April 19, 2020, would have been rugged actor Hugh O'Brian's 95th birthday.
Sadly, he died on September 5, 2016, at 91, but we will forever have his performances — and his pictured! — by which to remember him.
Born in Rochester, New York, and raised in Pennsylvania and Chicago, Hugh Charles Krampe distinguished himself early on, becoming the youngest Marine drill sergeant ever during WWII at just 17.
After the war, he had hoped to study law, and was even accepted at Yale, but living in Hollywood and dating an actress had an unexpected side effect. While accompanying his squeeze to a play rehearsal, director (and actress) Ida Lupino (1918-1995) called on Hugh to fill in for an absent actor. He did so, and winning good notices when he performed in the production inspired him to pursue acting.
With his strapping frame and movie-star good looks, it wasn't a stretch. But the name had to go. Accidentally credited as "Hugh Krape," he saw the writing on the stall, er, wall and adapted his mother's maiden name of O'Brien; it was misspelled as O'Brian the first time he used it and he decided it was close enough.
Lupino, impressed with the newbie, hired him for her film Never Fear (1949), his debut, and he appeared in such films as There's No Business Like Show Business (1954), Ten Little Indians (1965), The Game of Death (1972), The Shootist (1976) and Twins (1988).
But television was the medium in which he was destined to make his mark. In 1955, O'Brien debuted as the titular star of TV's The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, a huge success that ran for six years, always in the Top 10.
The first time I ever heard O'Brian's name was attached to the Hugh O'Brian Youth Leadership initiative, a school-based nonprofit designed to encourage higher education. It was a program O'Brian founded very early in his career, 1958, and was close to his heart. HOBY is still a massive and active organization today, years after his death.
O'Brian married for the first time at 81, dying 10 years later. As far as children, Hugh may have had up to four — that's how many people filed claims with his estate following his death, all saying they were his biological children. All four claimants had different mothers.
More for Hugh — I mean you — to enjoy:
Here's a pic of me with Hugh in 2014. He was just turning 91.
Check out my remembrance of meeting the crusty actor here.