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22 December 1904
Boston, Massachusetts, USA
|Died||22 October 1989
Englewood, New Jersey USA
Born Roland Winternitz in Boston, Massachusetts on 22 December 1904, Winters was the son of Felix Winternitz, a violinist and composer who was teaching at New England Conservatory of Music. In his teens he began appearing in productions from local theater groups around Boston and made his Broadway debut in 1924 in "The Firebrand." In 1931 he became the sports announcer for the Atlanta Braves and Red Sox games on the radio station WNAC. He had a few uncredited film roles in the 1940s (including a brief appearance in Orson Welles' Citizen Kane in 1941), but continued to work in radio until 1947.
Sidney Toler, who took over the Charlie Chan role from Warner Oland, bought the screen rights to the Chan character and brought the series to Monogram Pictures. Toler died in 1947, practically in harness; despite terminal illness, he kept going in the series as long as he could. Monogram decided on Roland Winters as Toler's replacement.
At the age of 44, Winters was the youngest actor to tackle the role, and was actually several months younger than Keye Luke, who portrayed his "Number One Son" and assistant in the last two Chans. Winters made six Chan films, starting with The Chinese Ring in 1947 and ending with Charlie Chan and the Sky Dragon (also known as Sky Dragon) in 1949.
His other Chan films were "Docks of New Orleans" (1948), "Shanghai Chest" (1948), "The Golden Eye" (1948) and "The Feathered Serpent" (1948). During this period, in addition to his work as Chan, Winters also appeared as a character actor in three other feature films.
Winters is less well known in the Charlie Chan role than his two predecessors. He made far fewer Chan films than they did, and he came along at a time when the series was well past its higher-budget days. Viewers are divided about his performance in the role. Some consider him an ineffective successor to Oland and Toler, but others defend him for his unique approach to the character. Oland's Chan was shrewd and placid, Toler's was observant and crabby, and Winters' was generally sarcastic and impatient.
In 1949, Monogram had funds tied up in England, and decided to send Winters and Keye Luke there to make more Chan films, but when the British government suddenly devalued the currency, the Chan series was abandoned.
After the series finished, Winters continued to work in film and television until 1982. He was in the movies So Big and Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff, played Elvis' father in Blue Hawaii and a judge in the Elvis film Follow That Dream. He made appearances in the early TV series "Meet Millie" as the boss, and in the Bewitched TV series played the normally elusive McMann of McMann and Tate. He also portrayed Mr. Gimbel in Miracle on 34th Street in 1973.
- Tuna Clipper (1949)
- Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff (1949)
- Guilty of Treason (1950)
- To Please a Lady (1950)
- She's Working Her Way Through College (1952)
- So Big (1953)
- Blue Hawaii (1961)
- Follow That Dream (1962)
- Loving (1970)
- Miracle on 34th Street (1973)