Hugh O'Brian was an actor best known for playing the title role in the television series The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp. For his performance on the western drama, which aired on ABC from 1955-1961, he received an Emmy nomination in 1957.
Born Hugh Charles Krampe in Rochester, New York, he attended New Trier High School in Winnetka, Illinois, and Kemper Military School in Boonville, Missouri, where he was a standout athlete and competed in football, basketball, wrestling and track.
Upon graduation from high school, he enrolled at the University of Cincinnati with the intention of studying law. After one semester, at age 17, he left school and enlisted in the Marine Corps during World War II, and went on to become a drill instructor — reportedly the youngest in the Corps’ history.
His acting career began inadvertently in 1947, while attending a performance of the Somerset Maugham play Home and Beauty. When the leading actor fell ill, O'Brian agreed to take his place on stage. Inspired by positive reviews, he decided to pursue a career on stage, which led to a contract with Universal Studios.
After three years, O'Brian left Universal to guest star in numerous television shows, as well as films such as Broken Lance and There’s No Business Like Show Business.
His breakthrough came in 1955, when he was chosen to portray legendary lawman Wyatt Earp in The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp. The show was a hit, and notched seven consecutive appearances among the top ten most-watched programs of the year.
In the years that followed, O'Brian continued to appear on television, in films and on Broadway. His long list of TV guest appearances included episodes of such programs as The Virginian, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Perry Mason, Police Story, Fantasy Island, The Love Boat, Charlie's Angels and L.A. Law. On Broadway, he starred in Destry Rides Again, First Love and The Odd Couple. His movie career lasted decades as well, and included John Wayne's final film, The Shootist; the comedy Twins, alongside Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger; and a cameo in Wyatt Earp: Return to Tombstone.
In 1958, at the peak of his Wyatt Earp fame, O'Brian traveled to Africa, where he spent nine days with Dr. Albert Schweitzer, the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize Winner. Dr. Schweitzer instilled in him a simple belief: “The most important thing in education is to teach young people to think for themselves.” Before O'Brian left Africa, Dr. Schweitzer grabbed his hand and asked him, “What are you going to do with all of this?”
Determined to put Dr. Schweitzer's words into action, he founded the Hugh O'Brian Youth Leadership (HOBY) within weeks of his return. He imagined a nonprofit organization rooted with the mission to inspire a global community of youth and volunteers to a life dedicated to leadership, service and innovation.
For 58 years, HOBY has helped to cultivate tomorrow's leaders. As of 2016, over 470,000 alumni had participated in its various programs. These programs annually provide more than 12,000 local and international high school students with opportunities to participate in unique leadership training, service learning and motivation-building experiences.
In addition to his Emmy nomination, O'Brian's other professional accolades included a Golden Globe Award for Most Promising Male Newcomer for his performance in the 1953 film The Man from the Alamo, as well as a Golden Boot Award and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
O'Brian died on September 5, 2016, in Beverly Hills, California. He was 91.