O'Brian in 1964.
Early life and marine years
He attended New Trier High School in Winnetka, Illinois. He later enrolled at the now-defunct Roosevelt Military Academy in Aledo, IL. He lettered in football, basketball, wrestling, and track. O'Brian dropped out of the University of Cincinnati in Cincinnati, Ohio, after one semester to enlist in the United States Marine Corps during World War II. At seventeen, he became the youngest Marine drill instructor.
After World War II, O'Brian moved to Los Angeles to study at the University of California, Los Angeles. He was discovered on the stage by Ida Lupino  who signed him to a film, Never Fear, she was directing that led to a contract with Universal Pictures.
O'Brian replaced Bud Abbott in what began and ended up as an Abbott and Costello movie, Fireman Save My Child (1954), with Buddy Hackett cast in the Lou Costello role and Spike Jones and his band also appearing at length.
Wyatt Earp and television career
He was chosen to portray legendary lawman Wyatt Earp on the ABC western series The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, which debuted in 1955. Alongside Gunsmoke and Cheyenne, which debuted the same year, these programs spearheaded the "adult western" television genre, with the emphasis on character development, rather than moral sermonizing. It soon became one of the top-rated shows on television. During its six-year run, Wyatt Earp consistently placed in the top ten in the United States. Decades later, O'Brian reprised the role in two episodes of the television series Guns of Paradise (1990), TV-movie The Gambler Returns: The Luck of the Draw (1991) and the independent film Wyatt Earp: Return to Tombstone (1994), the latter mixing new footage and colorized archival sequences from the original series.
O'Brian appeared regularly on other programs in the 1960s, including Jack Palance's ABC circus drama The Greatest Show on Earth. He also appeared as a 'guest attorney' in the 1963 Perry Mason episode "The Case of the Two-Faced Turn-a-bout" when its star, Raymond Burr, was sidelined for a spell after minor emergency surgery. He was a guest celebrity panelist on the popular CBS prime-time programs Password and What's My Line?, and served as a mystery guest on three occasions on the latter series. In 1971 he filmed a TV movie pilot titled PROBE, playing a high-tech (for the times) agent for a company that specialized in recovering valuable items. The pilot would spawn a show for O'Brian named SEARCH, which would run one season (1972-1973). In 1999 and 2000, he co-starred with Dick Van Patten, Deborah Winters, Richard Roundtree, and Richard Anderson miniseries Y2K - World in Crisis.
The actor made a number of motion pictures, among them Rocketship X-M (1950), The Lawless Breed (1953), There's No Business Like Show Business (1954), White Feather (1955), Come Fly with Me (1963), Love Has Many Faces (1965), In Harm's Way (1965), Ten Little Indians (1965), and Ambush Bay (1966). While on stage, Elvis Presley introduced O'Brian from the audience at the singer's April 1, 1975, performance at the Las Vegas Hilton, as captured in the imported live CD release "April Fool's Dinner". O'Brian was a featured star in the 1977 two-hour premiere of the popular television series Fantasy Island. He played the last character that John Wayne ever killed on the screen in Wayne's final movie The Shootist (1976). O'Brian was a good friend of Wayne and said he considered this a great honor. O'Brian also appeared in fight scenes with a Bruce Lee lookalike in Lee's last film, Game of Death.
O'Brian recreated his Wyatt Earp role for three 1990s projects: Guns of Paradise (1990) and The Gambler Returns: The Luck of the Draw (1991), with fellow actor Gene Barry doing likewise as lawman Bat Masterson for each, as well as the independent film Wyatt Earp: Return to Tombstone (1994). He also had a small role in the Danny DeVito/Arnold Schwarzenegger comedy film Twins (1988) as one of several men who had "donated" the DNA that later became the "twins". In the film, Schwarzenegger thought he'd found his "father" when he met Hugh O'Brian's character.
On June 25, 2006, O'Brian married for the first time at age 81; his wife is the former Virginia Barber (born ca. 1952). The ceremony was held at Forest Lawn Memorial Park with the Reverend Robert Schuller, pastor of the former Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California, officiating. The couple was serenaded by close friend Debbie Reynolds.
Hugh O'Brian Youth Leadership Foundation
Hugh O'Brian has dedicated much of his life to the Hugh O'Brian Youth Leadership (HOBY), a non-profit youth leadership development program for high school scholars. HOBY sponsors 10,000 high school sophomores annually through its over 70 leadership programs in all 50 states and 20 countries. Since its inception in 1958, over 400,000 young people have participated in HOBY-related programs.
One high school sophomore from every high school in the United States, referred to as an "ambassador," is welcome to attend a state or regional HOBY seminar. From each of those seminars, students (number based on population) are offered the opportunity to attend the World Leadership Congress (WLC). In 2008, over 500 ambassadors attended from all 50 states and 20 countries.
The concept for HOBY was inspired in 1958 by a nine-day visit O’Brian had with famed humanitarian Dr. Albert Schweitzer in Africa. Dr. Schweitzer believed "the most important thing in education is to teach young people to think for themselves."
Hugh O’Brian’s core message to young people is “Freedom to Choose” as explained in an essay on the topic.
I do NOT believe we are all born equal. Created equal in the eyes of God, yes, but physical and emotional differences, parental guidelines, varying environments, being in the right place at the right time, all play a role in enhancing or limiting an individual's development. But I DO believe every man and woman, if given the opportunity and encouragement to recognize their potential, regardless of background, has the freedom to choose in our world. Will an individual be a taker or a giver in life? Will that person be satisfied merely to exist or seek a meaningful purpose? Will he or she dare to dream the impossible dream? I believe every person is created as the steward of his or her own destiny with great power for a specific purpose, to share with others, through service, a reverence for life in a spirit of love.
— Hugh O'Brian, The Freedom to Choose
For his contribution to the television industry, Hugh O'Brian has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6613½ Hollywood Blvd. In 1992, he was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
|1953||The Man from the Alamo||Golden Globe for Most Promising Newcomer — Male||Won|
|1956||The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp||Primetime Emmy for Best Continuing Performance by an Actor in a Dramatic Series||Nominated|
|1960||Himself||Hollywood Walk of Fame Star — Television||Honored|
|1973||Golden Plate Award — Television||Honored|
|1991||Golden Boot Award||Honored|
|1992||Hall of Great Western Performers||Inducted|
- Profile at FilmReference.com
- New York Times profile of O'Brian
- p. 150 Wise, James E. & Rehill, Anne Collier Stars in the Corps: Movie Actors in the United States Marines 1999 Naval Institute Press
- Screened Reviews (Y2K: World in Crisis)
- [dead link]
- "Index of /s". Hobyohio.org. Retrieved 2014-08-25.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Hugh O'Brian.|
- Hugh O'Brian (Official website)
- Hugh O'Brian Youth Leadership Foundation (Official website)
- Hugh O'Brian at AllMovie
- Hugh O'Brian at the Internet Movie Database
- Hugh O'Brian at the TCM Movie Database
- Hugh O'Brian interview video at the Archive of American Television