Eamon Joseph O'Brien (September 10, 1915 – May 9, 1985) was an American actor and film director. His career spanned almost 40 years, and he won one Academy Award, two Golden Globe Awards, and two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Eamon Joseph O'Brien
September 10, 1915
|Died||May 9, 1985 (aged 69)|
Inglewood, California, U.S.
(m. 1941; div. 1942)
(m. 1948; div. 1976)
|Children||3, including Brendan O'Brien|
|Relatives||Liam O'Brien (brother)|
O'Brien was a character actor of American cinema, and performed in The Barefoot Contessa (1954) and Seven Days in May (1964), the former of which won him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, the latter of which he received a nomination in the same category. His other notable films include The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), The Killers (1946), A Double Life (1947), White Heat (1949), D.O.A. (1950), The Hitch-Hiker (1953), Julius Caesar (1953), 1984 (1956), The Girl Can't Help It (1956), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), Fantastic Voyage (1966), The Wild Bunch (1969), and The Other Side of the Wind (2018).
Born Eamon Joseph O'Brien in Brooklyn, New York, he was the seventh and youngest child of Agnes (née Baldwin) and James O'Brien. His parents were natives of Tallow, County Waterford, Ireland. His father died when he was four years old.
O'Brien performed magic shows for children in his neighborhood with coaching from his neighbor Harry Houdini. He performed under the title, "Neirbo the Great" ("neirbo" being "O'Brien" spelled backwards). An aunt who taught high school English and speech took him to the theatre from an early age and he developed an interest in acting. He began acting in plays at school.
After attending Fordham University for six months, O'Brien went to Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre on a scholarship. O'Brien studied for two years under such teachers as Sanford Meisner; his classmates included Betty Garrett. He said, "It was simply the best training in the world for a young actor, singer or dancer." He added, "What these teachers encouraged above all was getting your tools ready – your body, your voice, your speech."
O'Brien took classes with the Columbia Laboratory Players group, which emphasized training in Shakespeare.
He played a grave digger in Hamlet, went on tour with Parnell, then appeared in Maxwell Anderson's The Star Wagon, starring Lillian Gish and Burgess Meredith. In 1940 he appeared with Ruth Chatterton in John Van Druten's Leave Her to Heaven on Broadway. Twelve years later he appeared in the same writer's I've Got Sixpence.
RKO offered O'Brien a long-term contract. His roles included A Girl, a Guy, and a Gob (1941) and Parachute Battalion (1941). The latter starred Nancy Kelly whom O'Brien would later marry, although the union lasted less than a year.
O'Brien made Obliging Young Lady with Eve Arden, and Powder Town. In May 1942, Universal bought out his contract with RKO so he could appear opposite Deanna Durbin in The Amazing Mrs. Holliday (1943). After this he joined the armed services.
During World War II, O'Brien served in the U.S. Army Air Forces and appeared in the Air Forces' Broadway play Winged Victory by Moss Hart. He appeared alongside Red Buttons, Karl Malden, Kevin McCarthy, Gary Merrill, Barry Nelson, and Martin Ritt. When the play was filmed in 1944, O'Brien reprised his stage performance, co-starring with Judy Holliday. He toured in the production for two years, appearing alongside a young Mario Lanza.
In 1948, O'Brien signed a long-term contract with Warner Bros., who cast him in the screen version of Lillian Hellman's Another Part of the Forest. This starred Fredric March, who also appeared with O'Brien in An Act of Murder (1948).
He was then cast as the undercover police officer in White Heat (1949) opposite James Cagney. "He [Cagney] said he had only one rule," O'Brien noted. "He would tap his heart and he would say, "Play it from here, kid." He always did and I believe it's the best rule for any performer. He could play a scene 90 ways and never repeat himself. He did this to keep himself fresh. I try to do this whenever possible."
In 1949, 3,147 members of the Young Women's League of America, a national charitable organisation of spinsters, voted that O'Brien had more "male magnetism" than any other man in America today. "All women adore ruggedness," said organisation President Shirley Connolly. "Edmund O'Brien's magnetic appearance and personality most fully stir women's imaginative impulses. We're all agreed that he has more male magnetism than any of the 60,000,000 men in the United States today. (Runners up were Ezio Pinza, William O'Dwyer and Doak Walker.)
