It is an uncharacteristically muggy March evening in Los Angeles. Cars sit in premium parking spots the freeway over waiting for President Obama to exit Jimmy Kimmel’s studio with a most free-world-leaderish flourish. But if these clueless denizens the city over had just delayed their trip home and simply sauntered one block down to the Hollywood Museum, they would know further the true meaning of pomp and circumstance. But alas they chose to follow the habitual herd of all things humdrum, (ha ha–the fools!) After all it is not every Thursday night in Hollywood a noted Television star celebrates his 90th birthday and unveils an original costume roughly sixty years old particularly when said personality is none other than TV’s original Wyatt Earp: Hugh O’Brian.
The lobby of the Hollywood Museum (formerly the Max Factor building) is a bustle with vigor. The foyer, reminiscent of the entryway to a jewelry store–Cartier to be precise–glistens and reflects nearly every visitor’s action above the surface, up to and including Mister O’Brain himself enthusiastically granting gun-slinging lessons to anyone up for the tutelage (or would that be SHOOTelage?)
Attendees of note will include Kate Edelman-Johnson (daughter of the show’s creator and producer, Lou Edelman), Doris Roberts, Ilene Graff, Peter Ford, Kate Linder, Carolyn Hennesy, Jimmy Hawkins, Dawn Wells, Peter Ford (Son of Glen Ford), George Chakiris, Ambassador Glen Holden, Romi Dames, Jack Betts, Judy Tenuta, Erin Murphy, Sue Lloyd (Grand daughter of Harold Lloyd), Nelson Coates, noted production designer and many more…
Upon everyone’s solidified arrival, Mister O’Brian will thank us all for being “here tonight. Which I’m sure had nothing to do with President Obama.” (Too true; again, too true and my mind hearkens back to the all the fixed freeway fools…)
To O’Brian’s aft and right; a flat screen TV displaying back to back black and white episodes of any and every The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp episode known to man! To his left sit stacks and stacks of books for purchase and autograph in the form of his latest autobiographical work, penned with his wife Virginia: Hugh O’Brian—Or What’s Left of Him. Mister O’Brian is flanked farther to his right by a very gregarious and comedically sound Virginia O’Brian herself and in the center of the entire spectacle; the primo exhibit and piece de resistance: The original Wyatt Earp costume itself in all its dapper and sinewy glory!
“The hat, the vest, and the black jacket were actually a creation that [Hugh O’Brian] developed,” Manny Pacheco, film historian and author of The Forgotten Hollywood book series will declare. “Because the television studios had this idea that they wanted to put him in a white hat… You’d get people like Hop-a-Long Cassidy and you would get Roy Rogers, and Gene Autry and they would wear these gray or white hats and these big ten gallon Stetsons but he really did change the look of what the hero could look like because what our good Hugh O’Brian said was that he actually did research and found out that Wyatt Earp, in reality wore nothing but black hats so he wanted to be factually correct and authentic and he was… So folks like Gene Barry, and later Richard Boone in Have Gun will Travel…started wearing black hats and Hugh O’Brian was the pioneer of that definitive look that we’re honoring here [tonight] at the Hollywood Museum… And I think it’s great that we’re spending time to honor not only a man like Hugh O’Brian’s 90th birthday but his iconic look for The Life and Times of Wyatt Earp.”
“Hugh, tell them how much did you weighed when you wore this outfit when you were filming Wyatt Earp; the one behind you,” his wife Virginia will inquire.
“165 pounds,” he will boldly declare with the tongue-in-cheek understanding that he has gained a bit since then—though really not much. (At the same time I cannot help but think that most, if not any weight gained by Mister O’Brian would have to reside right above his scalp. For he has let his hair grow out to almost surfer-dude, shag-like proportions and it looks incredibly hip and magnetically earthy on top of him!)
According to Ilene Graff, best known for her portrayal of Marsha Owens in the wildly hilarious and popular sitcom Mr. Belvedere; “Hugh O’Brian is an American Western Icon. He did the first…grown up Western for television that wasn’t just a shoot-em-up. [It was] based on smarts and humor and…sly sophistication which was unheard of in Westerns up until that time; and my god he was so handsome… and he still has all his hair! …He’s going to be ninety years old any second now and he still has all his hair and he’s hilariously funny. So we’re here tonight for Mister O’Brian!”
Invariably, a cake the size of a Samsonite is rolled out, and the birthday song echoes ever so resoundingly off the foyer’s shiny, pale floors! Virginia O’Brian will swiftly inform Hugh O’Brian she is pregnant thereafter. “She wanted to tell me she is pregnant,” he will repeat, laughing inwardly to himself, feisty smirk actively twinkling behind the eyes, as he looks down at the floor and ruminates further upon the attention-getting witticism.
No birthday celebration would be complete of course without a speech from the one who went to all the trouble of being born in the first place and Mister O’Brian does not disappoint! And, considering the occasion, it is frankly, the antitheses of anything self-indulgent as he will educate us all on the importance of giving back; citing most notably the youth foundation he created years ago in order to assist aspiring high school students:
“Thank you all for being here tonight. Which I’m sure had nothing to do with President Obama. It was a tremendous turn out for a president of our great country, which is very proper. And speaking of a great country, this museum is typical of the kind of country we have where we immortalize various things and people… Showbiz has been a wonderful break for me in terms of being able to gain enough recognition so that I could actually do what I wanted to do in life which was to reach out, and touch, and motivate young people and my program HOBY (Hugh O’Brian Youth Organization)… is for tenth graders. We now [are associated] with a little better than 98% of any public and private high school in the United states and ten other countries including Iraq, who make the HOBY program available in their high schools… [Students] attend a 3 to 4 day program at the state level…with over 200 tenth graders selected to represent, with over 200 high schools represented. I’m very, very proud of that. Because these young people who go through the program are in an important position, and encouraged, and challenged to take their leadership potential and put it to good work for this great, great country that we live in and the wonderful world which we’re a part of.”
