Born in San Francisco on April 19, 1899 (some sources list 1900 as his date of birth), George O'Brien was the son of Daniel O'Brien, San Francisco's Chief of Police. O'Brien attended Santa Clara College but enlisted in the Navy near the end of World War I, and quickly became a heavyweight boxing champion of the Pacific Fleet. After the end of the war, O'Brien returned to college but soon made his way to Hollywood. Starting in 1920, O'Brien worked as a stuntman and production assistant for Famous Players-Lasky. Gradually, he also took on bit parts in films, before catching the eye of director John Ford, who chose the relatively unknown O'Brien to star in Ford's 1924 silent epic The Iron Horse. Ford was impressed by the natural acting ability of his new star and convinced Fox executives to put him under contract. Throughout the latter days of silent films, O'Brien had great success as a leading man and starred in some of the best films of the era. Standing 5'11", he was nicknamed "The Chest" in the 1920s for his strong, muscular build.

Johnny Weissmuller and George O'BrienGeorge O'BrienGeorge O'BrienGeorge O'BrienGeorge O'BrienGeorge O'Brien

LEFT: O'Brien with Johnny Weissmuller in the early 1930s. CENTER A: 1920s pose. CENTER B and C: 1930s poses. CENTER D and RIGHT: Daring Fox studio shots to promote O'Brien's 1926 comedy Fig Leaves

By 1928, elements of sound were being grafted onto movies originally filmed as silents, in a rush to get on the "talkie" bandwagon. O'Brien's first all-sound film was Salute (1929), which was not a great success upon release. Not knowing what to do with the popular actor, Fox executives eventually threw O'Brien in a series of lower-budget westerns. O'Brien's early westerns were highly successful for the studio, and O'Brien became perhaps the most popular western star at that time. In 1936, he left 20th Century-Fox for an offer from RKO, where he made 20 pictures at the studio in four years.

In 1933, O'Brien married actresss Marguerite Churchill, the star of Dracula's Daughter (1936). The couple met when they were both cast in the 1931 western Riders of the Purple Sage. They had two children--bassist Orin O'Brien and writer Darcy O'Brien--before divorcing in 1948.

the films of george o'brien

The Iron Horse (1924)

George O'Brien

Director John Ford gave George O'Brien his first starring role in the western The Iron Horse. This film originally had a running time of 150 minutes, very long for a 1920s western

The Silver Treasure (1926)

George O'BrienGeorge O'BrienGeorge O'Brien

O'Brien as Nostromo in The Silver Treasure

Is Zat So? (1927)

George O'BrienGeorge O'Brien

O'Brien as boxer Chick Cowan in Is Zat So?

Sunrise (1927)

George O'Brien and Janet Gaynor

Scene from Sunrise with Janet Gaynor. O'Brien portrays a young farmer who contemplates murdering his wife (Gaynor) at the urging of another woman. O'Brien was teamed with Gaynor in two other films: The Blue Eagle (1926) and The Johnstown Flood (1926)

Blindfold (1928)

George O'Brien and Lois Moran

With Lois Moran in Blindfold

Noah's Ark (1928)

George O'BrienGeorge O'Brien and Dolores Costello

LEFT: As Japheth in Michael Curtiz's Warner Bros. epic Noah's Ark. RIGHT: With co-star Dolores Costello. With a budget in excess of a million dollars, this was one of the most expensive films ever made, until the 1930s. Originally shot as a silent film, some sound sequences were inserted before its release

Seas Beneath (1931)

George O'Brien and Marion Lessing

With Marion Lessing the John Ford war film Seas Beneath

The Dude Ranger (1934)

George O'Brien

Scene from Fox's short western The Dude Ranger

Hard Rock Harrigan (1935)

George O'BrienGeorge O'Brien

As the title character in the Fox Film Corporation drama Hard Rock Harrigan

Thunder Mountain (1935)

George O'BrienGeorge O'Brien

From Thunder Mountain

The Border Patrolman (1936)

George O'Brien

As Bob Wallace in The Border Patrolman, O'Brien has to keep Polly Ann Young in check

Daniel Boone (1936)

George O'BrienGeorge O'Brien

From O'Brien's most popular western, the RKO release Daniel Boone

Park Avenue Logger (1937)

George O'BrienGeorge O'Brien

From RKO's Park Avenue Logger

The Renegade Ranger (1938)

Ray Whitley, Tim Holt, Rita Hayworth, and George O'Brien

From the RKO western The Renegade Ranger with Ray Whitley, Tim Holt, and Rita Hayworth

My Wild Irish Rose (1947)

Arlene Dahl, Alan Hale, Sara Allgood, George Tobias, and George O'Brien

O'Brien had a supporting role in the Warner Bros. musical My Wild Irish Rose. Also pictured are Arlene Dahl, Alan Hale, Sara Allgood, and George Tobias

Gold Raiders (1951)

Fuzzy Knight, Monte Blue, George O'Brien, and Hugh Hooker

From the Three Stooges comedy Gold Raiders with Fuzzy Knight, Monte Blue, and Hugh Hooker

later years

With the onset of World War II, at the age of 41 O'Brien decided to leave his acting career behind and re-enlist in the Navy. Returning to films after the war, however, roles for George O'Brien had evaporated. He made a few more films between 1947 and 1951, and even became a panelist on the TV series Pantomime Quiz. With the onset of the Korean War, O'Brien again returned to active duty. He acted in only one more film, the John Ford western Cheyenne Autumn (1964; with Richard Widmark, Carroll Baker, Ricardo Montalban, and Gilbert Roland), retiring to a ranch in Oklahoma afterward. Following a stroke and several years of poor health, O'Brien passed away on September 4, 1985, at the age of 86. He was survived by his son, writer Darcy O'Brien (1939-1998), and his daughter, bassist Orin O'Brien.

