BEVERLY HILLS—Hugh O’Brian known for his role as Wyatt Earp in “The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp” died on Monday, September 5 at his Beverly Hills home. He was 91. Hugh O’Brian was born as Hugh Krampe in Rochester, N.Y., on April 19, 1925. In 1943, he joined the Marine Corps. He was a drill instructor in San Diego. In 1947, O’Brian planned to attend Yale University but decided against it when his girlfriend who was an actress had begun rehearsals for a play.
“If I wanted to see her, I had to go to rehearsals,” he recalled in a 2009 interview with the LA Times.
O’Brian’s acting career began in 1947 when he took the place of the lead actor for Somerset Maugham’s play “Home and Beauty.” The leading actor fell ill and O’Brian agreed to take his place on stage. Inspired by great reviews, he decided to pursue a career on stage, which led to his first contract with Universal Studios.
“The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp” which O’Brian played the main character ran on ABC for 221 episodes from 1955-1961. O’Brian’s role as Earp was so popular that he had a few roles in other movies and shows. He was also nominated for an Emmy for best continuing performance by an actor in a dramatic series. During that time he was one of television’s great male sex symbols.
“I didn’t want to force them into having to cut away whenever that happened; I wanted it to be realistic,” the actor said in a 2005 “Archive of American Television” interview.
According to the LA Times, he spent hundreds of hours practicing the quick draw, the result of which, he said, “became a very big promotional tool … and everybody talked about the quick draw.” At the 1954 Golden Globes ceremony, he won for most promising newcomer.
He created the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership Foundation. The charity sponsors more than 10,000 local and international high school students every year with opportunities to get training and experience in leadership and community service. According to Patch.com, the idea for the program was born when O’Brian visited Africa and met with Dr. Albert Schweitzer in 1958. He was instilled the philosophy of Dr. Schweitzer, the Noble Prize winner which was that the most important thing in life was education.
The HOBY website released a statement that read: “Today our whole HOBY family mourns the loss of our founder and inspiration, Hugh O’Brian. It’s impossible to put a number on the amount of lives Hugh has touched – but we can certainly say anyone who participated in HOBY, including all 470,000 of our alumni, tens of thousands of volunteers, and many staff are better people because of him. Hugh literally motivated generations of people around the world. His ripple effect of change, inspiration and leadership will be felt for generations to come. He believed in all of us and we are all the better for it. Hugh O’Brian was simply OUTSTANDING. While the entertainment industry has lost one of its own and the baby boomers have lost their Wyatt Earp, we will remember Hugh as a person who dedicated his life to inspiring a global community of youth and volunteers committed to leadership, service and innovation.”
He appeared in the 1963 comedy “Come Fly With Me,” the 1965 feature “Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians,” along with Shirley Eaton and Fabian and had an uncredited role in Otto Preminger’s World War II drama “In Harm’s Way,” starring John Wayne, Patricia Neal and Kirk Douglas. He appeared in the 1972-1973 NBC series “Search,” starring alongside Doug McClure, Anthony Franciosa and Burgess Meredith.
In 1991, O’Brian won a Golden Boot Award which is given to individuals who have made significant contributions to the genre of Western television and movies.
Instead of giving flowers fans can make contributions to the Hugh O’Brian Legacy Fund, a fund created with Hugh’s and Virginia’s input and support. According to the HOBY website, the Hugh O’Brian Legacy Fund is an endowment with the goal of providing support for students to participate in any HOBY program.
He is survived by his wife, the former Virginia Barber, whom he married in 2006 at the age of 81, brother Don Krampe and seven nieces and nephews.