Edmond O’Brien in D.O.A. (1949)
Eamon Joseph O’Brien
September 10, 1915
|Died||May 9, 1985
Inglewood, California, U.S.
|Resting place||Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City, California|
(m. 1941; div. 1942)
Olga San Juan
(m. 1948; div. 1976)
|Children||3; including Brendan O’Brien|
Edmond O’Brien (September 10, 1915 – May 9, 1985) was an American actor who appeared in more than 100 films from the 1940s to the 1970s, often playing character parts. He received the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and the corresponding Golden Globe for his supporting role in The Barefoot Contessa (1954), as well as a second Golden Globe and another Academy Award nomination for Seven Days in May (1964). His other notable films include The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), The Killers (1946), A Double Life (1947), White Heat (1949), D.O.A. (1949), Julius Caesar (1953), 1984 (1956), The Girl Can’t Help It (1956), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1961), Fantastic Voyage (1966), The Wild Bunch (1969) and The Other Side of the Wind (2018).
- 1 Early years
- 2 Film actor
- 3 1960s film career
- 4 Recording
- 5 Personal life
- 6 Final years and death
- 7 Walk of Fame
- 8 Biography
- 9 Complete filmography
- 10 Partial television credits
- 11 Theatre
- 12 References
- 13 External links
O’Brien was born Eamon Joseph O’Brien in Brooklyn, New York, the seventh and youngest child of Agnes (née Baldwin) and James O’Brien. His parents were natives of Tallow, County Waterford, Ireland. When he was four years old, O’Brien’s father died.
He put on magic shows for children in his neighborhood with coaching from a 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. O’Brien began acting in plays at school.
After attending Fordham University for six months, he went to Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre on a scholarship. He studied for two years under such teachers as Sanford Meisner; his classmates included Betty Garrett.
“It was simply the best training in the world for a young actor, singer or dancer,” said O’Brien. “What these teachers encouraged above all was getting your tools ready – your body, your voice, your speech.”
In addition to studying at the Playhouse, O’Brien took classes with the Columbia Laboratory Players group, which emphasized training in Shakespeare.
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 who 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. He was loaned to Universal to appear opposite Deanna Durbin in The Amazing Mrs. Holliday (1943), after which he joined the armed services.
World War II
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. (1950 film), 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 a television comedian while O’Brien played a writer driven to the brink of insanity.
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 1959–60 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.
1960s film career
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 1963–65 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 divorced from actresses Nancy Kelly 1941–1942 and Olga San Juan. San Juan was the mother of his three children, including television producer Bridget O’Brien and actors Maria O’Brien and Brendan O’Brien.
Final years and death
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.”
Walk of Fame
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 Edmond O’Brien: Everyman of Film Noir (McFarland & Co, Inc., 2018) 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
|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|
|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|
|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 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|
|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|
Partial television credits
|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”|
- Hamlet (Oct 1936)
- Daughters of Atreus (Oct 1936)
- The Star Wagon (Sept 1937 – April 1938)
- Julius Caesar (May 1938)
- King Henry IV Part I (Jan–April 1939)
- Leave Her to Heaven (Feb–March 1940)
- Romeo and Juliet (May–June 1940)
- Winged Victory (Nov 1943 – May 1944)
- I’ve Got Sixpence (Dec 1952)
- Fisher, Scott M. (June 2016). “Edmond O’Brien: “I Should Have Liked to Create Lastingly““. Classic Images (492): 68–77.
- “Edmond O’Brien, Actor, Dies at 69”. The New York Times. May 10, 1985. Retrieved 5 July 2015.
- Dungarvan Leader 6 August 1955 p4
- “Overview for Edmond O’Brien”. Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 1 October 2017.
- “Oscar-winning actor Edmond O’Brien dies”. Santa Cruz Sentinel. May 10, 1985. p. 10. Retrieved July 4, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.
- Pam Munter, “Edmund O’Brien: The Prince of Noir”, Classic Images
- Edmond O’Brien Profile, New York Times. By staff. Retrieved February 5, 2013.
- “Spinsters Call Edmond O’Brien Most Magnetic”. Los Angeles Times. December 27, 1949.
- “Edmond O’Brien the Actor, Has Directing Plans”. Chicago Daily Tribune. July 19, 1953.
- “Edmond O’Brien Tangles with Serge Rubinstein”. Chicago Daily Tribune. September 8, 1951.
- Walter Ames (July 4, 1950). “Edmond O’Brien Profits by Making Mistakes; ‘Rate Your Mate’ Is Tabbed for Future”. Los Angeles Times.
- “Philip Morris Playhouse on Broadway”. The Digital Deli Too. Archived from the original on 11 August 2015. Retrieved 5 July 2015.
- “Edmond O’Brien”. oscars.org. Retrieved 5 July 2015.[permanent dead link]
- Freida Zylstra (February 3, 1961). “Edmond O’Brien Has Private Eye for Kitchen, Too”. Chicago Daily Tribune.
- BAKER, BOB (10 May 1985). “Versatile Character Actor Edmond O’Brien, 69, Dies”. Retrieved 1 October 2017 – via LA Times.
- “Edmond O’Brien: TV’s Perennial Pro”. Chicago Tribune. February 27, 1971.
- “Edmond O’Brien Due to Leave Hospital”. Los Angeles Times. September 11, 1971.
- “Review and Ratings of New Popular Albums” (PDF). Billboard. July 29, 1957. p. 34. Retrieved 5 July 2015.
- Vosburgh, Dick (January 20, 1995). “Obituary: Nancy Kelly”. The Independent. Retrieved 4 July 2015.
- “Eugene Register-Guard – Google News Archive Search”. news.google.com. Retrieved 1 October 2017.
- “Edmond O’Brien”. Hollywood Walk of Fame. Retrieved 5 July 2015.
- Official website
- Edmond O'Brien on IMDb
- Edmond O'Brien at the TCM Movie Database
- Edmond O'Brien at the Internet Broadway Database