An old-fashioned tough-guy actor who was best known for his portrayal of Wyatt Earp on the TV series The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, Hugh O’Brian was also a tough guy in real life.
Born Hugh Charles Krampe in Rochester, New York, he was the son of a Marine Corps officer. Following in his father’s footsteps, O’Brian attended Kemper Military School in Boonville, Missouri, lettering in football, basketball, wrestling, and track. O’Brian dropped out of the University of Cincinnati after one semester to enlist in the Marine Corps. In 1943, and at the tender age of 17, he became the youngest Marine drill instructor.
After the war
After the war, O’Brian planned to attend Yale University on the G.I. Bill, but during the spring and summer prior to freshman year, he worked in Los Angeles. When the actress he was dating began rehearsals for the play Home and Beauty, he was pulled into reading for a major role, thus kick-starting his acting career. He decided to change his name to when it was misspelled on the playbill. “I decided right then I didn’t want to go through life being known as Huge Krape,” he said, “so I decided to take my mother’s family name, O’Brien. But they misspelled it as ‘O’Brian’ and I just decided to stay with that.” Soon he was on contract with Universal Studios, and the role of a lifetime came around in 1955, when he played the title character in The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, which proceeded to run for six seasons.
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