I’ve been ENCHANTED with George O’Brien since last summer. I new him from Sunrise:A Song of Two Humans (1927), but it was when I was working at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival that I became smitten. It was then I had the chance to see John Ford’s epic spectacular about the first transcontinental railway, The Iron Horse (1924). In the dark of the beautiful Castro Theater, with the amazing wurlitzer accompanying every glorious frame, George seduced me.
George was a San Francisco boy (yay!! ♥) who became a silent and sound-era film star whose signature roles include F. W. Murnau’s Sunrise (1927) and loads of John Ford & later B-westerns. Both Sunrise and The Iron Horse will be on TCM today. WATCH THEM. THEY ARE LIFE CHANGING! The British Film Institute named Sunrise as the seventh-best film in the history of motion pictures. It won an Academy Award for Unique and Artistic Production at the first ever Academy Awards ceremony.
Okay… back to dreamy, dreamy O’Brien. He was one of hundreds of fellas in the early 1920s working on film crews in San Francisco & Hollywood – as an assistant cameraman, an extra, and bit player when he was plucked from obscurity to head the cast of John Ford’s epic . (Ford would become a lifelong friend.) George’s amazing performance in the film & his reviews led to a contract with Fox. Here he became a big, bright shining star – thank god! George made several films, including East Side West Side (1927) which caught the eye of German director F.W. Murnau. Murnau’s Sunrise made George O’Brien a proper & bona fide cinema legend. In the 20s & 30s O’Brien became one of America’s most beloved actors and heartthrobs.
*I’m gonna go out on a limb here and argue George O’Brien alone proves the existence of a Female Gaze (take that Laura Mulvey). George took a number of nude art shots (click, then scroll) for Howard Hawks’ film, Fig Leaves (1926) & he looks like he was chiseled from marble. Good lord! Clearly, no irony in his nicknames “Gorgeous George” O’Brien or “The Chest” ♥
His real life off-screen was as amazing as his life on-screen! O’Brien survived the 1906 San Francisco earthquake; his father was the Chief of Police for the City of San Francisco and he learned to ride horses at the police stables; he was a superb athlete & a decorated WWI & WWII hero – he was even a stunt double for film idol Rudolph Valentino at one time.