VERTAMAE SMART-GROSVENOR, NPR CULINARY COMMENTATOR
Greg Toppo, USA TODAY
Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor, a writer and National Public Radio commentator who taught the world about the Gullah food and culture of coastal South Carolina, died Saturday, NPR reported. She was 79.
Grosvenor first gained attention with her 1970 book, Vibration Cooking, or the Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl, The Island Packet reported.
Grosvenor used the “Lowcountry” food of her upbringing in rural Allendale County, S.C., to teach about the worldwide contributions made by people of African descent.
Reading cookbooks “written by white folks,” she said in the introduction to the book, “it occurred to me that people very casually say Spanish rice, French fries, Italian spaghetti, Chinese cabbage, Mexican beans, Swedish meatballs, Danish pastry, English muffins and Swiss cheese. And with the exception of black bottom pie … there is no reference to black people’s contribution to the culinary arts.”
She added, “White folks act like they invented food and like there is some weird mystique surrounding it … There is no mystique. Food is food. Everybody eats!”
Smart-Grosvenor contributed hundreds of commentaries to NPR between 1980 and 2013.
She worked as a stage and film actress, appearing in the 1991 Julie Dash film Daughters of the Dust and Beloved, Jonathan Demme’s 1998 adaptation of the Toni Morrison novel.
Smart-Grosvenor also designed costumes for and sang backup in Sun Ra’s groundbreaking Solar-Myth Arkestra, The (Charleston) Post and Courier reported in 2014. During her Sun Ra days, she may even have invented the modern iteration of the Moon Walk, made famous by Michael Jackson. She evidently called it the Space Walk, according to the book The Funk Era and Beyond: New Perspective on Black Popular Culture.
When she was 19, Smart-Grosvenor saved money from a department store job to sail to Paris, a trip inspired by Josephine Baker, she wrote in a 1986 NPR commentary.
“There I was: in Europe; in Paris, France, the City of Light,” she said. “As I walked down the Boulevard Saint-Germain, I thought, ‘I can’t paint; I can’t write; and I can’t sing and dance like La Baker — but something great and wonderful is gonna happen to me.’ The myth of Europe made me believe in the possibilities. I was one of the thousands of Afro-Americans in Europe seeking a future.”
By the 1970s she became a legend in New York Bohemian circles.
Actor Bob Wisdom told NPR that he remembered going to an Upper West Side apartment where Smart-Grosvenor had been cooking: “The place is like laid out with dishes of every kind. And Verta had spent the day cooking. And I was like this little young cub — you know, I guess I’m a junior year in college — and I’m hanging out with Amiri Baraka and there’s, you know, Sonia Sanchez and there’s Nikki Giovanni … every writer and painter and, you know, critic. They were all there — the black literati was there — and Verta was holding court.”
VERTAMAE SMART-GROSVENOR, CELEBRATED GULLAH FOOD AND CULTURE
Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor, who in a life of varied artistic careers, most notably as a commentator on NPR, was best known for extolling the virtues of the Gullah food and culture of her native South Carolina, died on Saturday in the Bronx. She was 79.
The death was announced by NPR. Ms. Smart-Grosvenor (pronounced GROVE-nor) had an aneurysm in 2009, which effectively ended her broadcasting career. She died in the Hebrew Home at Riverdale.
Ms. Smart-Grosvenor, who liked to call herself a “culinary griot,” was heard on NPR for three decades, starting in 1980. She treated listeners to hundreds of reports, primarily on food, culture and travel but on social issues as well. Her first major credential as a culinary anthropologist was her book “Vibration Cooking or, The Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl” (1970), often described as an autobiographical cookbook.
“When I cook, I never measure or weigh anything; I cook by vibration,” she wrote, by way of explaining the title. “I can tell by the look and smell of it.” She did acknowledge, however, in a Black History Month television interview in 1984, that there was at least one exception: “One cup of rice. Two cups of water. You’ve got to get that right.”
The book’s title also used the adjective Geechee, rather than Gullah, for the West African-influenced language and culture of parts of low-country South Carolina and Georgia and their islands. That term was long considered a pejorative among both blacks and whites, but she proudly reclaimed it. She took the same approach with the cooking traditions that enslaved Africans had carried with them to Southern shores.
