritzy.

In 1921, Paramount Pictures released two films based on Toler’s plays: The Bait and A Heart to Let. 

In 1931, Toler moved to Hollywood. He played supporting roles in films.

In 1938 he beat out 34 other actors to win the part of Charlie Chan.

Toler’s wife Vivan Marston died in Hollywood on October 7, 1943. Four weeks later, he married actress Vera Tattersall Orkow. 

Over the years Toler starred in 22 Charlie Chan movies.

But by the end of 1946, age and illness were affecting Toler. Diagnosed with intestinal cancer, the 72-year-old Toler was so ill during the filming of Dangerous Money that he could hardly walk. 

After being bedridden for several months, he passed away at his Hollywood home on February 12, 1947.

He is buried at Highland Cemetery in Wichita, KS.

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