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Eugene O Brien 1920.jpgEugene O'Brien (born Louis O'Brien, November 14, 1880 – April 29, 1966) was an American silent film star and stage actor.

Francis Eugene O'Brien was born on November 14, 1880 in Boulder, Colorado, the third of four boys. His father owned a successful confectionery business.

He studied medicine at the University of Colorado at Boulder but was keener on the stage than becoming a doctor. O'Brien switched to civil engineering under his family's guidance, but his heart was still set on becoming an actor. He moved to New York City and was "discovered" by theatrical impresario Charles Frohman who signed O'Brien to a three-year contract and put him in The Builder of Bridges, which opened on Broadway at the Hudson Theatre on October 26, 1909.[1][2]

O'Brien made his name playing opposite Ethel Barrymore, in a revival of Sir Arthur Wing Pinero's play Trelawny of the 'Wells', which opened at the Empire Theatre on New Year's Day, 1911. He became a star in 1914 with "Kitty MacKay".

O'Brien's first film, Essanay Film's The Lieutenant Governor, in which he had the starring role, played in Boulder's Curran Theater in February 1915, giving his family its first opportunity to see him act.[3][4] He moved to Hollywood in 1917, making a splash opposite Norma Talmadge in Poppy and Her Only Way. John Ten Eyck, profiling Eugene O’Brien in the November 1918 issue of Photoplay, dropped a number of hints as to the actor’s sexual orientation, noting the French novel, the huge blue bowl of yellow flowers, and the faint suggestion of the tang of sandalwood in bachelor O’Brien’s apartment. “The photographer, a person of no imagination, looked at the flowers and the pictures and the tea, as much to say, ‘I wonder where he hides her—when he has company?’” Later, O’Brien drew a handkerchief from his pocket and “A faint scent of lilac floated on the air.”


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O'Brien lived in hotels: in New York at the Royalton, "a great midtown apartment house for men only." In Hollywood he took up residence at the Athletic Club, a legendary gay sexual cruising site. In the Photoplay interview, Ten Eyck asked him enigmatically if he'd "been to any enjoyable places lately." O'Brien answered that he had: "The shower-rooom in the gymnasium I frequent. After an hour's work with the gloves, or on the floor, if there's anything in the world more enjoyable than a long leisurely shower that soaks you until you think you have deep-sea ancestry, I'd like to know what it is!"

The Perfect Lover and Sealed Hearts, scenario by Edmund Goulding both starred Eugene O'Brien, with whom Goulding also shared "something sympathique". They became close friends.

World Film Corp. chief executive Lewis J. Selznick made O'Brien a screen star, putting him in an adaptation of Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone. Subsequently, he was leading man opposite some of the leading female stars of the day, including Mary Pickford, Norma Talmadge and Gloria Swanson and became a silent screen matinée idol. Norma Talmadge's husband, Joseph Schenck, who reportedly preferred his wife's costars to be homosexuals: he wouldn't have to worry that way about any resulting affairs. Harrison Ford alternated in Talmadge's arms with Eugene O'Brien, a buff, bluff Irishman who Schenck liked and trusted, and who fulfikked the homo requirement quite easily. Offscreen, O'Brien and the Schencks were close friends, frequently socializing in each other's homes. But O'Brien, obliging and flexible, reportedly confided later that he often gave in and got it up when Norma was insistent.

He retired from acting in 1928 when the talkies came in, making his last film, Faithless Lover, at 47 years old. He lived in comfortable obscurity with his lover in Hollywood until his death on April 29, 1966. He is interred at Glendale's Forest Lawn Memorial Park.

For his contributions to the motion pictures industry, O'Brien received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1620 Vine Street on February 8, 1960.[5][6]


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