Hugh O’Brian

I guess most articles will focus on the fact Hugh O’Brian played the lead on The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, and that’s fair enough. However, any fan of the classic western will also be aware of his immense contribution to the genre, particularly throughout the 1950s. Just take a look at this list of credits: Vengeance Valley, Little Big Horn, Cave of Outlaws, The Battle at Apache Pass, The Cimarron Kid, The Raiders, The Lawless Breed, Seminole, The Man from the Alamo, The Stand st Apache River, Taza, Son of Cochise, Saskatchewan, Drums Across the River, Broken Lance, White Feather, The Fiend Who Walked the West, The Brass Legend. He worked with such names as Boetticher, Sherman, Sirk and Walsh. Then later he had the distinction of being the last villain that John Wayne would “kill” on screen in Don Siegel’s superb  The Shootist.

That amounts to quite a career and legacy.


25 thoughts on “Hugh O’Brian

    • Indeed, I listed those westerns mainly because it was (to my eyes) a significant number in a short period of time and involved a lot of surrounding talent.
      But he worked in so many genres.


  1. Definitely on TV as Wyatt Earp for me. That was HUGE back in the day. Later I picked up on him many times in different genres, but none more noticeable than his eye-grabbing role of Red Buck in “THE CIMARRON KID”.


  2. Lovely tribute Colin, an actor who was equally convincing as the hero or the bad guy. A very impressive list of credits – was not WHITE FEATHER mentioned by your good self as a future RTHC feature.


  3. I really appreciate that you wrote this, Colin, because I read the news here first and at the same time you are appreciative of those 1950s credits (before the Wyatt Earp TV show) in a way too many others are not.

    In our local paper, the L.A. Times, there is virtually no sense of or feeling for classical cinema and they routinely leave out most credits, something I keep trying to get used to but it always makes me sad. In Hugh O’Brian’s case, the only 50s movie they named was his fine debut in “Never Fear” (directed by the great Ida Lupino) but none of the Westerns. They just jumped from that to Wyatt Earp, which did deservedly give him fame but is hardly the whole measure of his talent. I’ve gone back to those 50s Westerns all my life, and there’s no question he has a solid place in the iconography there and was an excellent actor. As it happens, I just saw “The Stand at Apache River” again a few weeks ago–O’Brian comes into it belatedly and is only in it for 10 or 12 minutes but his role is an important one and of course he plays it strongly.

    “The Shootist” was a nice late career note for him–he still looked great and was extremely well-cast (one of the many pleasures of the movie is that it was cast in most of the roles with an eye to the genre’s history). I assume that when you say “last villain” that’s a kind of shorthand; among the three characters in the final shootout with Books/Wayne, the other two are there out of personal antagonism but he is invited because Books is aware that he is burnishing his reputation with a gun and there is mutual respect between the two–Books expects and really intends not to survive against the three men, and of course there is an unexpected dramatic twist as it turns out.

    Finally, we all love movies but in the end there are things that are even more important, and caring about the world and wanting to give something to it is one of them. I had read about that time with Schweitzer and how it affected him and plainly he really took it to heart and did his part for a better world.


    • Wonderfully put, Blake. I don’t like featuring news such as this in the first place but, on the other hand, sometimes it feels necessary to acknowledge a contribution made to the art form which many who frequent this site love. Maybe O’Brian’s work in the golden age of westerns hasn’t been emphasized in many other places, and possibly isn’t too surprising given there are other aspects of his life and work that are worthy of note, yet lots of us here know how much he added to those movies. As such, I think it’s fitting to refer to that.


  4. Hope all is well with you Colin.
    RTHC is sorely missed and we look forward to its welcome return when
    you are less preoccupied.

    Best wishes,



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