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Edmond O'Brien

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Edmond O'Brien
O'Brien in D.O.A. (1950)
Eamon Joseph O'Brien

(1915-09-10)September 10, 1915
DiedMay 9, 1985(1985-05-09) (aged 69)
  • Actor
  • film director
Years active1936–1974
(m. 1941; div. 1942)
(m. 1948; div. 1976)
Children3, including Brendan O'Brien
RelativesLiam O'Brien (brother)

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.

O'Brien was a character actor of American cinema, with his performances in The Barefoot Contessa (1954) and Seven Days in May (1964) each earning him the nomination for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor; he won for his role in The Barefoot Contessa. 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).

YouTube Encyclopedic

  • 1/5
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  • Edmond O'Brien - A Biography
  • Edmond O'Brien Wins Supporting Actor: 1955 Oscars
  • 711 Ocean Drive (1950) - Action/Crime/Drama/Film-Noir - Edmond O'Brien & Joanne Dru - HD
  • Shield for Murder (1954) Film Noir, Full Movie with Edmond O'Brien
  • 10 Things You Should Know About Edmond O'Brien


Early years

Born Eamon Joseph O'Brien in Brooklyn, New York,[1][2] he was the seventh and youngest child of Agnes (née Baldwin) and James O'Brien. His parents were natives of Tallow, County Waterford, Ireland.[3] His father died when he was four years old.

O'Brien performed magic shows for children in his neighborhood. 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.[2][4] He began acting in plays at school.

After attending Fordham University[5] for six months, O'Brien went to Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre on a scholarship.[2] O'Brien 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," O'Brien said, adding that "(w)hat these teachers encouraged above all was getting your tools ready – your body, your voice, your speech."[6]

O'Brien took classes with the Columbia Laboratory Players group, which emphasized training in Shakespeare.[6]


O'Brien began working in summer stock in Yonkers. He made his first Broadway appearance at age 21 in Daughters of Atreus.[7]

He played a grave digger in Hamlet, toured in Parnell, and then appeared in Maxwell Anderson's The Star Wagon with stars Lillian Gish and Burgess Meredith. In 1940, O'Brien performed with Ruth Chatterton in John Van Druten's Leave Her to Heaven on Broadway. Twelve years later, O'Brien appeared in Van Druten's I've Got Sixpence.

Film actor

O'Brien's theatre work attracted the attention of Pandro Berman at RKO. Berman offered O'Brien the role of a romantic lead in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939).

O'Brien returned to Broadway to play Mercutio opposite Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh in Romeo and Juliet.

RKO offered O'Brien a long-term contract. His roles included A Girl, a Guy, and a Gob and Parachute Battalion, both released in 1941. The latter starred Nancy Kelly, whom O'Brien would later marry. (The marriage lasted less than a year.)

O'Brien made Obliging Young Lady, with Eve Arden, and Powder Town. In May 1942, Universal bought out O'Brien's contract with RKO so he could appear opposite Deanna Durbin in The Amazing Mrs. Holliday (1943).[8] After that, O'Brien joined the armed services.

World War II

During World War II, he served in the U.S. Army Air Forces and appeared in the Air Forces' Broadway play Winged Victory. He was joined in the Moss Hart production by Red Buttons, Karl Malden, Kevin McCarthy, Gary Merrill, Barry Nelson and Martin Ritt. The play was filmed in 1944 with O'Brien reprising his stage performance and Judy Holliday co-starring. O'Brien toured for two years in the stage production, appearing alongside a young Mario Lanza.[4][6]

Warner Bros.

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).

O'Brien 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."[6]

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," league president Shirley Connolly said. "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.)[9]

OBrien's contract with Warner Brothers ended following his appearance in Backfire (shot in 1948 but not released until 1950).


O'Brien 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."[4]

"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."[6]

He made some notable movies including two for Ida Lupino, The Hitch-Hiker and The Bigamist. He also played Casca in Joseph L. Mankiewicz's film of Julius Caesar (1953).

O'Brien worked heavily in television, on such shows as Pulitzer Prize Playhouse, Lux Video Theatre and Schlitz Playhouse of Stars. He announced plans to direct his own films.[10]

In 1951 he was in a well-publicized brawl with Serge Rubinstein at a cafe.[11]

From 1950 to 1952, O'Brien starred in the radio drama Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, playing the title role.[12] His other work in radio included Philip Morris Playhouse on Broadway.[13]

Mankiewicz cast O'Brien in as press agent Oscar Muldoon in The Barefoot Contessa.[4] O'Brien won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for that role.[14]

O'Brien followed this with a number of important roles, including Pete Kelly's Blues, 1984, A Cry in the Night (1956), and The Girl Can't Help It.[4]


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.[6]

"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 doing cops and robbers and you're all set."[6]

O'Brien also had his own production company, O'Brien-Frazen.[15]

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.[16]

O'Brien had roles on many television series, including an appearance on Target: The Corruptors!, The Eleventh Hour, Breaking Point and Mission: Impossible.

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 Jackson Bentley in Lawrence of Arabia (1962), but had a heart attack during filming and was replaced by Arthur Kennedy.

O'Brien recovered to direct his first feature Man-Trap (1961) and appeared opposite Henry Fonda in The Longest Day (1962).

He continued to receive good roles: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) and The Birdman of Alcatraz (1962).