Two former participants in the HOBY program are present and will speak appreciatively and nostalgically. Patrick Rutnam will express his appreciation first. “Going through high school and making the jump from middle school to high school and all the pressures [associated with that] the program really opened my eyes to a lot…and I went to D.C. and represented. I was lucky enough to represent Sri Lanka which is a small country on the map of the world and I’m glad to have had the opportunity.”
Celebrated cinematic production designer and close friend to Hugh O’Brian (both actualized via the assistance of the HOBY program) Nelson Coates sings praises of both the program and the man behind it: “I got to represent Texas back when I was a 16-year-old in high school and went to Chicago and met Hugh for the first time. Then when I was in college, I ended up working the summers doing the leadership congress, and I ended up being Hugh’s assistant for a little while. When I finally made the move to Hollywood, I actually lived in Hugh’s guest house for awhile and we’ve been friends for a long time… The program he created was astounding in that it actually enabled me to see that there were other people who were trying to do something with their lives to make a difference in whatever field they were in and Hugh opened a lot of doors intellectually and on every level. I will forever be grateful for those exciting, exciting opportunities that have come because of the Hugh O’Brian Youth Foundation.”
As the night wraps up, all writers, publicists, and show business types will contentedly talk amongst themselves, banter with Mister O’Brian, drink a little vino, sample the roughly 40,000 cheeses laid out for consumption (much to the glee and benefit of every probiotic and antacid manufacturer the planet over most likely) and last but not least, explore the museum itself, in which Mister O’Brian’s original costume will reside indefinitely.
Donelle Dadigan president and founder will provide me with additional insight into the old Max Factor building-turned-Hollywood-History shrine in most informed and enthusiastic fashion. My first question surrounds the concept of the museum and how it came about.
“I wanted to give something back to the community. My mother and I were school teachers and my father was a school teacher. We’d learned that it’s always great for people to learn new things, and the best way for someone to learn something new is to entertain them while they’re enjoying the subject… When it came time to make the decision how was I going to make my mark by giving back to the community, [it was through] recognizing that Los Angeles’ greatest export was Hollywood. [So we wanted to] do something where not only locals, but people visiting family members here in town, and tourists alike would all have a place where they could come and learn about Hollywood. So I set out to try to find the right location…and I knew it had to be in Hollywood and I came across the Max Factor building. [At the time] it was the Max Factor museum of beauty and it was not for sale but I realized “Oh my gosh every movie star from Hollywood’s golden era had come through these doors and been made up in these make-up rooms and got the looks that we recognize them for [and associate] gods and goddesses with.” …And I got such a kick out of that because I kept thinking to myself, “Oh if these walls could talk, what would they say?” …But the building was not for sale…but my mother and I just really decided this was the right place so it took me a couple of years to talk Proctor and Gamble, who own Max Factor cosmetics company, into selling this building…and that’s the start of the Hollywood Museum!”
“The museum opened its doors in 2003 by appointment only, Miss Dadigan continues, “then by 2005 we opened a couple days a week and after that, more so, to five days a week today… Admission is $15.00 for adults, $12 for students and seniors and $5 for children. And if you’re an elite tour; special prices for that. We have docent led tour too…so it’s wonderful, depending on how much you really want to learn.”
The configuration of the museum itself is exceedingly worthy of note as Ms. Dadigan will go on to describe.
“Here on the main floor and the lobby we have the Max Factor’s World Famous make-up rooms; the Blonde’s Only room, the Brunettes Only room, Redheads Only room, the Brownettes Only room. We have a historic photo gallery, science fiction area… The second floor is usually [reserved for] our special current exhibits. So now it’s exhibits…celebrating awards season…we have a model for The Grand Budapest Hotel. We’ve got Jake Gyllenhaal’s Dodge Challenger from Night Crawler. We’ve got the motorcycle from Sons of Anarchy. There’s all sorts of costumes from all the top films that were nominated and won this year. Additionally on the third floor it’s 100 years of Hollywood, from the silents all the way through to today; from Mary Pickford to Bruce Willis to The Sopranos to Elvira Mistress of the Dark to George Clooney and Leonardo Dicaprio, and then our lower level which used to be a bowling alley and speak easy during prohibition days. That’s where we have Hannibal Lecter’s set and all things horrific!”
Ms. Dadigan will then explain her decision to display Hugh O’Brian’s original Wyatt Earp costume in her museum’s hallowed halls:
“[Hugh O’Brain] was so recognized; a household name for young men, fathers, single men… Fathers would sit with their sons to watch The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp and it was a family time… It was a big deal, and there are so many people that remembered that TV show with…such fondness… So to have Hugh O’Brian celebrate his 90th birthday and do his book signing here, it’s so wonderful and it’s the first time that his costume has been in display in a long, loooong time, and with his guns too!
Hugh O’Brian’s original costume from The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp: On display now at the Hollywood Museum!
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