(Courtesy of Bruce Hickey)
|David 'Dave' 'Tex' O'Brien|
David Poole Fronabarger
1912 - 1969
Above is a crop from a March, 1942 Abilene, Texas theater ad for "Local Boy Stars! Starring Dave O'Brien of Abilene".
Above is a crop from a December, 1945 Abilene, Texas theater ad for "Abilene's own Dave O'Brien (Dave Fronabarger)".
(Courtesy of Ed Tabor)
Daughters Patty/Patricia Barclay (born June, 1942) and Pam/Pamela Barclay (born May, 1945) were from O'Brien's marriage to actress Dorothy Short.
In 1954, Dave married 19 year old Nancy Lee Lister, the daughter of the Santa Monica, California harbormaster, and they had three children.
|BRADY BUNCH and GILLIGAN'S ISLAND creator Sherwood Schwartz remembers his friend Dave O'Brien. Click HERE.|
Texan Dave O'Brien was a multi-talented performer who began work as a 'hoofer' in early 1930s musicals and then moved on to bit parts, supporting roles, stuntwork and leads.
David Fronabarger was born May 31, 1912 and his parents were Mike and Edith Fronabarger of Big Spring, Texas. Several newspaper articles and interviews with O'Brien and his dad, Mike Fronabarger, provide some details on Dave's early years: Father Mike moved to Austin, Texas after his divorce, and in 1922, founded the Abilene Boiler Works. In the late 1920s, young Dave was in California, initially working as a welder followed by a drug store job. However, he soon became fascinated with the movie business and his first film was a 1929 Eddie Lambert short. He also was a band singer and appeared in the play "Love Chiselers". David P. Fronabarger is listed in the 1928 Abilene City Directory and working at his father's Abilene Boiler Works. There are several newspaper mentions of Dave's ties to Abilene and a couple of theater ads are shown on the right - note the "Abilene's own Dave O'Brien (Dave Fronabarger)" and "Local Boy Stars!".
One of Dave's early roles was in 42ND STREET (Warners, 1933). About half way into the movie, Bebe Daniels (reclining on a piano) finishes singing "You're Getting To Be A Habit With Me". Then the male and female chorus line does a number. Look quick and you'll spot Dave in the front row. Later, four guys are dancing with Bebe to the same tune and O'Brien is one of the dancers. And no one can forget Dave's portrayal of poor ol' "Ralph" who succumbs to weed in the dreadful REEFER MADNESS (1936; original title was TELL YOUR CHILDREN).
As the decade progressed, he played baddies, the maligned brother of the heroine, etc. Working his way up the Hollywood B film ladder, Dave occasionally landed a role as the second lead, and examples include the Renfrew of the Royal Mounted series with James Newill and the short-lived Dorothy Page "singing cowgirl" westerns.
And he also did serials. Dave - along with Ralph Graves and Tom Mix's daughter Ruth - were the heroes in THE BLACK COIN (Stage & Screen, 1936) chapterplay. And he was Warren Hull's assistant in the 15 chapter THE SPIDER RETURNS (Columbia, 1941).
In the early 1940s, O'Brien was frequently employed in Monogram's East Side Kids series, appearing in a half dozen releases: EAST SIDE KIDS (Monogram, 1940), BOYS OF THE CITY (Monogram, 1940), THAT GANG OF MINE (Monogram, 1940), FLYING WILD (Monogram, 1941), SPOOKS RUN WILD (Monogram, 1941), and 'NEATH BROOKLYN BRIDGE (Monogram, 1942). He did several low budget Monogram and PRC flicks with fading horror movie star Bela Lugosi: THE DEVIL BAT (PRC, 1940), the East Side Kids' SPOOKS RUN WILD (Monogram, 1941) and BOWERY AT MIDNIGHT (Monogram, 1942). During that same period, he was in a few westerns and examples include the Bob Steele and Buster Crabbe 'Billy the Kid' series at Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC) and Monogram's Rough Riders with Tim McCoy, Buck Jones and Raymond Hatton.
