Hugh O'Brian

Active - 1949 - 1994  |   Born - Apr 19, 1925   |   Died - Sep 5, 2016   |   Genres - Western, Action, Drama, Comedy

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American actor Hugh O'Brian accrued his interest in acting while dancing with movie starlets at the Hollywood Canteen during his wartime Marine days. O'Brian attended the University of Cincinnati briefly, and later supported himself selling menswear door-to-door. He made his first film, Never Fear, in 1950, working but sporadically during the next five years; what few acting parts he received were on the basis of his broad shoulders and six-foot height. In one film, Fireman Save My Child (1954), O'Brian was cast because he and costar Buddy Hackett physically matched the previously filmed long shots of Fireman's original stars, Abbott and Costello. Answering a cattle-call tryout for the new ABC TV western Wyatt Earp in 1955, O'Brian was almost instantly chosen for the leading role by author Stuart Lake, who'd known the real Wyatt and had been his biographer for many years (reportedly Earp's widow also okayed O'Brien after a single glance). O'Brian became a major TV star thanks to Wyatt Earp, which ran for 249 episodes until 1961. The series was not only tough on the actor but on his fans; reportedly there was a sharp increase in gun accidents during Wyatt Earp's run, due to young would-be Earps who were trying to emulate Wyatt's fast draw (this despite the fact that the TV Earp, like the real one, used his firearms only when absolutely necessary). Like most western TV stars, O'Brian swore he was through with shoot-em-ups when Earp ceased production, and throughout the '60s he worked in almost every type of film and theatrical genre but westerns. He showed considerable skill in the realm of musical comedy, and became a top draw in the summer-stock and dinner theatre circuit. In 1972, O'Brian starred in the computer-happy secret-agent TV series Search, which lasted only a single season. As he became the focus of hero worship from grown-up Baby Boomers, O'Brian relaxed his resistance toward Wyatt Earp and began showing up on live and televised western retrospectives. The actor reprised the Earp role in two 1989 episodes of the latter-day TV western Paradise, opposite Gene Barry in his old TV role of Bat Masterson. He was Earp again in the 1991 TV movie The Gambler Returns: The Luck of the Draw, in which he managed to shine in the company of several other cowboy-show veterans (including Barry, again) and was permitted to walk into the sunset as an offscreen chorus warbled the Wyatt Earp theme music! Hugh O'Brian's most recent turn at Ol' Wyatt was in a hastily assembled CBS movie mostly comprised of clips from the old Earp series, and released to capitalize on Kevin Costner's big-budget Wyatt Earp film of 1994. O'Brian died in 2016, at age 91.

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