Wednesday, June 23, 2010

This handsome fellow

This handsome fellow was an American actor who was quite popular during the silent and early sound era. Not only was he a leading man, but he appeared in a number of still highly-regarded films - one of which (Sunrise) has been screened at past Silent Film Festivals, and one which (The Iron Horse) will be screened at this summer's event. And what's more, this notable film star was born and raised in San Francisco. Who is he?

His name is George O'Brien. And, he is the subject of a fine new biography by David W. Menefee titled George O'Brien: A Man's Man in Hollywood (BearManor Media). The pictures shown here, and a number of others like it too revealing to run in a family newspaper, can be found in this new book.

George O'Brien (1899 – 1985) enjoyed a long career in film. Born in San Francisco on Clementina Street and a survivor of the 1906 earthquake,  O'Brien was the oldest son of Daniel and Margaret O'Brien. His father later became the Chief of Police for the City of San Francisco, and ordered the arrest of Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle in 1921 in the wake of the now tragic Labor Day party held by Arbuckle

O'Brien came to Hollywood in his early twenties hoping to become a cameraman, and worked as an assistant cameraman for both Tom Mix and Buck Jones. He began his acting career in bit parts and as a stuntman. One of his earliest roles was in the 1922 George Melford-directed drama Moran of the Lady Letty, most notable for starring Rudolph Valentino and for having been filmed in San Francisco.

In 1924, O'Brien received his first starring role in the drama The Man Who Came Back opposite the English actress Dorothy Mackaill. That same year he was chosen by  director John Ford to star in The Iron Horse opposite actress Madge Bellamy. The film was an immense success at the box-office - and O'Brien went on to make nine more films for Ford. In 1927 he starred in the F. W. Murnau-directed Sunrise opposite Janet Gaynor; that film won three Academy Awards. O'Brien also starred in Noah's Ark, directed by Michael Curtiz.

O'Brien spent the remainder of the 1920s as a popular leading man, often starring in action and adventure roles alongside popular actresses of the day such as Alma Rubens, Anita Stewart, Dolores Costello, Madge Bellamy, Olive Borden (with whom he was linked romantically during the 1920s) and Janet Gaynor. 

With the advent of sound, O'Brien became a popular star of Westerns and seldom took parts outside the Western genre. Throughout the 1930s, O'Brien was a consistent Top Ten box-office draw.

David W. Menefee's new 436-page book, George O'Brien: A Man's Man in Hollywood, tells his remarkable story. The book includes an extensive filmography, bibliography, and photo section. David W. Menefee will be signing copies of his new book on Thursday, July 15 following the screening of The Iron Horse

Those who attend this special book signing can ask the Texas-based author why a major Hollywood star would pose for such revealing, oops, we mean artistic, images.


  1. I saw this guy in the movie "Sunrise" and thought it was a really good movie.

  2. Our society considers itself much more modern and open to sex than the society of the 1920's, but in some ways we've regressed. When I took the tour of the Paramount theater in Oakland a few years ago, the guide pointed out that the gorgeous Art Deco paintings of nudes in the public rooms were definitely considered artistic, and not something that most people in the time period would have been ashamed to have on their walls. Harry Houdini and other stars seemed to take some pride in displaying their physiques, in family entertainments. I think in some ways it was easier to see the innocent side of nudity then.