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The 'brains' and 'action' heavies who had meaty roles and lots of dialog ... and the players who were fathers, ranch owners, lawman, mayors, judges, lawyers, storekeepers, newspaper editors, wardens, etc.



(From Old Corral image collection)
Wheeler Oakman

Real name:
Vivian Eichelberger

1890 - 1949



(Image courtesy of Jack Tillmany)

Above - a very young Wheeler Oakman, circa early 1920s.




(From Old Corral image collection)

Gene Autry was up against this dastardly trio in the serial, THE PHANTOM EMPIRE (Mascot, 1935). From left to right in the above lobby card are Wheeler Oakman (as "Argo", the Muranian High Priest), Dorothy Christy (as "Queen Tika") and Charles K. French (as "Mal").


Wheeler Oakman was one of the more memorable heavies in both serials and westerns.

In their Best Of The Badmen book, Boyd Magers, Bob Nareau and Bobby Copeland had details on Oakman's early life and career. Highlights include:

He did about three years of stage/repertory work, and his first film was in 1912 for Selig. More film work followed at Lubin and Selig, and it was at Universal circa 1917 that he met Priscilla Dean, and they married in 1920. Oakman enlisted in the US Army Artillery during World War I, and was discharged as a Corporal. In the mid 1920s, there were marriage problems and a divorce. Oakman briefly returned to the New York stage but returned to Hollywood and film work. There were two more marriages and two divorces.

While Oakman did westerns, he's probably best remembered wearing a suit or tuxedo, and portraying a gangster, a slick crook, a gambler or a detective. His film career began around 1912, and he worked in about 150 silents. His sound era appearances amount to about 125 films, of which 36 are westerns and 16 are serials. Nearly half of those sound westerns were 1930s Tim McCoy adventures at Columbia, Puritan and Monogram.

Some memorable Oakman roles in westerns and serials:

By 1940, Oakman had slowed down because of heart problems, and his credited and uncredited roles during the decade of the 1940s amounts to only thirty or so films. He and producer Sam Katzman must have been friends as Sam used Oakman frequently at both Monogram and Columbia: he was in three Bela Lugosi cheapy horror films, one of which included the East Side Kids; he did two other East Side Kids comedies; and he also worked in seven Katzman cliffhangers. Oakman's last work was in the Katzman produced SUPERMAN (Columbia serial, 1948). During those later years, Oakman was the assistant manager at a theater in North Hollywood.

One other tidbit on Oakman - I checked Jack Mathis' Republic Confidential - Volume 2 - The Players (published by Jack in 1992), and was surprised that Oakman did only two at Republic, DARKEST AFRICA (Republic serial, 1936) and THE LONE RANGER RIDES AGAIN (Republic serial, 1939). Mathis also lists a third title with Oakman - the short MEET THE STARS #8: STARS PAST AND PRESENT (Republic, 1941).

Wheeler Oakman passed away from a heart ailment at his North Hollywood home on March 19, 1949.

The Family Search website (free), Ancestry.com (subscription), the California Death Records database, and the death certificate provide more about Wheeler Oakman:

  Although some of the data is incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) has information on Wheeler Oakman: http://us.imdb.com/name/nm0643048/

Jim Tipton's Find A Grave website notes that Oakman is interred at Pierce Brothers Valhalla Memorial Park, North Hollywood, California: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=14769745
I asked contributors Jim Sorensen and Dale Crawford about Oakman's burial info and they confirm he is interred at Valhalla but there is no marker.

There's a circa 1919 photo of Oakman at the American Film Company (nicknamed the "Flying A") website which is maintained by the University of California at Santa Barbara. When you get to this webpage, do a search by last name and click on the letter O: http://www.filmandmedia.ucsb.edu/flyinga/people/index.html

There's several circa 1924 photos of the large Beverly Hills home of Oakman and wife Priscilla Dean at the Silents Are Golden website: http://www.silentsaregolden.com/homes/homedeanoakman.html




(From Old Corral image collection)

Above - Cavalry officer Tim McCoy gets busted from the service in this scene from END OF THE TRAIL (Columbia, 1932). Likable Lafe McKee is on the left, and doing the 'busting' is Wheeler Oakman, the real baddie in the story. The man between Oakman and McCoy is Henry Hall. The other player is unidentified.



(From Old Corral image collection)

Above from L-to-R are Richard 'Dick' Cramer, June Marlowe, Charline Barry (child) and Wheeler Oakman in a lobby card and a crop/blowup from RIDDLE RANCH (Beaumont, 1935). This June Marlowe is not the June Marlowe of Our Gang fame. Cramer was a good guy rancher in this.



(Courtesy of Ed Tabor)

Above from L-to-R are Wheeler Oakman, Kermit Maynard and Olympic champion James Francis 'Jim' Thorpe in a lobby card from CODE OF THE MOUNTED (Ambassador-Conn, 1935).



(From Old Corral image collection)

Card cheat Wheeler Oakman is on the right with a derringer on Rex Lease, while saloon owner J. Frank Glendon enjoys a cigar at his desk. Scene from the Tim McCoy ACES AND EIGHTS (Puritan, 1936).



(Image courtesy of Val Warren)

Above is a scene still from the Gene Autry serial, THE PHANTOM EMPIRE (Mascot, 1935). From left to right above are Wheeler Oakman, Jay Wilsey/Buffalo Bill, Jr. (as a Muranian guard), Frankie Darro, Betsy King Ross, and Roger Williams (Muranian guard).



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