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Cheyenne Autumn (1964) with Richard Widmark, Carroll Baker, Karl Malden, Sal Mineo, Dolores del Rio, Ricardo Montalban, Gilbert Roland, Patrick Wayne, and John Carradine
Gold Raiders (1951) with the Three Stooges, Sheila Ryan, Monte Blue, and Lyle Talbot
She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) with John Wayne, Joanne Dru, and John Agar
Fort Apache (1948) with John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Shirley Temple, and Anna Lee
My Wild Irish Rose (1947) with Arlene Dahl, Dennis Morgan, and Andrea King
Bullet Code (1940) with Virginia Vale
Legion of the Lawless (1940)
Prairie Law (1940) with Virginia Vale
Stage to Chino (1940) with Virginia Vale
Triple Justice (1940) with Glenn Strange
Timber Stampede (1939) with Chill Wills and Ward Bond
Arizona Legion (1939) with Laraine Day and Chill Wills
The Fighting Gringo (1939) with Glenn Strange
Lawless Valley (1939) with Chill Wills
The Marshal of Mesa City (1939) with Virginia Vale
Racketeers of the Range (1939) with Bud Osborne and Chill Wills
Trouble in Sundown (1939) with Chill Wills and Ward Bond
Border G-Men (1938) with Laraine Day
Gun Law (1938)
Painted Desert (1938) with Laraine Day
The Renegade Ranger (1938) with Rita Hayworth and Tim Holt
Hollywood Cowboy (1937) with Charles Middleton
Park Avenue Logger (1937) with Ward Bond
Windjammer (1937)
Daniel Boone (1936) with John Carradine and Dickie Jones
The Border Patrolman (1936) with Polly Ann Young and Smiley Burnette
O'Malley of the Mounted (1936)
Thunder Mountain (1935) with George 'Gabby' Hayes
Cowboy Millionaire (1935) with Edgar Kennedy
When a Man's a Man (1935) with Paul Kelly
Hard Rock Harrigan (1935) with Irene Hervey
Whispering Smith Speaks (1935)
The Dude Ranger (1934) with Irene Hervey
Frontier Marshal (1934) with Ward Bond
Ever Since Eve (1934)
The Last Trail (1933) with Claire Trevor and J. Carrol Naish
Life in the Raw (1933) with Claire Trevor
Smoke Lightning (1933)
Robbers' Roost (1933) with Maureen O'Sullivan
The Golden West (1932)
Mystery Ranch (1932) with Charles Middleton
The Gay Caballero (1932) with Victor McLaglen
The Rainbow Trail (1932) with Minna Gombell
Riders of the Purple Sage (1931) with Marguerite Churchill and Noah Beery
A Holy Terror (1931) with Sally Eilers and Humphrey Bogart
Fair Warning (1931) with Nat Pendleton and George Brent
Seas Beneath (1931) with Marion Lessing
The Last of the Duanes (1930) with Myrna Loy and Nat Pendleton
Rough Romance (1930) with Antonio Moreno, Helen Chandler, and John Wayne
The Lone Star Ranger (1930) with Sue Carol
Salute (1929) with Helen Chandler, Stepin Fetchit, and Joyce Compton
Masked Emotions (1929)
Noah's Ark (1929) with Dolores Costello, Noah Beery, and Guinn 'Big Boy' Williams
True Heaven (1929) with Lois Moran
Blindfold (1928) with Lois Moran
Sharp Shooters (1928) with William Demarest
Honor Bound (1928)
East Side, West Side (1927) with Virginia Valli and June Collyer
Sunrise (1927) with Janet Gaynor and Margaret Livingston
The Romantic Age (1927)
Is Zat So? (1927) with Edmund Lowe and Douglas Fairbanks Jr.
Paid to Love (1927) with Virginia Valli
The Blue Eagle (1926) with Janet Gaynor
Fig Leaves (1926) with Olive Borden
3 Bad Men (1926) with Lou Tellegen and Olive Borden
Rustling for Cupid (1926)
The Johnstown Flood (1926) with Janet Gaynor
The Silver Treasure (1926) with Lou Tellegen and Hedda Hopper
Thank You (1925)
The Fighting Heart (1925) with Billie Dove
Havoc (1925) with Madge Bellamy
The Dancers (1925) with Alma Rubens and Madge Bellamy
The Roughneck (1924) with Billie Dove
The Painted Lady (1924) with Dorothy Mackaill
The Iron Horse (1924) with Madge Bellamy
The Man Who Came Back (1924)
Shadows of Paris (1924)
Woman-Proof (1923)
The Ne'er-Do-Well (1923)
Moran of the Lady Letty (1922)
White Hands (1922)

Pantomime Quiz. This show began as a local Los Angeles panel game show; later, Pantomime Quiz was aired on all four networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, and DuMont) at different times. The show ran sporadically from 1947 through 1963. O'Brien appeared on the series from 1947 through 1950.
Studio 57, episode Typhoon, originally aired September 8, 1957

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Watch George O'Brien's 1934 action flick The Dude Ranger

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