Visionary, Legendary Humanitarian
Born April 19, 1925 in Rochester, New York (as Hugh J. Krampe), O'Brian attended school at New Trier High School in Winnetka, Illinois, and Kemper Military School in Booneville, Missouri. In high school, his sports activities were divided among football, basketball, wrestling and track, with O'Brian winning letters in all four sports. After a semester at the University of Cincinnati with studies charted toward a law career, 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, O' Brian went to Los Angeles where he planned to earn money for his Yale tuition. There he met Hollywood movie stars Ruth Roman and Linda Christian, who introduced him to a little theater group. When a leading man became ill, O' Brian substituted. Originally, he felt the acting 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 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 play his first starring role in the film "Young Lovers" which 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 five pictures at Universal.
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." His "big break" came when he was chosen to portray the legendary lawman Wyatt Earp on television. Shortly after the series debuted in 1955 as the "first adult western," it became the top-rated show on television, and O' Brian became a much-discussed talent. During its seven-year run, "Wyatt Earp" always placed in the top 10 television shows in the nation. In 1972-73, he starred in the action series, "Search."
Broadway and More
O'Brian starred on Broadway in "Destry Rides Again," "First Love," and in the Broadway 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," the T.V. series "Paradise," "Gunsmoke II," "Murder, She Wrote," "L.A. Law," and a Kenny Rogers Gambler IV movie, "The Luck of the Draw: The Gambler Returns," and “Wyatt Earp: Return to Tombstone” – a made-for-TV feature movie.
In 1972, 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, 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 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. 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 O'Brian its 6th Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of outstanding achievement, working within the framework of the American Free Enterprise System. In 1992, O' Brian was inducted into the Great Western Performers Hall of Fame, and in 1993, O' Brian was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Franklin Mint. In 1994, O'Brian was awarded the Freedoms Foundation's Private Enterprise Exemplar medal, in 1995 the American Celtic Globe Humanitarian Award from the Ireland Chamber of Commerce, in 1995 the Epsilon Sigma Alpha (ESA, Int.) Vision Award, and in 1997 the KNX Newsradio Man of the Year Award and the Central City Association of Los Angeles' Treasures of Los Angeles Award.
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, O' Brian was presented with an honorary Doctor of Public Services degree from the University of Denver. Each university honored O' Brian for the outstanding work he has undertaken on behalf of youth throughout America and the world.
In 2002, O’Brian received the coveted Humanitarian Award from Lions Clubs International, presented to him during ceremonies in Osaka, Japan. The award, which recognized his devotion to youth programs, carried a $200,000 prize, which O’Brian donated to his organization.
The National Social Studies Association presented O’Brian its Spirit of America award in 2003 recognizing his career and his influence on leadership and history among students.
O'Brian lives in a hilltop home overlooking Beverly Hills. Diverse as ever, his sports activities include sailing, scuba diving, swimming, tennis and long-distance bicycling.