Following an appearance in Backfire (shot in 1948 but not released until 1950), his contract with Warner Bros. ended.
O'Brien then made one of his most famous movies, D.O.A., where he plays a man investigating his own murder. He followed this with 711 Ocean Drive (1950). However his career then hit a slump. According to TCM, "In the early '50s, O'Brien started struggling with his weight, which could change significantly between films. He had no problems if that relegated him to character roles, but for a few years, "it was hard to come by anything really first rate."
"The funny thing about Hollywood is that they are interested in having you do one thing and do it well and do it ever after," said O'Brien. "That's the sad thing about being a leading man – while the rewards may be great in fame and finances, it becomes monotonous for an actor. I think that's why some of the people who are continually playing themselves are not happy."
O'Brien appeared extensively in television, including the 1957 live 90-minute broadcast on Playhouse 90 of The Comedian, a drama written by Rod Serling and directed by John Frankenheimer in which Mickey Rooney portrayed dictatorial television comedian Sammy Hogarth. O'Brien played Al Preston, the show's headwriter driven to the brink of insanity. Burned out dealing with the volatle Hogarth, unable to come up with new material for the show's comedy sketches, Preston deliberately plagiarizes material authored by a young comedy writer who died in combat during World War II. When the ruse is discovered, Preston is fired, but tells Hogarth his rages are rooted in his inability to find love.
In 1958 he directed and starred in a TV drama written by his brother, "The Town That Slept With the Lights On", about two Lancaster murders that so frightened the community that residents began sleeping with their lights on.
From 1959 to 1960, O'Brien portrayed the title role in the syndicated crime drama Johnny Midnight, about a New York City actor-turned-private detective. The producers refused to cast him unless he shed at least 50 pounds, so he went on a crash vegetarian diet and quit drinking.
"I seldom get very far away from crime," he recalled. I've found it pays … I tried non-crime films like Another Part of the Forest … good picture, good cast, but no good at the box office … But you just put a gun in your hands and run through the streets during cops and robbers and you're all set."
O'Brien also had his own production company, O'Brien-Frazen.
He made a French film, The Restless and the Damned for a fee more than $200,000. He was cast on the strength of his performance in The Girl Can't Help It and his Oscar.
O'Brien walked off the set of The Last Voyage in protest at safety issues during the shoot. He later came back and found out he had been written out of the film. He was cast as a reporter in Lawrence of Arabia (1962), but had a heart attack during filming and was replaced by Arthur Kennedy.
In the mid-'60s, O'Brien co-starred with Roger Mobley and Harvey Korman in the "Gallegher" episodes of NBC's Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color. From 1963 to 1965, he co-starred in the NBC legal drama Sam Benedict.
O'Brien had a choice role in Seven Days in May (1964) which saw him receive a second Oscar nomination.
"I've never made any kind of personality success," he admitted in a 1963 interview. "People never say 'that's an Eddie O'Brien part.' They say, 'That's a part Eddie O'Brien can play.' "
""I'd like to be able to say something important," he added. "To say something to people about their relationship with each other. If it touches just one guy, helps illustrate some points of view about living, then you've accomplished something."
O'Brien worked steadily throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s. However his memory problems were beginning to take their toll. A heart attack meant he had to drop out of The Glass Bottom Boat (1966).
"It would be awfully hard to do a series again," he said in a 1971 interview. "I wouldn't go for an hour show again. They don't have much of a chance against the movies."
In 1971, he was hospitalized with a "slight pulmonary condition."
In 1957 O'Brien recorded a spoken-word album of The Red Badge of Courage (Caedmon TC 1040). Billboard said, "Edmond O'Brien brings intensity in the narrative portions and successfully impersonates the varied characters in dialog."
O'Brien was first married to actress Nancy Kelly from 1941 until 1942. He married his second wife, actress Olga San Juan in 1948. San Juan was the mother of his three children, including television producer Bridget O'Brien and actors Maria O'Brien and Brendan O'Brien. The marriage ended in a divorce in 1976.
In the late 1970s, O'Brien fell ill with Alzheimer's disease. In a 1983 interview, his daughter Maria remembers seeing her father in a straitjacket at a Veterans' Hospital: "He was screaming. He was violent. I remember noticing how thin he'd gotten. We didn't know, because for years he'd been sleeping with all his clothes on. We saw him a little later and he was walking around like all the other lost souls there."
