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Walter Brennan

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Subject: Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, Frank Sinatra, Jack Nicholson, List of American films of 1936, A Stolen Life (1946 film)
Collection: 1894 Births, 1974 Deaths, 20Th-Century American Male Actors, 20Th-Century American Singers, American Anti-Communists, American Country Singers, American Country Singer-Songwriters, American Male Film Actors, American Male Silent Film Actors, American Male Television Actors, American People of Irish Descent, American Roman Catholics, Best Supporting Actor Academy Award Winners, Burials at San Fernando Mission Cemetery, California Republicans, Deaths from Emphysema, Dot Records Artists, Liberty Records Artists, Male Actors from Cambridge, Massachusetts, Male Actors from Oxnard, California, Male Western (Genre) Film Actors, People from Malden, Massachusetts, People from Moorpark, California, People from Swampscott, Massachusetts, People from Wallowa County, Oregon, United States Army Soldiers, Vaudeville Performers
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Walter Brennan

Walter Brennan
Brennan in a publicity photo, 1958
Born Walter Andrew Brennan
(1894-07-25)July 25, 1894
Lynn, Massachusetts, U.S.
Died September 21, 1974(1974-09-21) (aged 80)
Oxnard, California, U.S.
Cause of death Emphysema
Resting place San Fernando Mission Cemetery
Nationality American
Alma mater Rindge Technical High School
Occupation Actor
Years active 1925–1974
Political party Republican[1]
Spouse(s) Ruth Wells
(m. 1920–1974; his death)
Children Andrew, Ruth, and Arthur

Walter Andrew Brennan (July 25, 1894 – September 21, 1974) was an American actor.[2] Brennan is one of three men to win three acting Oscars (the other two being Jack Nicholson and Daniel Day-Lewis), having won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1936, 1938 and 1940.


  • Early life 1
  • Career 2
  • Legacy 3
  • Private life 4
  • Death 5
  • Discography 6
    • Albums 6.1
    • Singles 6.2
  • Academy Awards 7
  • Filmography 8
  • Television 9
  • References 10
  • External links 11

Early life

Walter Andrew Brennan was born in Lynn, Massachusetts, less than two miles from his family's home in Swampscott.[3] He was the second of three children born to Irish immigrants William John Brennan and Margaret Elizabeth Flanagan. The elder Brennan was an engineer and inventor and young Walter studied engineering at Rindge Technical High School in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

While in school, Brennan became interested in acting and began to perform in vaudeville at the age of fifteen. While working as a bank clerk, he enlisted in the United States Army and served as a private with the 101st Field Artillery Regiment in France during World War I.[3][4] Following the war, he moved to Guatemala and raised pineapples before settling in Los Angeles, California. During the 1920s, he made a fortune in the real estate market, but he lost most of his money during the Great Depression.


Finding himself broke, he began taking extra parts in 1925 and then bit parts in as many films as he could, including Texas Cyclone and Two Fisted Law with another newcomer to Hollywood, John Wayne. Brennan also had bit parts in The Invisible Man (1933), the Three Stooges short Woman Haters (1934), and Bride of Frankenstein (1935), in which he enjoyed a brief speaking part, and also worked as a stunt man. In the 1930s, he began appearing in higher-quality films and received more substantial roles as his talent was recognized. This culminated with his receiving the very first Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Swan Bostrom in the period film Come and Get It (1936). Two years later he portrayed town drunk and accused murderer Muff Potter in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

Throughout his career, Brennan was frequently called upon to play characters considerably older than he was in real life. The loss of many teeth in a 1932 accident, rapidly thinning hair, thin build, and unusual vocal intonations all made him seem older than he really was. He used these features to great effect. In many of his film roles, Brennan wore dentures; in Northwest Passage — a film set in the late 18th century—he wore a special dental prosthesis which made him appear to have rotting and broken teeth.

For director Jean Renoir's first American film, Brennan played the top-billed lead in Swamp Water (1941), a drama also featuring Walter Huston and starring Dana Andrews.