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.'"[17]

"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."[17]

O'Brien worked steadily throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s, most notably as the decrepit but boisterous Freddie Sykes in Sam Peckinpah's groundbreaking revisionist western The Wild Bunch (1969). 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).

Later career

"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."[18]

He was a cast member of The Other Side of the Wind, Orson Welles' unfinished 1970s movie that finally was released in 2018.

In 1971, he was hospitalized with a "slight pulmonary condition."[19]

His last works, both in 1974, were an episode of the television series Police Story and main role in the film 99 and 44/100% Dead.


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."[20]

Personal life

O'Brien was first married to actress Nancy Kelly from 1941 until 1942.[21] He married his second wife, actress Olga San Juan in 1948.[22] San Juan was the mother of his three children, television producer Bridget O'Brien and actors Maria O'Brien and Brendan O'Brien.[22] The marriage ended in divorce in 1976.[22]

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."[17]

Edmond O'Brien died on May 9, 1985, at St. Erne's Sanitorium in Inglewood, California of complications from Alzheimer's disease at age 69.[2][17]

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.[23]


Sculthorpe, Derek (March 4, 2018). Edmond O'Brien: Everyman of Film Noir. McFarland & Co. ISBN 978-1-4766-7443-8.

Complete filmography

Year Title Role Notes
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
Vic Pardo
Under Capricorn Narrator Voice, uncredited
D.O.A. Frank Bigelow
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
Warpath John Vickers
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
Julius Caesar Casca
China Venture Capt. Matt Reardon
The Bigamist Harry Graham
Harrison 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
1965 Sylvia Oscar Stewart
Synanon Chuck Dederich
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

Partial television credits

Year Series Role Episode(s)
1951 Pulitzer Prize Playhouse Ben Jordan "Icebound"
1953–1958 Schlitz Playhouse of the Stars Captain Simpson

Rick Saunders

Jim Reardon
"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"
1954–1956 Climax! Joel Flint
Leo Waldek
"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
Joe Ferguson
Roy Brenner
"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)


  1. ^ Fisher, Scott M. (June 2016). "Edmond O'Brien: "I Should Have Liked to Create Lastingly"". Classic Images (492): 68–77.
  2. ^ a b c d "Edmond O'Brien, Actor, Dies at 69". The New York Times. May 10, 1985. p. D22. Retrieved March 26, 2020.
  3. ^ "Famous Film Star Visits Ancestral Town" (PDF). Dungarvan Leader and Southern Democrat. Vol. 17, no. 867. August 6, 1955. p. 4. Retrieved March 26, 2020.
  4. ^ a b c d e "Overview for Edmond O'Brien". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved October 1, 2017.
  5. ^ "Oscar-winning actor Edmond O'Brien dies". Santa Cruz Sentinel. Associated Press. May 10, 1985. p. A-10. Retrieved July 4, 2015 – via open access
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Munter, Pam. "Edmund O'Brien: The Prince of Noir". Classic Images.
  7. ^ Edmond O'Brien Profile, The New York Times. Retrieved February 5, 2013.[dead link]
  8. ^ "Screen News Here and in Hollywood: Edmund O'Brien to Appear in 'Forever Yours,' With Deanna Durbin, for Universal". The New York Times. May 29, 1942. p. 13.
  9. ^ "Spinsters Call Edmond O'Brien Most Magnetic". Los Angeles Times. December 27, 1949.
  10. ^ "Edmond O'Brien the Actor, Has Directing Plans". Chicago Daily Tribune. July 19, 1953.
  11. ^ "Edmond O'Brien Tangles with Serge Rubinstein". Chicago Daily Tribune. September 8, 1951.
  12. ^ Ames, Walter (July 4, 1950). "Edmond O'Brien Profits by Making Mistakes; 'Rate Your Mate' Is Tabbed for Future". Los Angeles Times.
  13. ^ "Philip Morris Playhouse on Broadway". The Digital Deli Too. Archived from the original on August 11, 2015. Retrieved July 5, 2015.
  14. ^ "Edmond O'Brien". Retrieved July 5, 2015.[permanent dead link]
  15. ^ Freida Zylstra (February 3, 1961). "Edmond O'Brien Has Private Eye for Kitchen, Too". Chicago Daily Tribune.
  16. ^ Irene Papas Will Team With Quinn: Actress Fills Out 'Navarone'; O'Brien Hails Europe's Silver Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times March 22, 1960: C9.
  17. ^ a b c d Baker, Bob (May 10, 1985). "Versatile Character Actor Edmond O'Brien, 69, Dies". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 26, 2020.
  18. ^ "Edmond O'Brien: TV's Perennial Pro". Chicago Tribune. February 27, 1971.
  19. ^ "Edmond O'Brien Due to Leave Hospital". Los Angeles Times. September 11, 1971.
  20. ^ "Review and Ratings of New Popular Albums" (PDF). Billboard. July 29, 1957. p. 34. Retrieved July 5, 2015.
  21. ^ Vosburgh, Dick (January 20, 1995). "Obituary: Nancy Kelly". The Independent. Retrieved July 4, 2015.
  22. ^ a b c "Olga San Juan dies at 81; actress sang and danced with Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire". Los Angeles Times. January 9, 2009. Retrieved August 15, 2018.
  23. ^ "Edmond O'Brien". Hollywood Walk of Fame. Retrieved July 5, 2015.

External links

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