For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Edmond O'Brien has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1725 Vine Street, and a second star at 6523 Hollywood Blvd. for his contribution to the television industry. Both were dedicated on February 8, 1960.
Sculthorpe, Derek (March 4, 2018). Edmond O'Brien: Everyman of Film Noir. McFarland & Co. ISBN 978-1-4766-7443-8.
|1939||The Hunchback of Notre Dame||Gringoire|
|1941||A Girl, a Guy, and a Gob||Stephen Herrick|
|Parachute Battalion||William "Bill" Mayberry Burke|
|1942||Obliging Young Lady||"Red" Reddy, aka Professor Stanley|
|Powder Town||J. Quincy "Penji" Pennant|
|1943||The Amazing Mrs. Holliday||Tom Holliday|
|1944||Winged Victory||Irving Miller||Credited as Sgt. Edmond O'Brien|
|1946||The Killers||Jim Riordan|
|1947||The Web||Bob Regan|
|A Double Life||Bill Friend|
|1948||Another Part of the Forest||Benjamin "Ben" Hubbard|
|For the Love of Mary||Lt. Tom Farrington|
|Fighter Squadron||Major Ed Hardin|
|An Act of Murder||David Douglas|
|1949||Task Force||Radio Announcing Pearl Harbor Attack||Voice, uncredited|
|White Heat||Hank Fallon
|Under Capricorn||Narrator||Voice, uncredited|
|1950||Backfire||Steve Connelly||Filmed in 1948|
|711 Ocean Drive||Mal Granger|
|The Admiral Was a Lady||Jimmy Stevens|
|Between Midnight and Dawn||Officer Dan Purvis|
|1951||The Redhead and the Cowboy||Maj. Dunn Jeffers|
|Two of a Kind||Michael "Lefty" Farrell|
|Silver City||Larkin Moffatt|
|1952||The Greatest Show on Earth||Midway Barker at End||Uncredited|
|Denver and Rio Grande||Jim Vesser|
|The Turning Point||John Conroy|
|1953||The Hitch-Hiker||Roy Collins|
|Man in the Dark||Steve Rawley|
|Cow Country||Ben Anthony|
|China Venture||Capt. Matt Reardon|
|The Bigamist||Harry Graham
|1954||Shield for Murder||Detective Lt. Barney Nolan||Also co-directed|
|The Shanghai Story||Dr. Dan Maynard|
|The Barefoot Contessa||Oscar Muldoon||Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor|
Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture
New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor (3rd place, tied with Humphrey Bogart for The Caine Mutiny)
|1955||Pete Kelly's Blues||Fran McCarg|
|1956||1984||Winston Smith of the Outer Party|
|D-Day the Sixth of June||Lt. Col. Alexander Timmer|
|A Cry in the Night||Capt. Dan Taggart|
|The Rack||Lt. Col. Frank Wasnick|
|The Girl Can't Help It||Marty "Fats" Murdock|
|1957||The Big Land||Joe Jagger|
|Stopover Tokyo||George Underwood|
|1958||The World Was His Jury||David Carson|
|Sing, Boy, Sing||Joseph Sharkey|
|1959||Up Periscope||Commander Paul Stevenson|
|The Restless and the Damned||Mike Buchanan||aka L'Ambitieuse|
|1960||The Last Voyage||Second Engineer Walsh|
|The 3rd Voice||The Voice||Voice|
|1961||The Great Impostor||Capt. Glover – HMCS Cayuga|
|Man-Trap||Voice of Photographer||Uncredited, O'Brien is the director of this film|
|1962||Moon Pilot||McClosky ("Mac")|
|The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance||Dutton Peabody||Western Heritage Award for Best Theatrical Motion Picture|
|Birdman of Alcatraz||Tom Gaddis|
|The Longest Day||Maj. Gen. Raymond D. Barton|
|1964||Seven Days in May||Sen. Raymond Clark||Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture|
Nominated-Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
|Rio Conchos||Col. Theron Pardee|
|The Hanged Man||Arnie Seeger|
|1966||Fantastic Voyage||General Alan Carter|