Ms. Smart-Grosvenor was also an actress, appearing in the films “Daughters of the Dust” (1991), Julie Dash’s tale of three generations of Gullah women, and “Beloved” (1998), the Civil War-era drama based on Toni Morrison’s novel. In her youth, Ms. Smart even acted on Broadway. She appeared with Franchot Tone and Dennis Hopper in “Mandingo,” a play set on an Alabama plantation, which ran only eight performances in 1961 at the Lyceum Theater.
After that, she became a backup singer for Sun Ra’s avant-garde music collective, the Solar-Myth Arkestra, and in her spare time designed (and sometimes even sewed) the group’s bold costumes.
Ms. Smart-Grosvenor is the subject of a coming documentary, “Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl,” directed by Ms. Dash and expected in theaters in 2017. The film will include some re-enactments, Ms. Dash said, because “she was a dramatic person.”
Vertamae Smart was born on April 4, 1937, in Fairfax, S.C. Her only sibling, a twin brother, died in infancy. When she was around 10, she moved with her parents to Philadelphia.
In her new city, she was ridiculed for the low-country way she spoke, her height (six feet) and her family’s dinner-table choices. She soon realized that “Americans eat cornflakes, Campbell’s soup, mashed potatoes,” Ms. Smart-Grosvenor recalled in an oral history interview for Tulane University in 1992. “We ate rice.”
Growing up, she read about and became fascinated by the Beat Generation’s bohemian lives and Josephine Baker’s success in Paris. At 19, inspired and encouraged, Ms. Smart moved to Paris, having saved enough money from her job as a department store shipping clerk to sail there alone.
She found her tribe at a modest Left Bank residence nicknamed the Beat Hotel: a group of expatriate writers and artists, including Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs. One of them, the New York-born sculptor Robert Grosvenor, became her husband.
In a 1986 radio commentary, Ms. Smart-Grosvenor remembered her arrival. “As I walked down the Boulevard Saint-Germain, I thought, ‘I can’t paint, I can’t write, and I can’t sing and dance like La Baker, but something great and wonderful is gonna happen to me.’ The myth of Europe made me believe in the possibilities.”
In a 1981 interview with The New York Times, Ms. Smart-Grosvenor recounted another Parisian experience, her exhausting but ultimately successful search in 1959 for the ingredients for a proper down-home New Year’s meal: black-eyed peas (essential for good luck), yams, ham hocks and something similar to collard greens. “The cornbread was no problem,” she remembered. “Even the French sold cornmeal.”
Returning to the United States, where she lived in New York and Washington, she continued to explore her talents, doing improvisational acting in Tompkins Square Park. And she built a circle of notable acquaintances. Friends recalled arriving at dinner parties and finding the likes of James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, Amiri Baraka and Nikki Giovanni among the guests.
According to Ms. Dash, the Grosvenors’ first dinner party after returning to New York was for a young Japanese artist whom Ms. Smart-Grosvenor found “very sweet and shy.” That guest was Yoko Ono, years before she met John Lennon.
In addition to appearing frequently on the NPR series “All Things Considered,” Ms. Smart-Grosvenor hosted “Seasonings,” a series of NPR cooking specials, and was briefly the host of “The Americas’ Family Kitchen With Vertamae Grosvenor” on public television in the 1990s.
In recent years, she had lived in Palm Key, S.C., a private island just one county away from her birthplace. Her survivors include two daughters, Chandra Weinland Brown, whose father is Oscar Weinland, a sculptor and visual artist, and Kali Grosvenor-Henry; and two grandchildren.
In a 1988 interview with The Times, for an article that included her recipe for Frogmore stew (a k a, a low-country shrimp boil), she reiterated her lifelong passion for cooking. “Whatever goes into your mouth,” she observed, “should be something that has been thought about.”
Then she offered perhaps the ultimate example of its primacy. “You can’t have a proper funeral without food,” she said. “When someone dies, the food, the spread, the feast has to be right so people will say, ‘She had a proper send-off.’”
GRETA FRIEDMAN, WHO CLAIMED TO BE THE NURSE IN A FAMOUS V-J DAY PHOTO
Greta Friedman, who said she was grabbed and kissed by a sailor in a euphoric moment that made for one of the most defining American photos of the 20th century, died on Thursday in Richmond, Va. She was 92.
The cause was pneumonia, her son, Joshua Friedman, said.
The black and white image of a woman and an American sailor was shot by the renowned photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt on Aug. 14. 1945, after the news of Japan’s surrender effectively heralded the end of World War II. The photograph ran as a full page in Life magazine shortly after.
