Entertainment News: Hugh O’Brian of ‘Wyatt Earp’ TV Fame Dies at 91

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LOS ANGELES – Old time, 1950s television had its share of break out stars as the medium found its footing as new entertainment. Hugh O’Brian, who starred in the ABC-TV series “The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp,” was one of those stars. The actor, who was also known for his Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership Foundation – nicknamed HOBY – died of natural causes at his home in Beverly Hills, California, on September 5th, 2016. He was 91.

Born Hugh Krampe in Rochester, New York, O’Brian followed his Marine Corp father officer into the service, becoming the youngest drill instructor in Marine history at age 17. When he moved to Los Angeles in the early 1950s to attend UCLA, he was “discovered” by actress/director Ida Lupino, and landed his most well-known role as Wyatt Earp in 1955. After that series ended in 1961, O’Brian took a series of character roles in movies and television. He had the distinction of being the last person killed on screen by John Wayne, in the 1976 film “The Shootist.” O’Brian started his HOBY Foundation in 1958, which is a mentoring program for high school sophomores.

Hugh O’Brian in 2012 in Chicago at ‘The Hollywood Show’
Photo credit: Joe Arce of Starstruck Foto for HollywoodChicago.com

In 2012, HollywoodChicago.com interviewed Hugh O’Brian, as he spoke about his career and charitable work.

HollywoodChicago.com: How did you come to that very original look for the Wyatt Earp character, when in most of the other shows the lawmen looked like regular cowboys?

Hugh O’Brian: I chose the wardrobe for the Wyatt Earp show. They sent me to Western Costume to check out what the network had picked out, but it was so corny, for example they didn’t wear polka dot shirts in those days. [laughs] So basically I started from scratch. I had some pictures of Wyatt himself, and the law marshal in those days wore what the mayor, judges and shop owners wore, what we’d call suits. That’s how I came to the black coat, vest and string tie.

I met several people who knew Wyatt Earp. He died in Los Angeles in 1929. When he died, his wife Josie buried him in a Jewish cemetery in Colma, California, because that’s where she was from – when I visited his grave, all the whole town showed up to see Wyatt Earp visit Wyatt Earp’s tombstone. [laughs]

HollywoodChicago.com: Have you talked to Delores Hart since you co-starred with her in the final picture, ‘Come Fly with Me,’ that she made before she famously became a nun?

O’Brian: I did talk to her several times, the last time in London. Several people have said the reason she joined the nunnery was because of that movie ‘Come Fly with Me.’ [laughs] I remember her very fondly. she was very real and a lot of fun.

HollywoodChicago.com: You have the true honor of being the last man killed by John Wayne in a film [The Shootist]. What was was your friendship like with him?

O’Brian: We actually go way back. Here’s another story about me and John Wayne. He refereed one of my first boxing matches in the Marine Corp. Back when I was Hugh Krampe, I was the youngest Drill Instructor in Marine Corp history.

HollywoodChicago.com: You given so much to others, inspired by a visit to humanitarian Dr. Albert Schweitzer in 1958. How fulfilled has your own life been through your Youth Leadership work? What is the story of that historic visit with Dr. Schweitzer?

O’Brian: Reverence for life was his credo. Albert Schweitzer was a minister that gave up everything to work in a clinic for the people of Africa. When I went down to meet him he was in Lambaréné on the Ogooué River, and the last part of the trip was in this little biplane that landed on a dirt airstrip, with its nose touching the jungle.

I went down the river in a 30-ft. cutout canoe, rowed by six natives. They had a terrific chant, and I started chanting with them. When I looked closely, I realized they were lepers and rowing was their way of repaying Schweitzer’s care.

HollywoodChicago.com: How long were you there?

Hugh O’Brian as Wyatt Earp
Photo credit: Wyatt Earp Enterprises

O’Brian: I was there nine days. I talked with him a couple hours every night. When he was seeing me off, he asked me ‘Hugh, what are you going to do with this?’ I had no answer. The last sight of him I had was when he was watching me go, in his white Pith helmet, walrus mustache, white shirt and pants. He stood there until we rowed out of sight, he was gone but not my memory of him. It took me 46 hours to get home, which gave me time to think. It was then that I came up with the HOBY program.

HollywoodChicago.com: Why does the program focus on sophomores in high school?

O’Brian: Because when I was in 10th grade, that’s when I figured I had to fish or cut bait. The games would be over in two years, that’s the best time to think about the next move. It’s turned out to be a very productive program, every year we have the participation of 98% of private and public high schools in the country, that makes the program available to 10th graders.

The first to go through the program are now 66 and 67 years of age. We have 145 alumni on Capitol Hill, 150 in the State Department, always average about 10 in the White House staff and always about five to ten executives in Fortune 500 companies. It is truly my way of putting arms around tomorrow.

The philosophy of HOBY was emphasized in a passage from an essay Hugh O’Brian wrote for the organization…”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.”

Sources for this article from Wikipedia and CNN.com. Hugh O’Brian, 1925-2016.

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Writer, Editorial Coordinator

© 2016 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

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