Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Born Today April 19: George O'Brien


Handsome actor of the silent silver screen George O'Brien was born on this day in San Francisco, California.  His father Dan was a higher up in the San Francisco police department, who would go on to become Police Chief there.  As a matter of trivia from the silent era, it was George's father who ordered the arrest of Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle.  Before turning his sites to Hollywood, George served in the first World War in the Navy as a submarine chaser.  He also was a volunteer stretcher bearer for wounded Marines during the war and was decorated for that service.  Always an athletic type, he became the Light Heavyweight boxing champion for the Pacific Fleet.  After the war, and in his early twenties, he left for Hollywood with the ambition of becoming a camera man.  And he did work as a assistant camera man at first.  He was known to have worked in that capacity on both Buck Jones and Tom Mix films, but the credits for those appear to be lost.  The one Tom Mix film that he has a credit for is Just Tony (1922), where he served as a Production Assistant; this may or may not be the first film that he ever worked on.  He quickly switched to acting, and the first film that he definitely acted in also came in 1922 as a "Sailor" in White Hands.  Also in 1922 he landed a bit part in a Rudolph Valentino film:  Moran Of The Lady.  Just two years later he was cast in his first starring role in The Man Who Came Back, where he received top billing.  This earned him the attention of director John Ford (who would become a lifelong friend), who cast him in his 1924 western The Iron Horse.  From there on out, O'Brien would enjoy top billing status throughout the rest of the silent era.  His acting took on depth that few would have thought possible when he first arrived in Hollywood, so his roles were quite varied.  In fact, he was chosen to star in a very early talkie in 1928 in duel roles in Noah's Ark, a Michael Curtiz and Darryl F. Zanuck project that starred Dolores Costello.  In the 1930's he mostly began to specialize in westerns, though he did have a few roles in other genres.  In the westerns, he would often appear with his own horse named Mike.  During World War II, he re-enlisted in the Navy, where he served as beachmaster in the Pacific; he was decorated multiple times.  He also remained in the Naval Reserve and in that capacity took on a project by the Eisenhower administration called "People to People" where he was project director for a series of Asian focused films, one of which he teamed with old friend John Ford to make.  He would continue acting until 1964, even at one point appearing in a Three Stooges film.  He retired from acting, with the role of Maj. Braden being his last in Cheyenne Autumn, another John Ford film starring Richard Widmark.  Today O'Brien is probably best remembered for his starring role in F. W. Murnau's Sunrise, one the earliest multiple Oscar winning films dating from the year 1927.  In his retirement, he relocated to Oklahoma, where he lived as a rancher for the rest of his life.  In 1981 he suffered a stroke with a heart event involved, this left him bed ridden for the last four years of his life.  He eventually succumbed to to the disease on the 4th of September.  Par naval tradition, he was buried at sea.  He was 86.

In Murnau's Sunrise along with Janet Gaynor.

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