Yet the identity of its subjects — a dark-suited sailor and a woman in a white nurse’s outfit captured in what seemed to be mid-embrace amid a celebration in Times Square on V-J Day — has long been debated. At least 11 men have claimed to have been the sailor in the photo, while three women, including Ms. Friedman, had prominent claims that they were the nurse.
Ms. Friedman said that she did not see the photo until the 1960s, when she came upon a book of the Mr. Eisenstaedt’s images and found the moment immortalized on the page. She wrote to Life and was told that another person had been identified as the woman in the photo.
“I didn’t believe that because I knew it happened to me,” she said in 2005 in an interview archived by the Veterans History Project. “It’s exactly my figure, and what I wore, and my hairdo especially.”
Decades later, he met with Edith Shain, a kindergarten teacher from Beverly Hills, Calif., who claimed to be the woman in the photo. Mr. Eisenstaedt died in 1995; Ms. Shain died in 2010.
The photo has served as a symbol of the exuberance Americans felt at the end of World War II, capturing what many saw as a charmingly ideal portrait of the United States at a portentous moment of history. It has been the subject of countless reproductions, re-enactments and tributes.
But in recent years, some have noted its darker undertones.
In 2012, a writer on the website Crates and Ribbons argued that the picture depicted not a moment of romance, but a “sexual assault by modern standards,” pointing to Ms. Friedman’s description of the kiss during her interview with the Veterans History Project.
In a story in 2014 about the photo, Time, whose parent company discontinued the monthly publication of Life magazine in 2000, noted that “many people view the photo as little more than the documentation of a very public sexual assault, and not something to be celebrated.”
Ms. Friedman did not shy away from the photo or her role in it, her son said. Mr. Friedman said he believed she understood the argument that it was an assault but did not necessarily view it that way.
Ms. Friedman was born Greta Zimmer on June 5, 1924, in Wiener Neustadt, a small town in Austria outside Vienna. She was one of four daughters of Max Zimmer, a clothing store owner, and Ida Zimmer.
As conditions worsened for Jews in Nazi-occupied Austria, her parents sent their children out of the country. Ms. Friedman and two of her sisters came to the United States in 1939, while the other sister went to what was then Palestine. The Zimmer parents were killed in the Holocaust, Mr. Friedman said.
Ms. Friedman landed in New York City. She had been working at a dentist’s office on Aug. 14, which was why she was wearing the white nurse’s outfit, she recalled in the Veterans History Project interview. She also worked in costuming, her son said.
She married Dr. Mischa E. Friedman, a scientist for the United States Army, in 1956. Besides their son, the couple had a daughter, Mara. Ms. Friedman earned an arts degree from Hood College in 1981, she had a studio in Frederick where she painted and made silk-screen prints, her son said.
In addition to her children, she is survived by a sister, Belle Hoffman, and two grandchildren.
PRINCE BUSTER, TRAILBLAZER OF SKA
Prince Buster, a performer and producer who transformed Jamaican music in the 1960s as a trailblazer of the ska beat, died on Thursday in Miami. He was 78.
His wife, Mola Ali, confirmed his death to The Associated Press, saying he had been hospitalized with heart problems.
Under his own name and as the producer for many singers, Prince Buster released hundreds of songs in Jamaica. Sessions he produced as the 1960s began are widely credited as the first ska singles. They introduced a distinctively Jamaican emphasis on the backbeat, underlined on guitar and saxophone, that would persist as Jamaican pop evolved toward reggae.
In the late 1960s, Prince Buster had another influential guise: hit singles in which he spoke as Judge Dread, ruling harshly against the criminal exploits of Jamaica’s “rude boys.”
Cecil Bustamente Campbell was born in Kingston, Jamaica, on May 24, 1938. He performed with teenage groups in Kingston; he also became a boxer, taking the name Prince Buster.
Jamaicans were listening to, and imitating, the American R&B that reached the island on radio stations from New Orleans and Miami. Prince Buster’s productions were more deliberately Jamaican. His production of the Folkes Brothers’ “Oh Carolina,” recorded in 1959, meshed the traditional Nyabinghi drumming of a Rastafarian musician, Count Ossie, with what would come to be known as a ska beat.
By the end of the 1960s ska had given way to the slower rocksteady beat, a closer precursor of reggae. Prince Buster adapted, notably with his series of singles using his Judge Dread character. But in the early 1970s he gave up producing music and concentrated on business ventures, including record stores and a jukebox company, and moved to Miami.