In Sergeant York (also 1941), he played a sympathetic preacher and dry goods store owner who advised the title character, played by Gary Cooper. Brennan and Cooper appeared in six films together. In 1942 he played reporter Sam Blake who befriended and encouraged Lou Gehrig (also played by Cooper) in Pride of the Yankees. He was particularly skilled in playing the sidekick to the protagonist or as the "grumpy old man" in films like To Have and Have Not (1944), the Humphrey Bogart vehicle which introduced Lauren Bacall. Though he was hardly ever cast as the villain, notable exceptions were his roles as Judge Roy Bean in The Westerner (1940) with Gary Cooper, for which he won his third best supporting actor Academy Award, 'Old Man' Clanton in My Darling Clementine (1946) opposite Henry Fonda, and the murderous Colonel Jeb Hawkins in the James Stewart episode of the Cinerama production, How the West Was Won (1962).

From 1957–1963, he starred in the ABC television series The Real McCoys, a situation comedy about a poor West Virginia family that relocated to a farm in southern California. After five years on ABC, The Real McCoys switched to CBS for a final season. Brennan joined with the series creator, Irving Pincus, to form Brennan-Westgate Productions. The series was co-produced with Danny Thomas's Marterto Productions, and also featured Richard Crenna, Kathleen Nolan, Lydia Reed, and Michael Winkelman.

Brennan appeared in several other movies and television programs, usually as an eccentric "old timer" or "prospector". Prior to the launching of The Real McCoys, Brennan appeared as himself as a musical judge in the 1953-1954 ABC series Jukebox Jury. On May 30, 1957, he guest starred on NBC's The Ford Show, Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford.[5] He also made a few recordings, the most popular being "Old Rivers" about an eccentric but much-beloved farmer; it was released as a single in 1962 by Liberty Records with "The Epic Ride Of John H. Glenn" on the flip side, and peaked at number 5 in the U.S. Billboard charts. In his music, Brennan sometimes worked with Allen "Puddler" Harris, a Louisiana native who was a member of the original Ricky Nelson Band. He appeared as an extremely cantankerous sidekick with John Wayne and Dean Martin in Howard Hawks' 1959 western Rio Bravo and also co-starred with James Garner a decade later in Support Your Local Sheriff!, playing the ruthless head of the villainous Danby Family.

Brennan in the trailer of Rio Bravo

Brennan starred as wealthy executive Walter Andrews, derived from his real name, in the short-lived 1964–1965 ABC series The Tycoon, with Van Williams. In 1967, he starred in another ABC series, The Guns of Will Sonnett as an older man in search of his gunfighter son, James Sonnett, with his grandson, Jeff, played by Dack Rambo. After the series went off the air in 1969, Brennan continued working in both television and feature films. He received top billing over Pat O'Brien in the TV-movie The Over-the-Hill Gang (1969) and Fred Astaire in The Over-the-Hill Gang Rides Again the following year. From 1970 to 1971, he was a regular on the CBS sitcom To Rome with Love, with John Forsythe. This was Brennan's last television program as a member of the permanent cast.


Film historians and critics have long regarded Brennan as one of the finest character actors in motion picture history. While the roles he was adept at playing were extremely diverse, he is probably best remembered for his portrayals in movie westerns, such as Judge Roy Bean in The Westerner, trail hand Nadine Groot in Red River and Deputy Stumpy in Rio Bravo, the last two directed by Howard Hawks. He was the first actor to win three Academy Awards and remains the only person to have won three Best Supporting Actor awards. However, even he remained somewhat embarrassed as to how he won the awards. In the early years of the Academy Awards, extras were given the right to vote. Brennan was popular with the Union of Film Extras, and since their numbers were overwhelming, he won each time he was nominated. His third win led to the disenfranchisement of the Extras Union from Oscar voting.

In all, he would appear in more than 230 film and television roles during a career that spanned nearly five decades. For his contributions to the television industry, Walter Brennan has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6501 Hollywood Blvd. In 1970, he was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, where his photograph hangs prominently.

Private life

Brennan was married to the former Ruth Wells (December 8, 1897 – January 12, 1997),[6] whom he married in 1920. The Brennans had a daughter, Ruth Caroline, and two sons, Arthur 'Mike' and Andy.

