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Who will play the role of Old Shatterhand?

September 25th, 2012

There have been many suggestions for the role of Old Shatterhand including such well-known action film actors as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis. It has even been suggested that the Spaghetti Western actors Clint Eastwood or Terrence Hill would make a perfect Old Shatterhand. Kevin Costner, Owen Wilson, Brad Pitt and even Leonardo DiCaprio have also been suggested …

Who then should play the role of this fictional hero of so many of Karl May’s narratives? What are his qualities? What did he look like?

What we do know from the opening chapter of the Winnetou tale is that the hero is young, well educated, probably in his early twenties and a greenhorn willing to try anything and everything.

We also discover that he is of German heritage, that he comes from a poor family, and that he has strength despite his outward appearance. The latter is best illustrated in Karl May’s own words:

“Halloo!” he shouted, jumping up. “What’s that then? He handles the gun like a light walking stick, yet it’s the heaviest weapon I know. Do you really have such strength?”
Instead of answering I took him by the bottom of his buttoned up jacket and belt buckle and lifted him up with my right hand.

It has also been suggested that Old Shatterhand must be blond and blue eyed … because he is of German heritage. There can be no doubt that Karl May is of German heritage and it is clear that Charles (the English equivalent of Karl), as the hero is called, hales from Germany. But is he blond and blue eyed or did this image only manifest itself after the movies of the 1960’s were screened wherein the late blond and blue eyed actor Lex Barker played the part of Old Shatterhand?

If one consults the Oriental Odyssey, where the Old Shatterhand hero is known as Kara ben Nemsi, one discovers that Karl is dark haired as the following paragraphs indicate:

“It will depend how much of such ammunition can be had here. Besides, one has to be crafty when faced with such violent people. When it comes to me, I will deceive these scoundrels.”
“How so, Sihdi?”
“Tomorrow I will have blond hair and a blond beard …”
“How will you do that?”
“There is a plant, the leaves of which, when boiled in soapy water, can lighten the color of the darkest hair. Such leaves are available in the apothecary.”

So much for the hero being blond and blue eyed …

Who then would be best suited to play the role of Old Shatterhand?



  • Ma.Grizzly says on: September 25, 2012 at 10:14 pm


    Love this write up and the explanations. Wonderful reasoning the matter out. So the mystery continues .. who will play the role of Old Shatterhand? Interesting subject.

  • WOLF says on: October 29, 2012 at 1:02 pm


    Here is a thought Rutger Hauer. Not sure of the age of Old Shatterhand, but I have always liked Rutger. A very stoic persona.

  • J.T. says on: November 1, 2012 at 1:42 am


    Oh, he is too old. Old Shatterhand came to the West, when he was about 22. What about Paul Walker? He is nearly 40, but he looks very very young

  • Jürgen Lill says on: November 7, 2012 at 8:30 am


    I would love to play Old Shatterhand!
    I played the role twice in austrian open air theaters. But film is a much better medium.
    Here are some photos
    And here are some videos

    Best wishes from Germany,

    Jürgen Lill

  • Hana - Marmota says on: July 28, 2013 at 5:33 am


    Oh, yes! And many times during his travels in the East, he is taken for a local, which a blonde, blue-eyed man probably would not have been.
    Even though there is not much continuity between the works, with all the different editions… In Der Sohn des Bärenjägers, he does not have such dark hair. Hard to say, then – and more freedom for the casting, I guess!

  • Hana - Marmota says on: July 28, 2013 at 5:35 am


    P.S. Personally, I think the most important thing is for him to work well with your Winnetou, because their friendship is really what this is all about. :-)

  • admin says on: July 28, 2013 at 7:23 am


    Right on! Its about brotherhood; not about hair color!

  • cris23mk says on: December 6, 2013 at 6:42 am


    I must confess, when I first saw the “Winnetou” movies, I was disappointed in how Old Shatterhand. In the books, a lot of amusement is specifically drawn out from the fact that Charlie is a lot stronger (and smarter) than he looks. While today, having gotten over my initial resentment, I do believe that Lex Barker has managed to get a lot of other things right about his character (the occasionally impish smile, for instance), I’d still like seeing an Old Shatterhand just like he was in the books.

    About the hair color, I experienced a similar confusion when reading the specified paragraph from the Oriental Odissey. But, May’s own occasional inconsistencies aside, the fact is Old Shatterhand is never desccribed as being light blonde. In “The Black Mustang”, he is described as “dark blond”, while in “The Treasure of the Silver Lake” he is described as having a “reddish-blond beard”. So, if he was somewhere between dark blonde and auburn, the hair dying could be perfectly justifiable, since he was aiming for a much lighter shade than his natural one.

    Just my 2 cents, as they say. Thanks for reading.


  • Adalbert Porschewheel says on: January 18, 2014 at 4:20 am


    I don’t think he MUST be blond. I’m Czech (and I’m proud of it), and in my country, movies from 60’s are very popular. When I was in Germany, nobody there was blond. I mean that blond German is stereotype.

  • Shashtso says on: February 6, 2014 at 8:51 am


    I think “Wayne Carpendale” – a german-southafrican actor playing the role of Old Shatterhand at the open-air-theatre in Bad Segeberg – would be a perfect choice …
    I don’t think that Tatanka Means is the right actor to play Winnetou; I’d prefer an actor little more charismatic … JAY TAVARE!

  • Hana - Marmota says on: February 12, 2014 at 6:14 am


    It is! I’m Czech, too, and yes, when I’ve been to Germany, there were many people who were not blond, and apparently, especially in the areas where Karl May himself was from, there are actually many people with Slav ancestry, too, so basically, yes, freedom to the casting.