His luck changed when he landed the lead in the CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT (Columbia, 1942) serial. That was followed by a starring role in the Texas Rangers trio westerns at Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC). He appeared in all twenty-two of the Rangers' films which were released from 1942-1945. The first fourteen had singer James Newill as his partner, and Tex Ritter came in as Newill's replacement for the final eight. Tall stringbean Guy Wilkerson was the third member. Must have been kind of a reunion - O'Brien had worked with Newill earlier in the Renfrew yarns at Grand National and Monogram. And Wilkerson played sidekick "Ichabod Mudd" in CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT. Newill and O'Brien also wrote some tunes in the Texas Rangers, and there's a list on a later webpage. And there's more about the Texas Rangers series, Jim/James Newill, and Tex Ritter on the Old Corral.
For those who appreciate Republic serial heroine Kay Aldridge, she and Dave co-starred in a pair at PRC: THE MAN WHO WALKED ALONE (PRC, 1945) and THE PHANTOM OF 42ND STREET (PRC, 1945). PHANTOM was Kay's last movie role.
O'Brien became a major force in the Pete Smith comedy/novelty shorts at MGM, doing writing, directing, and starring in many. He frequently portrayed helpless/hapless handymen and husbands and utilized his stuntman skills in scores of slips, trips, flops and falls. MOVIE PESTS is a personal favorite in which Dave plays a bumbling, fumbling and inconsiderate patron at a movie theater ... and one of the gags involves having his foot out in the aisle. When the Pete Smith series ended in 1955, the final entry was THE FALL GUY, a compilation of O'Brien's best stunts.
He did occasional film jobs in the 1950s, and an example is his portrayal of "Ralph, the stage manager" in the Howard Keel/Kathryn Grayson musical KISS ME KATE (MGM, 1953).
O'Brien carried his Pete Smith comedy into early TV. Many years ago, Warren 'Buzz' De Blois alerted me about an unsold television pilot called MEET THE O'BRIENS (which can be viewed on YouTube and the Internet Archive - links on a later webpage). This was a Roland Reed Production with Dave in the lead ... and as David Barclay, he produced and co-wrote the script. The plot synopsis reads:
MEET THE O'BRIENS: Unsold pilot, produced in 1954. Dave, an accident-prone young man and his wife, share a house with her parents. After wrecking his in-law's car, Dave goes to pick up the insurance money, but on the way home he gets conned into buying a car from a nice little old lady from Pasadena. Starring Dave O'Brien, Jeff Donnell.
In the mid 1950s, he joined the writing team on the Red Skelton CBS TV show, and the group won a 1961 Emmy award for their comedy sketches on the 1960-1961 season. That Emmy is credited to: Sherwood Schwartz, Dave O'Brien, Al Schwartz, Martin Ragaway and Red Skelton. Be sure to read Sherwood Schwartz's remembrances of Dave O'Brien and the Red Skelton TV show (link at the top of this page).
O'Brien met B film actress Dorothy Short in the mid 1930s when they had major and minor parts in several movies. Both had prominent roles in the infamous exploitation cheapie REEFER MADNESS (1936) and they worked together in a couple dozen films including Columbia's 1942 CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT chapterplay and many of the MGM Pete Smith shorts. He and Dorothy married in late April, 1936 in Santa Barbara, California. They had two daughters. Their first child, daughter Patricia Barclay, was born in June, 1942, and Dorothy was pregnant during the filming of the CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT chapterplay which was released in February, 1942. Their marriage ended in a rather messy and publicized 1953 divorce, and the reason for the breakup was that O'Brien's priorities were his yacht and sailing. In 1954, O'Brien married 19 year old Nancy Lee Lister, the daughter of the Santa Monica, California harbormaster. He and Nancy had three children.
And for those who remember, the answer is "yes" - O'Brien did have thinning hair and wore a toupee. And that hairpiece became part of the storyline in at least one of the Pete Smith specialties. Need a hint - remember the Smith short where a bumblebee crawls under O'Brien's toupee? He also had flopping hairpiece issues in the PRC Texas Rangers series. In BOSS OF RAWHIDE (PRC, 1943), O'Brien has a saloon brawl with Jack Ingram. At about 53 minutes into the film, you can spot his hairpiece slipping upwards and revealing a bald spot on the back of his head.
Loving the sea and sailing his yacht, the White Cloud, O'Brien passed away from a heart attack on November 8, 1969 during a yacht race near Catalina.
O'Brien's film and TV career spanned 35+ years. Les Adams has him identified in over 225 sound films: 74 westerns, 8 serials, 72 other films and 77 shorts.
