Dave O'Brien (actor)

Dave O'Brien (born David Poole Fronabarger,[2] May 31, 1912 – November 8, 1969) was an American film actor, director, and writer.

Dave O'Brien
O'Brien in Reefer Madness
David Poole Fronabarger

(1912-05-31)May 31, 1912
DiedNovember 8, 1969(1969-11-08) (aged 57)
Years active19301969
Spouse(s)Dorothy Short (1936-1954) (divorced) 2 children
Nancy O'Brien (1955-1969) (his death) 3 children
ChildrenPatricia Barclay Fronabarger (b. 1942)
Pamela Fronabarger (b. 1945)[1]


Born in Big Spring, Texas, O'Brien started his film career performing in choruses and working as a stunt double[2] before gradually winning larger roles, mostly in B pictures.

O'Brien was best known to movie audiences in the 1940s as the hero of the famous Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer comedy short film series Pete Smith Specialties narrated by Pete Smith. O'Brien wrote and directed many of these subjects under the name David Barclay. O'Brien also had a small dancing part with Bebe Daniels in the Busby Berkeley musical 42nd Street (1933).

He also appeared in many low-budget Westerns, often billed as "Tex" O'Brien, alluding to his home state. To modern audiences, he is most likely best to be remembered as a frantic dope addict in the 1936 low-budget exploitation film Tell Your Children (better known under its reissue title, Reefer Madness), yelling "Play it faster, play it faster!" to a piano-playing girl (Lillian Miles). He appeared in Queen of the Yukon (1940) as Bob Adams. In 1940, he appeared in The Devil Bat as part of a comedy team with Donald Kerr. They also appeared together in Son of the Navy (1940) and The Man Who Walked Alone (1945).

In 1942, O'Brien starred in the movie serial Captain Midnight, and had the lead role in the Western Brand of the Devil in 1944.

One of his later roles was in the MGM musical version of Kiss Me, Kate (1953), a rare featured role for the actor in an 'A' list big-budget production.

O'Brien married one of his co-stars of Reefer Madness, Dorothy Short, in 1936, but they divorced in 1954 after having two children. In 1955, he married Nancy O'Brien and had three more children. A very keen yachtsman and sailor, he died aged 57 of a heart attack aboard a 60-foot sloop named The White Cloud while competing in a yachting race off the California coast near Catalina Island.


As a writer for The Red Skelton Show, O'Brien shared an Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series in 1961 and shared a nomination for the same award in 1963.[3]

Selected filmography

Short subjects

Year Title Role Notes
1943 First Aid Crandall K. Krumb, the Husband
1944 Movie Pests Feet-in-the-Aisle-Pest Uncredited
1946 Treasures From Trash Alonzo T. Mousebrain Director and Screenplay Writer as David Barclay
1946 Sure Cures Xavier T. Schneckendorf Director and Screenplay Writer as David Barclay
1947 Have You Ever Wondered Main Character Director and Screenplay Writer as David Barclay
1948 Ice Aces Director as David Barclay
1949 Just Suppose The Dad Director as David Barclay
1950 Wrong Way Butch Wrong Way Butch Director as David Barclay
1952 I Love Children But... The Dad/Papa Schlemiel Director and Writer as David Barclay


  1. Anderson, Chuck. "Dave O'Brien". www.b-westerns.com.
  2. Freese, Gene Scott (2014). Hollywood Stunt Performers, 1910s–1970s: A Biographical Dictionary, 2d ed. McFarland. ISBN 9781476614700. Retrieved 28 October 2018.
  3. "Awards Search". EMMYS. The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Retrieved 28 October 2018.
  4. "Tell Your Children (1936) - Full Credits - TCM.com". Turner Classic Movies.
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