Motion picture and television star Hugh O’Brian has mastered his craft across the entire spectrum of show business. But with all his success he has never lost sight of his civic and philanthropic responsibilities that his chosen field offers to those who choose to use their popularity to motivate others for a worthy cause. He has reinvested his good fortune in many ways to help others, working tirelessly to develop projects to benefit young people.
He is the founder of Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership (HOBY), organized in 1958 to seek out, recognize, and develop leadership potential in high school sophomores. In 1964, he set up the Hugh O’Brian Acting Awards at UCLA, designed to bring recognition to the outstanding young actors and actresses at the University, which was held annually for 25 years.
Born in Rochester, New York, Mr. O’Brian’s introduction to diversification came early. He attended school at New Trier High School in Winnetka, Illinois, and Kemper Military School in Booneville, Missouri. In high school, his sports activities were diversified among football, basketball, wrestling, and track and he won letters in all four sports. After a semester at the University of Cincinnati with studies charted toward a law career, Mr. O’Brian, at 17, enlisted in the Marine Corps. He became the youngest drill instructor in the Corps’ history and during his four-year service won a coveted Fleet appointment to the Naval Academy. After passing the entrance exams, he declined the appointment, intending to enroll at Yale to study law.
After serving four years and receiving his honorable discharge from the Marine Corps, Mr. O’Brian went to Los Angeles, where he planned to earn money for his Yale tuition. He met Ruth Roman and Linda Christian, very successful actresses at the time, who introduced him to a little theater group. When a leading man became ill, Mr. O’Brian agreed to substitute. Originally, he felt the experience might be helpful in his legal career; however, he got such good reviews in Somerset Maugham’s play “Home and Beauty” that he decided to enroll at UCLA and continue his little theater appearances as an avocation while continuing his quest for a college education. About a year later, Ida Lupino saw one of his performances and signed him to portray his first starring role in the film “Young Lovers,” which Ms. Lupino directed. This brought him a contract with Universal Studios. During his first year under contract he enrolled at Los Angeles City College and managed to amass 17 college credits in addition to making 5 pictures at Universal.
Mr. O’Brian left Universal after three years to guest star in numerous television shows and in such films as “Broken Lance” and “No Business Like Show Business.” The “big break” in his career came when he was chosen to portray the legendary lawman Wyatt Earp on TV. Shortly after the series debuted in 1955 as the “first adult western,” it became the top-rated show on TV, and Mr. O’Brian became a much-discussed talent. During its seven-year run “Wyatt Earp” always placed in the top ten TV shows in the nation. In 1972-73 he starred in the TV series “Search” Mr. O’Brian starred on Broadway in “Destry Rides Again,” “First Love,” and a revival of “Guys and Dolls.” He also starred in the national company of “Cactus Flower,” “The Odd Couple,” “The Tender Trap,” “A Thousand Clowns,” and “Plaza Suite.” He has been a guest on numerous television and radio shows including the Today Show, the Larry King and Jim Bohanan Shows, Charlie Rose’s Nightwatch, and The Pat Sajak Show. Recent credits include “The Shootist,” “Killer Force,” “Game of Death,” “Twins,” and numerous appearances on “Fantasy Island,” “Love Boat,” “Paradise,” “Gunsmoke II”, “Murder, She Wrote,” “L.A. Law,” and a Kenny Rogers Gambler IV movie “The Luck of the Draw: The Gambler Returns.” “Wyatt Earp: Return to Tombstone” is Mr. O’Brian’s latest film project.
In 1958, Mr. O’Brian was privileged to spend nine inspirational days with the great humanitarian Dr. Albert Schweitzer at his clinic in Africa. Dr. Schweitzer’s strong belief that “the most important thing in education is to teach young people to think for themselves” impressed O’Brian. Upon his return to the United States, he put Schweitzer’s words into action by forming Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership (HOBY), a non-profit organization. Its format for motivation is simple: bring a select group of high school sophomores with demonstrated leadership abilities together with a group of distinguished leaders in business, education, government, and the professions, and let the two interact. Using a question-and-answer format, the young people selected to attend a HOBY Leadership Seminar held each spring in their state get a realistic look at what it takes to be a true leader, thus better enabling them “to think for themselves.”
