Hugh O’Brian, star of the popular 1950s TV Western “The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp,” has died at age 91, the Los Angeles Times reports.
The Times notes that O’Brian was also “the founder of a long-running youth leadership development organization.”
O’Brian had had “several health issues, [and] died Monday morning with his wife nearby at their Beverly Hills home, his publicist Harlan Boll said,” the Times reports.
The story also says that “TV’s first adult Western, ‘Wyatt Earp’ became a top 10-rated series and made O’Brian a household name.” The show ran from 1955 through September 1961. In 1955 there were five Westerns on TV during prime time. Just four years later, in 1959, there were at least 25.
”In the make-believe world of TV Westerns, ‘Wyatt Earp’ was unique,” write Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh in their indispensable “The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows.”
Brooks and Marsh continue: “Not only was it based on fact (more of less — there was a real Marshal Wyatt Earp, and he did have a very colorful life), but it developed its characters over a period of six years in a continuing story involving politics and family relationships as well as standard Western action. It was in many respects a serial drama. Part of the reason for this orientation was no doubt author-playwright Frederick Hazlitt Brennan, who wrote the scripts from the start.”
Of O’Brian’s performance in the debut of the show on Sept. 6, 1955, J.P. Shanley of The New York Times wrote the next day: “Mr. O’Brian is said to resemble the real Wyatt Earp, who tamed a string of two-legged coyotes in lively communities like Dodge City and Tombstone. The resemblance is incidental; the important thing is that Mr. O’Brian gets his man without leaping from saloon rooftops. He doesn’t serenade any girls with golden curls, either. He looks as though he means business, and his first visit to video was rather impressive.”
“Wyatt Earp” ran on ABC. Less than a week after it first came on the air, over on CBS they debuted “Gunsmoke,” which turned out to be the longest-running Western in prime time in TV history.
Now it’s time to visit once again “The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp” through its classic theme song: