Thursday, April 17, 2014

Hugh O'Brian, or What's Left of Him by Hugh O'Brian

Hugh O’Brian with Virginia O’Brian. Hugh O’Brian, or What’s Left of Him: A Memoir, Bothell, Washington: Book Publishers, Network, 2014.

O’Brian was born Hugh Charles Krampe in 1925. He learned some magic acts as a child and performed at children’s birthday parties.

O’Brian joined the Marines. While in the active Marines, his name was drawn at random for a box match referred by actor John Wayne. His opponent was much bigger than he was. O’Brian, in the rink, ran from his opponent until the opponent collapsed from exhaustion, O’Brian fell on top of him to win the fight. When O’Brian met Wayne against years later, Wayne remembered that fight.

O’Brian was a contestant on the TV show “Blind Date” while in the Marines He received special permission to leave base but was told not to come back if he didn’t win. The contestants were given answers they were expected to give. When actor Virginia Mayo, who was seeking which contestant to choose, asked O’Brian why he wanted a date, O’Brian, instead of using his provided answer, replied “Because, ma’am, if I don’t win, I can’t go back to the base.” Mayo chose him. They went on the date, She invited him to her set at Goldwyn Studios,

After leaving active duty with the Marines, O’Brian’s girlfriend asked him if he could fill in for an actor in a stage play, as the actor had an emergency appendectomy. O’Brian agreed, never having actoed before The theater bill misspelled his name Krape. Deciding he didn’t want to be known as Hugh Krape (or Huge Krap), he used the stage names Saffer Gray and Hugh O’Brian.

He told a reported he learned about acting while in the Marines They don’t teach acting “but they do show you how to move your ass.”

A play reviewer introduced O’Brian to some theater professionals. He was hired to work in unpaid theater jobs. He eanred a living for three years as what his business card called an “exterior decorator”, which meant he moved lawns.

O’Brian got a job selling merchandise from office to office. He wold a tie to Milo Frank, an agent, who spoke with him and asked to represent him.

O’Brian did a cold reading with a friend of Milo Frank’s wife, actor Ida Lupino. She was unaware O’Brian had previously read he script and knew the characters, She told him he performed the best cold read ever and gave him the role, Years later, O’Brian told Lupio what he did and asked if she would still have hired him, to which she replied “It wouldn’t have made any difference, It was preordained.”

After doing the film with Lupino, Universal gave him a seven year studio contract.

The drama coach at Universal taught him that “the secret to acting is to to act”.

O’Brian won a coveted role at Universal by offering to shave his head. SInce contract workers were only paid 40 weeks a year, he insisted he be allowed to wear a big on his next role, they agreed, He filmed six movies wearing wigs.

Movie companies used to arrange dates between stars to generate publicity. Debbie Reynolds, who grew up in a strict home and had never kissed anyone before, was nervous when she learned she would have to kiss Gene Kelly in filming “Dancin’ in the Rain”.The studio arranged for Debbie Reynolds and Hugh O’Brian to go on a date, She recalls she at first turned down a kiss from O’Brian, stating she doesn’t kiss. Reynolds recalls O’Brian mentioning she had to kiss Gene Kelly O’Brian recalls Reynolds brought up the kiss with Kelly, They kissed. After the kiss, Reynolds recalls she exclaimed “Aw, that’s nothing. I can do that.” Yet, when Kelly kissed her, he used some tongue. Reynolds gagged, cried, and ran off. On the subsequent kiss, Kelly’s mouth does not move.

Both Abbott and Costellow were sick when they were supposed to film a movie, “Fireman, Save My Child”. Studio executives then decided to fil heir thinnest actor and their fattest actor O’Brian filmed the movie with Buddy Hackett. The studio then offered to make them into a comedy team yet they both turned it down.

During filming “Fireman, Save My Child”, O’Brian and Hackett were in a horse driven fire wagon that rode through San Francisco streets with the two of them having onto the side of the wagon. Some streets angled up to 45 degrees. Hackett began yelling “What the hell is this? Just find someone else who looks like me.”

O’Brian impressed studio executives by the amount of fan mail her received, He sent a lot of it in to himself.

O’Brian had been roommates with Johnny Stempanato at Kemper Military School. Stampanato was a bodyguard to mobster Mickey Cohen. Stampanato dated married women and then extorted them by threatening to reveal their relationships to their husbands. He did this to Lana Turner while filming with O’Brain in Mexico, O’Brian told this to the son of the Mexican President, Stompanato was expelled from Mexico,. When Turner removed to America, Stompanato broke into Turner’s bedroom where he was stabbed to death. Turner’s daugher Cheryl Crane, a minor, was convicted and sentenced to a few years incarceration, People question where Turner or someone else killed Stompanato who could have received a long or even life sentence.

Back then, Universal did not want their contract actors on TV, They believed people would not pay to seem movie actors in movies if they could see them for free on TV.

