WWI veteran George O’Brien became a star in Hollywood with his breakout performance in John Ford’s silent film epic, The Iron Horse. Handsome and built like the top athlete he was, O’Brien appeared in 11 more Ford movies and 85 films altogether, a successful career punctuated by voluntary and selfless distinction in two more wars, WWII and Korea. O’Brien represented all that was best in Hollywood and in America, which perhaps explains why he is forgotten today by a different Hollywood and a different America.
George J. O’Brien came into the world in April 1899 in San Francisco. His father was Daniel J. O’Brien and his mother Margaret (née Donahue) O’Brien, both born into Irish immigrant families.
George was one day shy of his seventh birthday when, early on the morning of April 18, 1906, an earthquake unlike anything San Franciscans had ever experienced struck. George was hurled out of bed and landed on the floor 15 feet away. His mother looked out the window of their two-story brownstone house and exclaimed, “The street has burst open! People are running from their houses.”
The rumbling and quaking continued for some time, and then there was an eerie silence. By then the O’Briens were in the street, and their house was crumpling. With a low rumble, the quaking began again. Despite the danger, Dan ran back in to retrieve the...