Punk-era rock fans were introduced to Prince Buster through “One Step Beyond,” the title track of the 1979 debut album by the English ska-revival band Madness, which was a sped-up remake of an instrumental Prince Buster released in 1964. The group had taken its name from Prince Buster’s song “Madness Is Gladness,” and its first single was “The Prince,” a tribute to him. Other ska-revival groups like the Specials and the English Beat also recorded Prince Buster’s songs.
Prince Buster returned to occasional performing from the 1980s into the early 2000s, and he made some new recordings in the 1990s in a modest comeback. A commercial for Levi’s helped him get a Top 30 hit in Britain in 1998, a remake of his song “Whine and Grine.”
Beside his wife, he is survived by their three children and several other children.
THE LADY CHABLIS, SASSY ECENTRIC IN ‘MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL’
The Lady Chablis, the transgender performer featured in the 1994 best seller “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” and in the film version, died on Thursday in Savannah, Ga. She was 59 and had been working until about a month ago.
The cause was pneumonia, said Cale Hall, a longtime friend and an owner of Club One, where she had performed for three decades.
Ms. Chablis was a standout character in the book, in which the author, John Berendt, introduced the world to Savannah and the sometimes eccentric people who live there.
“She was The Lady Chablis from morning to night,” Mr. Berendt said in an interview on Thursday. “She had a great repartee,” he said, “and she had a way with words. She was creative.”
“She had both hands on her hips and a sassy half-smile on her face as if she had been waiting for me,” he wrote.
She would become the book’s most popular character, Mr. Berendt said. She was also his favorite.
“It’s not as if she died without knowing,” he added. “She knew. And she also knew she was everybody’s favorite.”
After the book came out, Ms. Chablis appeared on “Good Morning America” and “Oprah.” Readers from around the country went to see her at Club One. She published an autobiography, “Hiding My Candy,” in 1996 and the next year played herself in Clint Eastwood’s film adaptation of the Berendt book.
She was born Benjamin Edward Knox in Quincy, Fla., on March 11, 1957, and never finished high school. She took the name Chablis as a teenager. As she recalled in Mr. Berendt’s book, her mother, inspired by a wine bottle label, had intended the name for a younger sister but had had a miscarriage. Ms. Chablis immediately expressed interest in the name.
“I said, ‘Ooooo, Chablis. That’s nice. I like that name,’ ” she was quoted as saying in the book. “And Mama said, ‘Then take it, baby. Just call yourself Chablis from now on.’ So ever since then, I’ve been Chablis.” She had her name legally changed to The Lady Chablis.
Survivors include two sisters, Lois Stevens and Cynthia Ponder; and two brothers, Charles Whiteside and John Fairley Jr.
Ms. Chablis performed about once a month and never changed her risqué style.
“Like she would say, ‘This is not a Disney production,’ ” Mr. Hall said.
Her last performance, he said, was on Aug. 6, to a packed house.
JON POLITO, A FAVOURITE IN COEN BROTHERS FILMS
Jon Polito, a character actor who often played law enforcement figures and gangsters and had memorable turns in many films by Joel and Ethan Coen, died on Thursday in Los Angeles. He was 65.
The cause was complications of multiple myeloma, his husband, Darryl Armbruster, said.
A mustached, balding, husky and burlap-voiced presence onscreen, Mr. Polito appeared in more than 200 films and television series, often as the heavy. He could convey the swagger and haplessness of a two-bit crook, the authority of a hardened homicide detective, the unctuous ingratiations of a yes man — as well as a sense of vulnerability, desperation and weakness.
Mr. Polito said he was fine with being typecast, as long as he could bring some depth to his roles.
“I don’t mind playing a gangster as long as it’s redefined in some way,” he said in an interview on the website Groucho Reviews in 2005.
The Coen brothers used Mr. Polito in a string of films. He played a gangster in “Miller’s Crossing” (1990), a beaten-down studio employee in “Barton Fink” (1991), a demanding executive in “The Hudsucker Proxy” (1994), a private eye confronted by Jeff Bridges in “The Big Lebowski” (1998) and a corrupt businessman in “The Man Who Wasn’t There” (2001).