Brennan bought the 12,000-acre Lightning Creek Ranch 20 miles south of Joseph, Oregon, in 1940. Brennan built the Indian Lodge Motel, a movie theater and a variety store in Joseph, and continued going there between film roles until his death in 1974 at age 80. Some of Brennan's family continue to live in the area.

Brennan was politically conservative. In 1963 and 1964, Brennan joined fellow actors William Lundigan, Chill Wills, and Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. in making appearances on behalf of U.S. Senator Barry M. Goldwater, the Republican nominee in the campaign against U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson.[7]

In 1964, Brennan spoke at "Project Prayer" rally attended by 2,500 at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California. The gathering, which was hosted by Anthony Eisley, a star of the former Hawaiian Eye series on ABC, sought to flood the United States Congress with letters in support of school prayer, following two decisions in 1962 and 1963 of the United States Supreme Court which struck down the practice of enforced prayer in public schools as in conflict with the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.[8]

Joining Brennan and Eisley at the rally were Rhonda Fleming, Lloyd Nolan, Dale Evans, Pat Boone, and Gloria Swanson. Brennan, a Roman Catholic, did not publicize his own religious affiliation, declared, "I'm too old not to be a religious fella. ... It appears we are losing something a lot of people made a lot of sacrifices for."[8]

During the 1960s he became convinced that the anti-war and civil rights movements were being aided by overseas Communists from Soviet Union through their support of local, homegrown communist sympathizers and agitators, and said as much in interviews.[9] He told reporters that he believed the civil rights movement—in particular, the riots in places like Watts and Newark and demonstrations in Birmingham, Alabama—had been the result of otherwise content "Negroes" being stirred up by a small number of "troublemakers" with anti-American agendas.[9] He reportedly expressed glee on the set of his final series The Guns of Will Sonnett upon hearing the news that Martin Luther King, Jr., had been assassinated.[10] In 1972, he supported the presidential campaign of conservative California Congressman John Schmitz over that of Richard Nixon, whom he believed was too moderate.[11]


Grave of Walter Brennan at San Fernando Mission Cemetery

Upon his death from emphysema at the age of 80 in Oxnard in Ventura County,[12] Brennan's remains were interred at San Fernando Mission Cemetery in Los Angeles.



Year Album US Label
1960 Dutchman's Gold Dot
1962 Old Rivers 54 Liberty


Year Single Chart Positions Album
US US AC US Country
1960 "Dutchman's Gold" 30 Dutchman's Gold
1962 "Old Rivers" 5 2 3 Old Rivers
1962 "Houdini" 100 Mama Sang A Song
1962 "Mama Sang A Song" 38 14 Mama Sang A Song

Academy Awards

Year Award Film Result
1936 Best Supporting Actor Come and Get It Won
1938 Best Supporting Actor Kentucky Won
1940 Best Supporting Actor The Westerner Won
1941 Best Supporting Actor Sergeant York Nominated




  1. ^ "The Republicans of Classic Hollywood". Retrieved 2013-02-10. 
  2. ^ Obituary Variety, September 25, 1974.
  3. ^ a b World War I Draft Records, Essex County, Massachusetts; Roll: 1684678; Draft Board: 24.
  4. ^ WALTER BRENNAN PAPERS, 1895-1974, Donald C. & Elizabeth M. Dickinson Research Center, National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum
  5. ^ "The Ford Show, Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford". Retrieved November 25, 2010. 
  6. ^ "Social Security Death Index". ssdi.rootsweb.ancestry. Retrieved 2009-10-26. 
  7. ^ "The Impact of the Draft Goldwater Committee on the Republican Party". Archived from the original on 2001-03-03. Retrieved 2013-08-24. 
  8. ^ a b The Washington Merry-Go-Round", Drew Pearson column, May 14, 1964""" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-02-10. 
  9. ^ a b Eder, Bruce (2015). "Walter Brennan: Biography". All Movie. Retrieved April 15, 2015. 
  10. ^
  11. ^ "Walter Brennan". Turner Classic Movies. Turner Entertainment Networks, Inc. 2015. Retrieved April 15, 2015. 
  12. ^ Chawkins, Steve (October 8, 1999) "Camarillo Decides on the 'Real McCoy'" Los Angeles Times
  13. ^ Comcast-Encore Western Channel

External links

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