|Hugh O'Brian, Wyatt Earp Actor – Obituary
|We have recently lost a great friend in Hugh O’Brian, the one and only actor to play the legend of Wyatt Earp as big as he himself was in real life. Hugh was a friend to Wyatt’s biographer, Stuart Lake, who actually knew and interviewed the real Earp in 1928. Because of that Hugh probably came closest in his portrayal of Earp than any other actor. Hugh’s Earp was vested with the zestful personality and deadly quickness of the real guy. Hugh O’Brian was reported the fastest gun alive for many, many years, and told us he was challenged by Audie Murphy to prove it – with real bullets.
Hugh used to call the offices during and for years after his cover story was prepared and published. He’d playfully jest with Kath and I; We’d always say “Hugh O’Brian!” and he’d say, “Or what’s left of him!” Always happy, vigorous and thoughtful.
We miss him and know you, do too. Below is the obituary sent in by Rich Fisher. It’s a good one. Thanks Rich.
|6 SEPTEMBER 2016 • 5:52PM
|Hugh O’Brian, who has died aged 91, was one of the first American actors to achieve television celebrity in 1950s Britain as the marshal of Dodge City in The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp.
More than 200 black-and-white episodes of the series were shown on the fledgling ITV network between 1956 and 1962. Handsome and square-jawed, O’Brian landed the starring title role because he resembled the real Wyatt Earp (1848-1929) as a young lawman in late 19th-century Kansas and later in Tombstone, Arizona.
It was the first television western to be aimed specifically at adults. Series appealing to children such as The Cisco Kid and The Lone Ranger had been scheduled for late afternoon slots.
Hugh O'Brian CREDIT: REX
|Inspired by the legendary events of the real-life frontier marshal, Earp played in after-dinner prime time and transformed O’Brian into one of television’s first sex symbols.
|His distinctive portrayal of what the show’s theme song described as the “brave, courageous and bold” frontier lawman was marked by a black frock coat, a gold brocade waistcoat, string tie and flat-brimmed black hat. Although by modern lights the action is ponderously slow, the series built steadily in the American television ratings, finally ranking as the nation’s fourth most popular program.
In the course of the series, O’Brian’s Earp encountered such historical figures as John Wesley Hardin, the Thompson Brothers and Doc Holliday, as well as Earp’s brothers Virgil and Morgan. After six seasons, it concluded with an epic five-episode story in which Earp, with the help of his brothers and Doc Holliday, took on Old Man Clanton and the Ten Percent Gang in a final showdown at the OK Corral.
Of Irish, German and French descent, Hugh O’Brian was born Hugh Charles Krampe on April 19 1925 at Rochester, New York. The family moved several times during his childhood to keep pace with his father’s career as a sales executive, but eventually settled in Chicago, where Hugh attended Hirsch High School.
His degree course at the University of Cincinatti was interrupted by the war, and he served in the US Marines, becoming at 18 one of their youngest drill instructors on account of some earlier military training. On demobilisation he had planned to study Law at Yale, but changed his mind after acting with a small theatre group in Los Angeles, stepping in when a friend fell ill. He sold menswear and women’s lingerie, and worked as a dustman, to pay his way through drama school.
In Come Fly With Me, 1963
|Under the stage name Jaffer Gray, he took supporting roles while appearing at a theatre in Santa Barbara, California, but by the time he landed his first film part in 1950 had changed his name to Hugh O’Brian, an accidental mis-spelling of his mother’s maiden name O’Brien. His debut as a polio victim in Never Fear (1950) led to a contract with Universal, for whom he appeared in 18 pictures, including Seminole (1953) and Saskatchewan (1954).
When the ABC television network was looking for a star for The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp in 1955, the story consultant Stuart Lake (whose controversial 1931 biography of Earp had inspired the series) recommended O’Brian because of his resemblance to the real-life character.
During the series, O’Brian became adept with Earp’s trademark “Buntline Special” pistols with extended barrels and shoulder stock, which allowed him to fire accurately over long distances. Some experts now think these weapons were a fabrication by the journalist Ned Buntline rather than authenticated historical fact.
O’Brian played the last character that his old friend John Wayne ever killed on the screen in Wayne’s final film The Shootist (1976), considering it a great honour, before recreating
|his Wyatt Earp role for television in Guns of Paradise (1990), The Gambler Returns: The Luck of the Draw (1991) and the independent film Wyatt Earp: Return to Tombstone (1994). Away from the cameras, he dedicated much of his time to Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership (HOBY), a non-profit youth leadership development programme that enrols 10,000 second-year high school students every year. O’Brian had been inspired in this endeavour in 1958 when he spent nine days visiting the missionary Dr Albert Schweitzer in Africa. Since its inception, more than 355,000 young people in 20 countries have taken part. He married for the first time in 2006, when he was 81. He and his wife, the former Virginia Barber, his long-standing girlfriend, were serenaded by their close friend, the actress Debbie Reynolds.
Hugh O’Brian, born April 19 1925, died September 5, 2016.
Hugh O'Brian CREDIT: REX