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George O'Brien was born in San Francisco, California in 1899, where his dad was later chief of police. He had intended to study medicine, but when he turned 18, George enlisted in the Navy in World War I, and was decorated for bravery and boxed, becoming Light Heavyweight champion of the Pacific Fleet. After the war, he went to Hollywood, and got work as a stuntman, and had a few bit parts. He got a few better parts, and in 1924 he got the lead in The Man Who Came Back, which got him noticed by John Ford, who gave him the lead in his epic western, The Iron Horse, a huge break for the mostly unknown actor. The movie was a huge hit, and made O'Brien a major star. He made several more films for Ford, and in 1927 he starred in Sunrise, opposite Janet Gaynor (who had had her first real role in O'Brien's The Johnstown Flood a year earlier), directed by F.W. Murnau. The movie tells of a farmer married to a good woman who is seduced by a very bad woman into killing his wife, and the movie is wonderful! When sound came along, O'Brien switched to becoming a mostly western actor, and he made 45 movies in the 1930s, including a few really top westerns like Riders of the Purple Sage. Even though many of his movies were low budget "cheapies" they were always popular. In 1940, he turned his back on the movies, and re-enlisted in the Navy in WWII, at the age of 41, and with a wife (actress Marguerite Churchill) and two small children! He served actively (unlike most Hollywood stars of that time) and was highly decorated, rising to the rank of Commander. He appeared in three John Ford movies after the war as a favor to his old friend, but otherwise mostly remained away from movies. He joined the United States Naval Reserve during the Korean War and retired with the rank of Captain in 1962, having four times been recommended for the rank of Admiral! He passed away in 1985, only remembered by film buffs, but having starred in two of the best movies of the 1920s, and having been a solid box office draw for most of two decades! He passed away in 1985 at the age of 85.
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