Edmond O’Brien: Happy 100th Birthday!

Actor Edmond O’Brien was born Redmond O’Brien—really? They couldn’t let him keep the R?—in New York City one hundred years ago today.

O’Brien played a wide range of roles on Broadway, on radio and television, and in the movies, but he’s perhaps best remembered for his work in film noir, especially his role in one of the classics of that genre, D.O.A. (1950). In that picture, O’Brien plays Frank Bigelow, a man who, having learned he is not so slowly dying after being poisoned, sets out to track down his murderer.

Some years ago, we made one of our periodic pilgrimages to Los Angeles, where we always like to track down film locations for our favorite pictures. On this trip, one of our stops was at the Bradbury Building, a classic structure in downtown L.A. that has appeared in countless motion pictures and television programs.

In a key scene in D.O.A., Frank Bigelow is in the Bradbury Building after hours, and he takes a rather extravagant spill there in the darkened lobby. It was mid-day when we visited the Bradbury, but we didn’t let that stop us. We took a spill of our own as a tribute to a great movie and a terrific actor, and didn’t let the skunk eye cast our way by the security guards in the lobby bother us.

Happy birthday, Mr. O’Brien. We’ll raise a toast to you today—a gimlet, with perhaps just a drop of “luminous toxin” in it for that extra kick.

Edmond O'Brien quote

A Brush with Film Noir

Stolen Identity movie posterFor our money, the world would be better off if every day had a touch of film noir to it. So when a skin screening at a new (to us) dermatologist’s office took a noir-ish twist, we couldn’t have been more pleased.

Allow us to explain.

The doctor in question is named Robert Buka. As we said, this was our first visit with him, so we knew little about him, but after being led to an examination room and changing into an open-front gown, we found ourselves with time to kill (45 minutes, to be precise) as we waited for Dr. Buka to appear.

After playing a couple of games of Yahtzee on our iPhone and checking in on Facebook, our eyes—and our attention—began to wander. And what should we come across on the exam room wall, but the very compelling movie poster pictured on the right.

Noticing an actor by the name of Donald Buka on the poster, we guessed that maybe a friend of the good doctor’s had noticed the name and gifted him with it. (If ever any of our friends came across an old movie poster with our last name in the credits, we hope they would do the same.)

But then we noticed a pair of framed black-and-white photos that didn’t look like typical snapshots—they might even be movie stills (we’re not sure of that), so we got to thinking it might be Donald Buka who was picture in those photos, which led us to wonder further: What if Donald Buka was a relative of Dr. Robert?

Picture of Donald Buka with unidentified gal   Picture of Donald Buka with unidentified gal

Turning again to our trusting iPhone, we looked up his name at IMDB.com, and sure enough, Donald had a nice long career, with extensive credits in 1950s and ’60s television. Donald appeared in at least three films noir: Stolen Identity (1953), The Street with No Name (1948), which also features such notables as Richard Widmark, Lloyd Nolan, Mark Stevens and Ed Begley, and Between Midnight and Dawn, with Stevens again, plus Edmond O’Brien and Gale Storm, among others. Though we’ve never seen Stolen Identity (we are now resolved to do so a.s.a.p.), we have seen The Street with No Name and Between Midnight and Dawn, and figured it might please Dr. Buka to know this if, in fact, Donald proved to be a relative.

The Street with No Name movie posterBetween Midnight and Dawn movie poster

When Dr. Buka made his entrance, the first thing we asked was about the poster and the photos, and sure enough, Donald was indeed his father. Dr. Buka seemed pleased that we asked and that we had seen a couple of his father’s movies.

Dr. Buka told us that his dad considered himself a serious actor and preferred the theater to movies or televsion, that he wasn’t all that proud of him accomplishments in those realms, but we beg to differ.

There’s no real point or big finish to this story; we just got a small kick out of the fact that our skin screening included a two-degree separation from a successful, if perhaps not quite famous, actor from the Cladrite Era. As we’ve admitted in this space before, it really takes so little to make us happy.