Hugh O’Brian (born Hugh Charles Krampe; April 19, 1925 – September 5, 2016) was an American actor and humanitarian. He is best known for portraying the title role in the ABC television series The Life and Times of Wyatt Earp from 1955 to 1961. He also had a long and successful career on stage.
O’Brian was born in Texas, the son of Allene (née Shelton) and Paul Krampe. He was of German ancestry. O’Brian first attended North Texas State College on a drama scholarship, then transferred to the University of Cincinnati, where he studied opera.
He was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1943. At the end of World War II, he was assigned to Special Services at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he directed troop shows for fellow soldiers.
O’Brian served on the USS General H. F. Hodges (AP-144) and witnessed the surrender of Japan in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945. After his military service, he moved to Los Angeles and studied at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre, where he met and married his first wife, Perihelion Mae “Pam” Lewis (October 8, 1928 – November 12, 1978).
In 1951, O’Brian joined the cast of The Red Skelton Show as a writer, director and actor. He also worked on several other television comedy shows in the early 1950s including one starring Donald O’Connor.
For his work on “The Red Skelton Show”, he received five Emmy Awards nominations and won for best choreography in 1966.
O’Brian appeared in the 1963–64 season of The Beverly Hillbillies. On March 25, 1965, he guest-starred on ABC’s sitcom The Donna Reed Show as Officer Krupke, with Shelley Fabares and Carl Betz.
In 1967 he earned more Emmy Award nominations for his role in Hallmark Hall of Fame’s production, “The Man in the Long Black Coat”: one as Outstanding Single Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role and the other as Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Drama.
In 1979, O’Brian played William Bradford, the governor of Plymouth Colony, for the PBS series “The Americans”.
O’Brian’s long-running performance as Wyatt Earp on the television series The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp drew the attention of Western fans to his acting talent. He directed 45 episodes of the series during its five seasons, which aired from 1955 until 1961. O’Brian told John Wayne that he had only one regret about the show, that he had not played it straight as a gritty Western.
In the 1970s, O’Brian hosted the early episodes of Ripley’s Believe It or Not!.
O’Brian also became known for his work as a humanitarian. He was appointed by President Ronald Reagan to serve on the Board for International Food and Agricultural Development and also on the board of trustees for International Student House. In 1985, President Reagan awarded O’Brian the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award. O’Brian had been a popular president of The National Council on Family Relations from 1971 to 1973 and served as director and chairman of its research advisory council.
O’Brian was married five times: to Perihelion Mae “Pam” Lewis (October 8, 1928 – November 12, 1978), Virginia Bartholomew (April 2, 1943 – January 1, 1984), Leslie Lee Stevens (November 11, 1985 – October 20, 1989), Carolyn Day (May 28, 1992 – his death), and Tina Cole (April 30, 2004 – his death). He had one son, Patrick K. O’Brian, Jr., with Lee Stevens.
His widow, Virginia Barber, to whom he’d been married for 28 years, said he told her every day he loved her. Also well known for his philanthropic interests, O’Brian went to Africa in 1959. O’Brian admired Albert Schweitzer’s dedication and work and influenced his own decision to found his own youth group.
The Hugh O’Brian Youth Organization helped teach leadership skills to high school students across the country.
Taking a portion of the program’s revenues, O’Brian invested sensibly in a structure company, a hotel, males’s toiletries and a business leasing weapons to TELEVISION western manufacturers. Later on, he repeated the function of Earp in 2 1989 episodes of Weapons of Paradise and the TELEVISION films The Bettor Returns: The Luck of the Draw (1991) and Wyatt Earp: Go Back To Tombstone (1994 ).
O’Brian was born in Rochester, New York City, the boy of Edith (nee Marks), who was half-German and half-English with Scottish origins, and Hugh Krampe, a United States marine corps officer turned sales executive whose moms and dads were German immigrants.
He participated in New Trier high school, Winnetka, Illinois, and 2 military colleges– Roosevelt, in Aledo, Illinois, and Kemper, in Boonville, Missouri. He left the University of Cincinnati after just one term to get in the United States Marine Corps (1943-47) and, at 17, turned into one of its youngest drill trainers in the 2nd world war.
When peace came, he had strategies to study law and headed to Los Angeles to generate income to assist him through Yale. Nevertheless, he selected functioning as a profession when a sweetheart was cast in the Somerset Maugham play House and Charm at the Wilshire Ebell theatre, Los Angeles, in 1947. He discovered himself standing in for the leading male when the star fell ill and, seeing his surname misspelled for promotion functions as Krape, chose to change to O’Brien– from his mom’s household– however another misspelling led it to end up being O’Brian, which he kept. Phase work continued in Los Angeles, in addition to Santa Barbara.