|The Doomsday Flight||The Man||TV movie|
|1967||The Viscount||Ricco Barone|
|To Commit a Murder||Sphax (publisher)|
|The Outsider||Marvin Bishop||TV movie|
|1968||Flesh and Blood||Harry||TV movie|
|1969||The Wild Bunch||Freddie Sykes|
|The Love God?||Osborn Tremaine|
|1970||The Intruders||Col. William Bodeen||TV movie filmed in 1967|
|Dream No Evil||Timothy MacDonald|
|1971||River of Mystery||R.J. Twitchell||TV movie|
|What's a Nice Girl Like You...?||Morton Stillman||TV movie|
|1972||Jigsaw||Det. Ed Burtelson||TV movie|
|They Only Kill Their Masters||George|
|1973||Isn't It Shocking?||Justin Oates||TV movie|
|Lucky Luciano||Commissioner Harry J. Anslinger||Credited as Edmund O'Brien|
|1974||99 and 44/100% Dead||Uncle Frank Kelly|
|Juicio de Socrates||Socrates||Short|
|2018||The Other Side of the Wind||Pat||Filmed in the 1970s|
|1951||Pulitzer Prize Playhouse||Ben Jordan||"Icebound"|
|1953–1958||Schlitz Playhouse of the Stars||Captain Simpson
|"The Long Shot" (1953)|
"Lineman's Luck" (1953)
"The Net Draws Tight" (1954)
"Tower Room 14-A (1957)"
"The Town That Slept with the Lights On" (1957)
|1954||The Ford Television Theatre||Captain Joyce||"Charlie C Company"|
|"An Error in Chemistry" (1954)|
"Figures in Clay" (1956)
|1955||Stage 7||Clinton Sturgess||"Debt in Honor"|
|The Red Skelton Show||Grizzled Old Prospector||Episode #4.23|
|Damon Runyon Theater||Duke Martin||"Old Em's Kentucky Home"|
|Playwrights '56||Sidney||"The Heart's a Forgotten Hotel"|
|The Star and the Story||Ray Ericson||"Dark Stranger"|
|1956||Screen Directors Playhouse||Thaddeus Kubaczik||"A Ticket for Thaddeus"|
|1957–1959||Playhouse 90||Al Preston
|"The Comedian" (1957)|
"The Male Animal" (1958)
"The Blue Men" (1959)
|Zane Grey Theatre||Russ Andrews
Marshal Ben Clark
|"A Gun Is for Killing" (1957)|
"Lonesome Road" (1959)
|1958||Suspicion (TV series)||Sgt. Miles Odeen||"Death Watch"|
|Lux Playhouse||Big Jim Webber||"Coney Island Winter"|
|1959||Laramie||Captain Sam Prado||"The Iron Captain"|
|1960||Johnny Midnight||Johnny Midnight||39 episodes|
|1961||The Dick Powell Show||Sid Williams||"Killer in the House"|
|Target: The Corruptors!||Ollie Crown||"The Invisible Government"|
|1962–1963||Sam Benedict||Sam Benedict||28 episodes|
|1964||The Greatest Show on Earth||Mike O'Kelley||"Clancy"|
|Breaking Point||Roger Conning||"The Tides of Darkness"|
|The Eleventh Hour||Buck Denholt||"The Color of Sunset"|
|1965||Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color||Jefferson Crowley||6 episodes|
|The Long, Hot Summer||Will "Boss" Varner||13 episodes|
|1967||The Virginian||Thomas Manstead||"Ah Sing vs. Wyoming"|
|1968||Mission: Impossible||Raymond Halder||The Counterfeiter|
|1969||The Bold Ones: The Protectors||Warden Millbank||"If I Should Wake Before I Die"|
|1970||Insight||Houseworthy – Tycoon||"The 7 Minute Life of James Houseworthy"|
|The Young Lawyers||MacGillicuddy||"MacGillicuddy Always Was a Pain in the Neck"|
|1971||The Name of the Game||Bergman||"LA 2017"|
|The High Chaparral||Morgan MacQuarie||"The Hostage"|
|1972||Cade's County||Clint Pritchard||"The Brothers"|
|The Streets of San Francisco||Officer Gustav "Gus" Charnovski, SFPD||"The Thirty-Year Pin"|
|McMillan & Wife||Mr. Fontaine||"Cop of the Year"|
|1973||The New Temperatures Rising Show||Dr. Banning||"Super Doc"|
|1974||Police Story||Chief Frank Modeer||"Chain of Command"|
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