O’Brian was in four episodes of Firestone Theater on TV in 1951. He then appeared in the TV show Playhouse 90.

While filming at RKO, O’Brian was not given a dressing room. Lucille Ball saw this and observed the studio did not want to spend the $100 a week rental on another dressing room. She offered to share her dressing room with O’Brian in hopes this would shame RKO into giving O’Brian a dressing room. This did not work and RKO did not give O’Brain his own dressing room.

After three years at Universal, making four to six movies a year, Universal declined to give O’Brian a raise or starring roles. O’Brian left Universal He did films at MGM and 20th Century Fox before signing with 20th Century Fox, He finally got his own dressing room, which had once been used by Spencer Tracy. He received better roles at 20th Century Fox

O’Brian and others were able to leave his contract as a result from a lawsuit won by Bette Davis, Studios began dropping their insistence on actors fully completing the years declared in their contracts, Davis had a life contract with Warner Brothers She sued regarding this and won. The studios sought for a 12 year maximum contract and agreed with the Screen Actors Guild to a seven year maximum contract, That is now the maximum in any profession under California law,.

In 1954, O’Brian was cast to star in the TV series “The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp”. It was described as the “first adult western”, which O’Brain explained meant “the cowboy still kisses his horse, but he worries about it.”

O’Brian turned down another TV series offer that paid double what the Wyatt Earp series offered . O’Brain believed the Wyatt Earp series would last longer. It did, lasting seven years,

O’Brian insisted on authentic dress on the TV series.

In the pilot, O’Brian filmed a fight with Morgan Woodward’s character They did not use stunt doubles. They prepared their fight and it worked.

O’Brian practiced becoming a quick draw with a gun, His holster was a metal cup with a leather exterior to reduce friction. He could raw and fire in two seconds, He shot full loads which were noisy. The crew wore earplugs or cotton in their ears. O’Brian believes his hearing suffered from those shots.

The studio refused to reimburse O’Brian for his gun which he bought for practicing his draw. He learned the studio rented guns, saddles, and holsters at $1,000 to $1,200 a week. O’Brian then created the National Gun Rental company, bought guns, saddles, holsters, etc, and rented them to the studio for extra income.

The TV series filmed two episodes a week, The first was filmed on Mondays through Wednesdays, he second was filmed on Thursdays through Saturdays, He needed to memorize about 20 pages of script a day on five hours sleep.

The Screen Actors Guild, led by its President Ronald Reagan, won a five day work week. Yet O’Brain’s show only compressed the filming of two episodes into five days.

After the series was cancelled in 1961, O’Brain appeared in several Broadway shows.

In 1962, O’Brian gusted on the first episode of “The Virginian”. He filmed a fight with James Drury, who never filmed a fight before. They rehearsed and it turned out believable.

O’Brian appeared as a matador in “Love Has Many Faces” where he actually faced a charging bull.

O’Brian was charged by a rhinoceros while filming “Africa-Texas Style, As it charged, he roped its neck and ran to a tress where he got the rhinoceros wrapped into the tree,

While filming “Ambush Bay” with Mickey Rooney, he jumped into an irrigation ditch. He found a water buffalo here. He jumped onto the water buffalo’s back and rode it,

While filming “Saskatchewan”, his character was supposed to push Shelly Winter’s character aside. Winters had been difficult on the set paying more attention to her boyfriend Joe DiMaggio than the film, The director, Raoul Walsh, asked O’Brian to surprise and throw Winers as far as he could. O’Brian threw Winters about 20 feet. Walsh declared “Take! That’s a take.”

While filming “There’s No Business Like Show Business” with Marilyn Monroe, Monroe looked tired and complained that male fans kept knocking on her door. O’Brian stopped that by putting a sign on her door that read “Do not touch this door; otherwise , I will coe get you. - Wyatt Earp”.

O’Brian visited former President Lyndon Johnson at his reach, O’Brian and his lady friend a bed there during sex, They didn’t know that news made the newspapers They were having breakfast with Johnson when Johnson read about it in the newspaper, Johnson replied “You broke the bed in there! That’s one of the greatest stories I’ll be able to tell.”

O’Brian’s next series was “Search” in the early 1990s. It lasted one season.

O’Brian asked to be in “The Shootist”as it was well known that would be John Wayne’s  last movie. O’Brian was told the film couldn’t afford him. O’Brian stated he would be in the film for free. A role was written for him. O’Brian character s shot in the forehead by Wayne’s character. It was filmed with a blood pellet shot onto O’Brian forehead. O’Brian considered that his riskiest shot ever as he risked blindness.

O’Brian was cast in “Twins” with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito.

O’Brian portrayed Wyatt Earp again in “Day of Paradise” and then again in “Wyatt Earp - Return to Tombstone”, which was the highest rated program for the week,

O’Brian believes paparazzi need to realize that celebrities are human beings. He once grabbed an overly persistent photographer and threw him off a wharf.

O’Brian leads the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership (HOBY) program that has served over 700,000 youths.

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