The actor playing The Last Edition‘s Chief of Police, Daniel O’Brien was well prepared for the role, having served the previous five years as the actual Chief of Police of San Francisco. A native of the city, O’Brien and his family were made homeless as a result of the earthquake of 1906, and lived temporarily in the refugee camps set up around the city. O’Brien was to join the San Francisco Police Force in 1908, and had risen to Chief of Police by 1920. He held this position until 1928, dying in 1933 at the age of 58. During this time Chief O’Brien was to act as a city ambassador, greeting celebrity visitors upon their arrival in San Francisco.
Mayor of San Francisco James Rolph and Chief O’Brien welcoming movie icon Rudolph Valentino to San Francisco (image courtesy of Donna Hill)
O’Brien’s time as Chief of Police coincides with two significant events in the history of San Franciscan policing. The first was the scandal surrounding the death in 1921 of Virginia Rappe, following a party hosted by Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, the resulting furor and court cases effectively ending the comic actor’s career. The second was the founding of the United States’ first Police Academy in 1923. Fourteen weeks of attendance was mandatory for each recruit. In addition to the instruction in handling weapons and physical drills, each new member of the force was taught to sing, for, as O’Brien himself described “the purpose of inculcating poise in the recruit”, stating that
Like the actor on the stage, they learn to appear before audiences without nervousness, and when confronted with a police problem they are able to step into the breach and handle the situation as it should be handled forgetting entirely or ignoring the crowd or audience before whom their little drama is being enacted.
O’Brien’s eldest son George enjoyed an extensive and successful career in film, with notable appearances in the Academy Award winning Sunrise (1927) and in a string of John Ford directed Westerns. He also worked with Ford on the director’s film for the US Navy about the bombing of Pearl Harbor, December 7th (1943).
(Left)Daniel O’Brien with Rex Lease in a scene from The Last Edition. Note the prominent publicity shots of George O’Brien displayed on the Chief’s office wall. (Right) George O’Brien with Dolores Costello in Noah’s Ark (1928)