Starkey Hearing Foundation's Great American Awards Gala
HH/Beck: Good Morning Mr. O'Brian
O'Brian: Good Morning Dr. Beck.
HH/Beck: Its a pleasure to meet you. I used to watch your show when I was a little boy. What year did the Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp start?
O'Brian: It started in 1955.
HH/Beck: That was the year I was born, so I guess I mustve seen the reruns! How many years was the show on the air?
O'Brian: The show ran for somesix and a half years, and I believe we had 248 episodes.
HH/Beck: Thats incredible! Well, again, thanks for your time this morning. I hate to do it, but I really need to switch gears. Would you please tell me a little about your hearing loss, and your experience with hearing aids?
O'Brian: Wyatt Earp was a fun show to do, and a big part of my life. However, I developed a hearing problem due to the show and I didnt do anything about it for many, many years. In film, TV or motion pictures, when you shoot off guns and explosions they involve what they called quarter loads, which is one quarter of a full 45 shot. And it was enough of a pop that the gun went off and there was smoke coming out. So the quarter load made it look, feel and sound somewhat realistic. Sometimes, they even dubbed in additional sound later. But I was a stickler for authenticity and I wanted to make the show as realistic as possible. I insisted on using full loads, so for the Wyatt Earp show, it was a full 45 going off! Of course, that made the gunfire pretty realistic, but it also impacted my hearing, and thats when the trouble started.
HH/Beck: I guess we should point out that gunfire in a TV western is not a once a day event. Seems to me like theres a good chance you could be firing those weapons many dozens of times daily?
O'Brian: Oh sure. We easily did, on the average, maybe 100 rounds of ammunition a day for each episode over a period of years and I gradually blew out my hearing. Thankfully, the crew and everyone behind the camera wore ear muffs. I started to develop a hearing problem, and it really didnt bother me that much until the 1960s. But I did an awful lot of action films and action television shows. And my hearing just went downhill until it was almost impossible to hear people talking.
HH/Beck: And at that point, late in the 1960s, you went to see Dr Howard House in Los Angeles.
O'Brian: Yes. I went to see Howard House for the first time and Howard became a dear friend and a big help to me. I had my first set of hearing aids in 1968 or maybe 1969. Over the years, as the hearing aids improved, I was able to get more and more out of them.
HH/Beck: So youve been wearing hearing aids from the early days of analog technology and some fairly large units, all the way into the digital age with the really small completely-in-the canal models?
O'Brian: Yes. Ive seen lots of improvements in hearing aids over the years, and thats been great because I do have to wear them! I mean I do have a hearing problem, and the hearing aids dont bother me at all.
HH/Beck: Do you wear one or two hearing aids?
O'Brian: Usually I just wear one if Im going about my day-to-day routine. However, If Im in a board meeting,or an important event where I really need to hear accurately the first time, and that happens a lot that, then I usually wear two.
HH/Beck: Very good. Mr. O'Brian, I know that you have an amazing organization called the Hugh O'Brian Youth Leadership (HOBY). I wonder if you can tell me a little about that?
O'Brian: Sure. The HOBY is to help youngsters become leaders. We work on leadership development, personal growth, and management. We believe we can enhance students', parents', and volunteers' experience through the HOBY Leadership Development Seminars. And we have leadership development programs for high school sophomores, 10th graders. I get them when theyre 15 years old and the first kids we worked with are about 60 now, so they're doing pretty well. We work with kids in 15,000 high schools a year. We have 90 locations around the United States, China, Canada, Mexico, and Israel that work with the program. I visit as many sites as I can each spring and I think that comes close to the fountain of youth for me - by working with these young people, they keep me young.
HH/Beck: Where does the funding come from to support the HOBY?
O'Brian: We have an annual fundraising dinner in Los Angeles and also one in New York to support the Albert Schweitzer Leadership Awards. Dr. Beck, next time you meet with Bill Austin at Starkey, youll see one of those Schweitzer Awards on his desk at Starkey Hearing Instruments in Minneapolis. He received that from us in March, 2002. Some very famous world leaders have received it, including Gorbachev, President Reagan, President Bush and many others, so Bills in good company!
HH/Beck: Why did you name the award the Albert Schweitzer award?
O'Brian: We call it the Albert Schweitzer Leadership Award, because in 1958 at the height of the Wyatt Earp series, I had the privilege of spending nine days with Schweitzer at this clinic in Africa. That was before the age of commercial jets, it took me 48 hours to get back to Los Angeles. So I had a lot of time to think and I decided to do something important and useful with young people.
HH/Beck: It seems like you made the right decision.
O'Brian: Well, it has turned out to be a very, meaningful program, which is the most important thing. A little over 300,000 young people have gone through the program and many of them are politically oriented. We have an average of about 200 of our guys on Capital Hill and another 20 at the White House and we have a little over 300 in the State Department. The Governor of Arkansas is one of my kids! Its been great on so many levels, because my volunteers who make the program work are really putting their arms and hearts around the future leadership of this country.
HH/Beck: I know this is a little rude, but I think lots of people are hoping Ill ask ... Can I ask how old you are?
O'Brian: Im 79 years old.
HH/Beck: What else do you do to stay in shape?
O'Brian: I have a very, very active lady that I live with.
HH/Beck: Im going to stay away from that! However, I would like to encourage people to visit your website to learn more about the HOBY. The address for the website is: http://www.hoby.org/
O'Brian: Thanks for mentioning that, I appreciate it!
HH/Beck: Thank you too Mr. O'Brian. It has been a pleasure spending a few moments with you.
To visit the Starkey website www.starkey.com
Starkey Hearing Foundation's Great American Awards Gala