Hugh O'Brian (born Hugh Charles Krampe, April 19, 1925) is an American actor, known for his starring role in the 1955-1961 ABC western television series, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp.
Early life and Marine years:
O'Brian was born as Hugh Charles Krampe in Rochester, New York to Hugh John Krampe, a career United States Marine Corps officer, and his wife, Edith.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license