The characters he played often met violent ends. Mr. Polito publicly objected when one of them, the quirky Det. Steve Crosetti, was supposed to kill himself on the gritty NBC police procedural “Homicide: Life on the Street” in 1994. He castigated Barry Levinson and Tom Fontana, executive producers, writers and directors on the show, because he thought suicide was out of character for Crosetti.
Mr. Fontana and Mr. Polito exchanged sharp words in the press; Crosetti was killed off anyway. Despite low initial ratings, “Homicide” stayed on the air until 1999 and won four Primetime Emmys, among other awards.
Mr. Polito later said he regretted the way he had left his relationship with Mr. Fontana and Mr. Levinson. His character reappeared in the afterlife in a “Homicide” TV movie in 2000.
Jon Raymond Polito was born in Philadelphia on Dec. 29, 1950. He began acting in high school and studied theater at Villanova University.
He appeared on Broadway in “The Curse of an Aching Heart,” with Faye Dunaway, in 1982, and as the young boss who fires Willy Loman in a popular revival of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” in 1984, with Dustin Hoffman as Loman, John Malkovich as Biff and David Huddleston — another member of the “Big Lebowski” cast, who died in August — as Charley.
Among the many TV comedies on which he appeared were “Modern Family,” “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” “Two and a Half Men” and “Seinfeld.” He also played more serious roles on “Crime Story,” “N.Y.P.D. Blue” and “Chicago Hope.”
Mr. Polito was also seen with Matthew Broderick and Marlon Brando in Andrew Bergman’s mob comedy “The Freshman” (1990), and with Jason Schwartzman and Amy Adams in Tim Burton’s “Big Eyes” (2014), about the painter Margaret Keane. His other films include “The Crow” (1994) and “American Gangster” (2007).
He met Mr. Armbruster, an actor, on Oct. 16, 1999, and they married on that day last year. In addition to Mr. Armbruster, with whom he lived in Studio City, Calif., he is survived by a brother, Jack Polito, and a sister, Rosemary Simpson.
NAMON O’NEAL HOGGLE, FINAL SUSPECT IN 1965 CIVIL RIGHTS SLAYING
The last of three men tried and acquitted in an infamous civil rights slaying in Alabama has died.
Namon O’Neal Hoggle of Selma, Alabama, died Tuesday, according to an obituary released by the funeral handling arrangements for the family. He was 81. A service was scheduled for Thursday.
Hoggle was among three men acquitted in 1965 in the beating death of the Rev. James Reeb of Boston. Reeb’s killing was investigated as recently as four years ago by federal authorities, but no one was charged after the initial trial.
Reeb was a Unitarian minister who went to Selma in response to a call for help by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement. Reeb was white, and he was attacked by a group of white men after eating in a black-owned restaurant on March 9, 1965.
Reeb, 38, died in a hospital two days later, leaving behind a wife and four children. His death, coupled with other civil rights slayings and the Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march, is often credited with helping build momentum for passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965.
Hoggle, his brother and a third man were acquitted in the killing months later. All three defendants were white, as were all the jurors.
Known around town by the nickname “Duck,” Hoggle remained in Selma and was well known as a car dealer. The FBI closed an investigation of Reeb’s killing in 2011 without filing any charges against Hoggle or anyone else, records show.
Honorary pallbearers at Hoggle’s funeral included the current Dallas County sheriff and a judge. District Attorney Michael Jackson, who didn’t know Hoggle, said his death highlights the difficulty of resolving civil rights death cases that are now decades old.
“These civil rights investigations are going to get more and more difficult to investigate and prosecute as the steady hand of time moves forward at a rapid pace,” Jackson said. “But it is still important for state and federal agencies to try and bring closure to the victims’ families. Reverend Reeb’s case is another in a long line of civil rights cases that will be left unresolved, (and) that is very unfortunate.”
The other two suspects tried in Reeb’s death, Hoggle’s brother William Stanley Hoggle and Elmer Cook, died previously. A fourth man, R.B. Kelly, was charged but never went on trial. He is also dead.
HUGH O-BRIAN, DASHING TV STAR OF ‘WYATT EARP
Hugh O’Brian, who rose to fame on television as the quick-drawing lawman Wyatt Earp in the 1950s and who later devoted extensive time to a foundation he created that trains young people to be leaders, died on Monday at his home in Beverly Hills, Calif. He was 91.
His death was announced by his foundation, HOBY, originally known as Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership.
When he first arrived in Hollywood in 1947, Mr. O’Brian was a strapping 6-foot-plus presence with leading-man looks and a swagger he had picked up in the Marine Corps. He did not have stardom in mind, though: He was planning to return to college and eventually attend law school.