During his movie and TV years, O'Brien used several name variations. He was David O'Brien, Dave O'Brien, Tex O'Brien, Dave 'Tex' O'Brien ... and David Barclay. Some claim the Barclay name was first utilized when he began his script/screen writing in the mid 1940s. That is incorrect. Dave listed himself as David Barclay in the 1936 Standard Casting Directory. He and Dorothy Short were David and Dorothy Fronabarger in the 1938 Los Angeles Voter Registration, but when the 1940 census was taken, they had become Mr. and Mrs. David Barclay.
Though many of us recall PRC's Texas Rangers westerns, Dave O'Brien is probably best remembered as the star of the CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT cliffhanger and for his work in the Pete Smith MGM comedy shorts and Red Skelton television program.
(Courtesy of Jack Tillmany)
|Biographies on Dave O'Brien indicate that his use of the David Barclay name began in the mid 1940s when he started doing script writing for the MGM Pete Smith shorts.|
Not so! On the left is David Barclay from the July, 1936 edition of the Standard Casting Directory (and he was about 24 years of age when that photo was taken).
He and Dorothy Short were Mr. and Mrs. David Barclay for the 1940 census. And their two daughters had the Barclay name.
Was there an official/legal name change to Barclay? I haven't found anything.
Why the name change to David Barclay? Conjecture: perhaps he wanted to recreate himself as the more formal, upscale sounding David Barclay ... and distance himself from his Dave O'Brien days as a chorus line hoofer, REEFER MADNESS star, and B film actor.
Above - screen captures of Dorothy Short (as the ill-fated "Mary") and Dave O'Brien (as "Ralph") from the public domain REEFER MADNESS (1936; original title was TELL YOUR CHILDREN). A wild, over-the-top performance by O'Brien includes the scene where he's bug-eyed, surrounded by clouds of smoke, and utters the immortal lines "Faster! Play it faster! Faster!" to the gal on the piano.
(Courtesy of Jack Tillmany)
About Dorothy Short
Left is actress Dorothy Short (1914 or 1915 - 1963), Dave O'Brien's first wife. They married April 26, 1936 in Santa Barbara, California.
|After about a year, MGM opted not to renew her contract. She then free-lanced, and you can spot her as the female lead in REEFER MADNESS, in cliffhangers CALL OF THE SAVAGE (Universal, 1935) and CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT (Columbia, 1942), and oaters with Tom Tyler, Tim McCoy, Tex Ritter, Jack Randall, Johnny Mack Brown, Ken Maynard, Bill Elliott, and the Range Busters. Later, she and hubby Dave O'Brien did many of the Pete Smith comedy shorts at MGM. They divorced in 1953.|
Dorothy was born in Philadelphia. Her grandfather David Short and father Harold V. Short owned and operated the West Electric Hair Curler Corporation in Philadelphia. The 1920 census has 5 year old Dorothy, father Harold, mother Marie and younger sister Madeline living at 30 Pelham Road in Philadelphia. This was the home of her grand parents David Short and wife Sadie. Also residing there were Dorothy's aunt Ethel Short Jackson, her husband Clyde Jackson, a couple of servants, and a chauffeur.
Death certificate on 48 year old Dorothy Short Barclay - she was born June 29, 1914 in New Jersey to Harold Short and Marie Brunet. Was divorced; home address was 11805 Jefferson Boulevard, Los Angeles; and the death certificate informant was her sister Madeleine Phillips. She passed away on June 4, 1963 at the Los Angeles County General Hospital and cause of death was an duodenal ulcer and upper GI hemorrhage, and other medical conditions included Laennec's cirrhosis and ascites. Funeral director was Utter-McKinley and burial at Inglewood Memorial Park.
Find A Grave confirms that Dorothy Short Barclay is interred at Inglewood Park Cemetery, Inglewood, California. Has her with a 1914 birth date: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/114727309/dorothy-short
Phil Cohen has more on Dorothy Short on his blog: http://www.dvrbs.com/people/CamdenShowbiz-DorothyShort.htm
The Google Newspaper archive has a photo and caption of Dorothy Short as the MGM talent contest winner in 1933: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=jkoxAAAAIBAJ&sjid=fOQFAAAAIBAJ&pg=738%2C4803608