Not long ago, my office phone rang. As I reached to answer it, I looked at the caller-ID screen to see if it named the caller. It read, “Hugh OBrian.” As I picked up the receiver and said hello, my brain went into overdrive trying to process that tantalizingly familiar name. It was still churning when a rich baritone on the other end said, “This is Hugh O’Brian. You may remember me …”
It was the voice that did it, that supplied the missing link and snapped me back across nearly 50 years to my folks’ black-and-white console TV, and evenings spent enjoying the still-novel form of home entertainment.
Westerns were very popular, and like most every 9-year-old boy, I was fascinated with the tales of very good people vs. very bad ones. One of the most popular shows was “The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp,” and Hugh O’Brian had been the Dodge City marshall himself.
Resplendent in a satin vest, black hat and immaculate white shirt and tie, his Earp embodied the essence of a tough, yet compassionate lawman trying to clean up a lawless land. He even packed a special 6-shooter, a long-barreled beauty called The Buntline Special, which in those early days of merchandising a popular show was available in various toy forms, including a plastic model kit that I labored over.
The series ran 7 years, from 1955-61; years later, when Kevin Costner and then Val Kilmer played Earp, I was indignant at their tarnished hero portrayals.
So why was Marshall Earp – sorry, Hugh O’Brian – calling me?
Turns out he was a Marine, and something of a legend in the Corps. As his bio puts it “O’ Brian enlisted in the Marine Corps at age 17. He became the youngest drill instructor in the Corps’ history, and during his four year service won a coveted Fleet appointment to The Naval Academy. After passing the entrance exams, he declined the appointment, intending to enroll at Yale to study law.” Instead of law, he wound up in acting, and enjoyed a long and productive career.
Imbued with the Marine’s ethos of service and helping others, in 1958 he founded the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership (HOBY) foundation, a non-profit organization that helps “inspire and develop our global community of youth and volunteers to a life dedicated to leadership, service and innovation.” Semper Fi, the magazine we produce for the Marine Corps League, had never had an article about HOBY and he thought we might be interested.
After I finished babbling – reverting to the 9-year-old dispatching bad guys with his black plastic Buntline Special, like Ralphie with his Red Ryder Rifle in Christmas Story – I assured him we would be. And will do so very soon – what, you think I’d mislead Marshal Earp?