He broke into show business by chance, when he escorted an actress to a rehearsal for a play and ended up with a part for himself, filling in for an actor who had fallen ill.
The actress Ida Lupino, who was just beginning her career as a director, cast him in her 1949 feature film, “Never Fear.” A contract with Universal-International Pictures soon followed.
Early on Mr. O’Brian was relegated mostly to secondary status in run-of-the-mill westerns — with Gene Autry in “Beyond the Purple Hills” (1950), Audie Murphy in “The Cimarron Kid” (1952) and Rock Hudson (to whom Mr. O’Brian was frequently compared) in “Seminole” (1953).
He emerged from this relative obscurity when he landed the title role on “The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp.” The show, which ran on ABC from 1955 to 1961, became one of the most popular TV westerns at a time when that genre dominated prime time.
Mr. O’Brian would play Marshal Earp in one form or another several times, most notably in the 1991 television movie “The Gambler Returns: The Luck of the Draw,” a vehicle for the singer Kenny Rogers, and in “Wyatt Earp: Return to Tombstone,” a 1994 CBS production timed to capitalize on the release that year of the big-budget feature “Wyatt Earp,” starring Kevin Costner. (The early 1990s were a good time for Earp enthusiasts: “Tombstone,” with Kurt Russell as Earp, came out in 1993.)
Mr. O’Brian remained active through the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, mostly on television. He appeared on series like “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour,” “Charlie’s Angels,” “Fantasy Island” and “Murder, She Wrote.” In 1972 he was one of the rotating leads in NBC’s short-lived high-tech private-eye series “Search,” which also starred Tony Franciosa and Doug McClure.
One of his more memorable roles (though it was also one of his smallest) was in John Wayne’s final movie, “The Shootist” (1976). Mr. O’Brian played a professional gambler who, in the film’s closing moments, became the last character ever killed onscreen by Wayne.
He played Broadway too. In 1960 he briefly filled in for Andy Griffith in the musical “Destry Rides Again,” and a year later he portrayed the author Romain Gary in “First Love,” directed by Alfred Lunt and based on Mr. Gary’s memoir, “Promise at Dawn.” He toured with regional theater productions as well.
But Mr. O’Brian’s portrayal of Wyatt Earp, forever remembered for his participation in the 1881 shootout at the O.K. Corral, would remain his professional high-water mark. It would also have a transformative effect beyond show business.
As Mr. O’Brian told it, his high profile on television brought him to the attention of the Nobel Prize-winning doctor and missionary Albert Schweitzer, who in 1958 invited Mr. O’Brian to observe and work with him at the hospital he ran in Lambaréné, Gabon (then French Equatorial Africa).
Inspired by the visit and by Dr. Schweitzer’s call to service, Mr. O’Brian returned to Los Angeles and within weeks established Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership, a nonprofit organization that through seminars prepares high school students to “become positive catalysts for change,” as the group puts it.
The organization expanded nationally and internationally and now says it has more than 300,000 alumni, including Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, who said attending a leadership seminar in 1971 was “a genuine turning point in my life.”
“Hugh O’Brian’s impact,” he said, is “a large part of why I became governor of my state.”
His father, a former Marine (and, as Mr. O’Brian once described him, “one of the toughest men I ever knew”), inspired his interest in the military. But when he became an actor, he took the name O’Brian — from his mother’s side of the family, he said — because he found it less vulnerable than Krampe to unfortunate misspellings.
Like those of the real-life Wyatt Earp, Mr. O’Brian’s accomplishments could be burnished over time, sometimes by himself. He claimed, for instance, to have been, at 17, the youngest drill instructor in Marine Corps history. (The Marine Corps does not track such statistics.)
A bachelor for most of his life, Mr. O’Brian married his longtime companion, Virginia Barber, in 2006. To symbolize that this would be not just his first wedding but also his last, he held the ceremony at a cemetery, Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, Calif.
In addition to his wife, Mr. O’Brian is survived by his brother, Don Krampe, a co-founder of his foundation and an unsuccessful Republican candidate for Senate in this year’s California primary.
When Mr. O’Brian was interviewed by The New York Times in 2010, he spoke most passionately not about his career but about his philanthropic work.
“I care first and foremost very, very much about this country,” he said, “and everything I’ve done in that area is trying to put something back into this country.”