Hugh O'Brian

I do NOT believe we are all born equal — CREATED equal in the eyes of God, YES — but physical and emotional differences, parental guidance, varying environments, being in the right place at the right time, all play a role in enhancing or limiting an individual’s development. But I DO believe every man and woman, if given the opportunity and encouragement to recognize his or her own potential, regardless of background, has the Freedom To Choose in our world. Will an individual be a taker or a giver in life? Will that person be satisfied merely to exist, or seek a meaningful purpose? Will he or she dare to dream the impossible dream?
— Hugh O’Brian | April 19, 1925 - September 5, 2016

Motion picture and television star Hugh O’Brian mastered his craft across the entire spectrum of show business. But with all his success, he never lost sight of his civic and philanthropic responsibilities that his chosen field offers to those who choose to use their popularity to motivate others for a worthy cause. He reinvested his good fortune in many ways to help others, working tirelessly to develop projects to benefit young people.

Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership, organized in 1958 originally to seek out, recognize, and develop leadership potential in high school sophomores. In 1964, he set up the Hugh O’Brian Acting Awards at UCLA, designed to bring recognition to the outstanding young actors and actresses at the University, which was held annually for 25 years.

Early Life and Marine Service

Born Hugh Charles Krampe on April 19, 1925 in Rochester, New York to Hugh John Krampe, a career United States Marine Corps officer, and his wife Edith Krampe, O’Brian’s introduction to diversification came early. He attended school at New Trier High School in Winnetka, Illinois, and Kemper Military School in Booneville, Missouri.  In high school, his sports activities were diversified among football, basketball, wrestling, and track and he won letters in all four sports.  After a semester at the University of Cincinnati with studies charted toward a law career, O’Brian, at 17, enlisted in the Marine Corps during World War II. During his four-year service, he 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.


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Hollywood Beginning

After serving four years and receiving his honorable discharge from the Marine Corps, O’Brian went to Los Angeles, where he planned to earn money for his Yale tuition.  He met Ruth Roman and Linda Christian, very successful actresses at the time, who introduced him to a little theater group. When a leading man became ill, O’Brian agreed to substitute. Originally, he felt the experience might be helpful in his legal career; however, he got such good reviews in Somerset Maugham’s play “Home and Beauty” that he decided to enroll at UCLA and continue his little theater appearances as an avocation while continuing his quest for a college education. About a year later, Ida Lupino saw one of his performances and signed him to portray his first starring role in the film “Young Lovers,” which Lupino directed. This brought him a contract with Universal Studios. During his first year under contract, he enrolled at Los Angeles City College and managed to amass 17 college credits in addition to making 5 pictures at Universal. 


In 1958, Mr. O’Brian was privileged to spend nine inspirational days with the great humanitarian and 1952 Nobel Peace Prize Winner Dr. Albert Schweitzer at his clinic in Africa. Dr. Schweitzer’s strong belief that “the most important thing in education is to teach young people to think for themselves” impressed O’Brian. Upon his return to the United States, he put Schweitzer’s words into action by forming Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership (HOBY), a non-profit organization. Its format for motivation was simple: bring a select group of high school sophomores with demonstrated leadership abilities together with a group of distinguished leaders in business, education, government, and the professions, and let the two interact. Using a question-and-answer format, the young people selected to attend a HOBY Leadership Seminar held each spring in their state get a realistic look at what it takes to be a true leader, thus better enabling them “to think for themselves.”

Today HOBY offers multiple leadership development programs for high school students based on the Social Change Model of Leadership and incorporating community service. Community Leadership Workshops (CLeWs) are held each year locally for freshmen. HOBY State Leadership Seminars for sophomores are held throughout the United States every spring. The World Leadership Congress (WLC) for rising juniors is held each summer in July at a major university in the U.S. and invites students from around the world to participate. HOBY style programs are also conducted in Canada, China, South Korea, Hong Kong, Iraq, Mexico, the Philippines, Taiwan, Turkey and the United Kingdom. The cultural differences that exist between countries of the world are explored in friendship by the American students and their international counterparts when they come together at the WLC. The HOBY experience is truly an inspirational event of a lifetime for student leaders. The Advanced Leadership Academy for juniors and seniors launched in 2013, HOBY’s 55th anniversary year. HOBY boasts more than 400,000 alumni worldwide. Its alumni programs include international tour and service trips for high school and college students.

All HOBY programs are coordinated by volunteers, numbering more than 4,000 in the U.S. alone. Service organizations such as the Lions, Jaycees, Kiwanis, General Federation of Women’s Clubs, the National Management Association, and Optimists have contributed greatly to this volunteer effort over the decades.