HOBY Leadership Seminars take place in all 52 states and Canada. HOBY style programs are conducted in Mexico, Israel and Hong Kong. More than 8,000 “outstanding” high school sophomores, selected to represent as many schools, will attend these three- to four-day educational seminars. All HOBY programs are coordinated by volunteers. Service organizations such as the Lions, Jaycees, Kiwanis, General Federation of Women’s Clubs, the National Management Association, and Optimists are the backbone of this volunteer effort. Mr. O’Brian himself sets the example by donating 70 hours a week or more to HOBY.
One boy and one girl from each local HOBY Leadership Seminar each spring are awarded confirmed space to represent their state at HOBY’s week long, World Leadership Congress (WLC), which is held annually in the summer in Washington, DC. In addition, outstanding tenth graders from other countries around the world are chosen to attend the annual HOBY WLC program. The cultural differences that exist between countries of the world are explored in friendship by the American sophomores and their international counterparts. The HOBY experience is truly an inspirational event of a lifetime for these future leaders.
In 1972, Mr. O’Brian was awarded one of the nation’s highest honors, the Freedom through Knowledge Award, sponsored by the National Space Club in association with NASA. In 1973, he was honored by the American Academy of Achievement. In 1974, he was awarded the George Washington Honor Medal, the highest award of the Freedom Foundation at Valley Forge, as well as the Globe and Anchor Award from the Marine Corps. In 1976, the Veterans of Foreign Wars honored him with an award. He is the recipient of the AMVETS Silver Helmet Award, and in 1983, the National Society of Fund Raising Executives honored him with their premier award for overall philanthropic excellence as a volunteer, fundraiser, and philanthropist. This is the only time one individual has received the award in all three categories. Notre Dame honored him with the first “Pat O’Brian Memorial Award” in 1984. That same year, the Family Counseling Service honored Mr. O’Brian with its first National Family of Man Award.
In 1989, he received the 60th Annual American Education Award presented by the American Association of School Administrators. This award is the oldest and most prestigious award that the education profession bestows. Mr. O’Brian joins Norman Rockwell, Lyndon Johnson, Helen Keller, Walt Disney, and Bob Hope as a recipient of this most significant award. On June 2, 1990, the Los Angeles Business Council awarded Mr. O’Brian its 6th Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of outstanding achievement, working within the framework of the American Free Enterprise System. In 1992, Mr. O’Brian was inducted into the Great Western Performers Hall of Fame, and in 1993, Mr. O’Brian was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Franklin Mint. Mr. O’Brian was also awarded the Freedoms Foundation’s Private Enterprise Exemplar medal in 1994, the American Celtic Globe Humanitarian Award from the Ireland Chamber of Commerce and the Epsilon Sigma Alpha (ESA, Int.) Vision Award in 1995, and the KNX News radio Man of the Year Award and the Central City Association of Los Angeles’ Treasures of Los Angeles Award in 1997. In 1998, Mr. O’Brian was given the highest civilian honor from the United States Department of the Navy, the Meritorious Public Service Citation. He was also one of the recipients of the National Ethnic Coalition Of Organizations Foundation (NECO) Ellis Island Medal of Honor, in the year 2000. In March, 2002, he received the Distinguished Service Award, the highest award given from the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP); and in July, 2002 he received the Humanitarian Award from Lions Clubs International, the highest honor granted by the organization. With the Lions Clubs award came a prize of $200,000, which Hugh generously donated back to HOBY.
Mr. O’Brian has been awarded honorary degrees by several prestigious institutions of higher learning. He has received honorary Doctorates of Humane Letters from Saint Mary of the Plains College in Kansas; Lebanon Valley College in Pennsylvania; Bloomsburg University in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania; and Green Mountain College, Poultney, Vermont, as well as an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Saint John’s University in New York. In the summer of 1987, Mr. O’Brian was presented with an honorary Doctor of Public Services degree from the University of Denver. Each university honored Mr. O’Brian for the outstanding work he has undertaken on behalf of youth throughout America and the world.
Mr. O’Brian lives in a hilltop home overlooking Beverly Hills. He is diverse as ever; his sports activities include sailing, scuba diving and swimming.