Classic Movie Hub (CMH)


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Walter Brennan

Walter Brennan

"The Real McCoys" (1957) was such a hit that John Wayne's production company, Batjac, was persuaded to release a previously shelved film, William A. Wellman's Good-bye, My Lady (1956), about a boy, an old man, and a dog, during the show's run.

Actively supported Ronald Reagan's campaign to become Governor of California in 1966.

After his military service during World War I, Brennan moved to Los Angeles, where he got involved in the real-estate market and made a fortune. Unfortunately the market took a sudden downturn and Brennan lost almost all of his money. Broke, he began taking bit parts in films in order to earn money, and his career progressed from there.

Always fiscally and ideologically conservative, he became politically active in later life when he saw many of the things he held dear being eroded by the counterculture movement. He supported George Wallace's presidential campaign in 1968 and in 1972 supported extreme right-wing Republican Representative John Schmitz (father of Mary Kay Letourneau), as the incumbent President Richard Nixon was viewed as too progressive by many Republicans.

Brennan had already worked in vaudeville when he enlisted at age 22 to serve in World War I. He served in an artillery unit and although he got through the war without being wounded, his exposure to poison gas ruined his vocal chords, leaving him with the high-pitched voice texture that made him a natural for old man roles while still in his thirties.



Campaigned for Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential election, after the senator had voted against the Civil Rights Act.

Daughter: Ruth Brennan

Director Howard Hawks had related the story that, after completing Red River (1948), he was approached by an actor but couldn't quite place the face. The actor removed his teeth and said, "Do you recognize me now?" Hawks immediately recognized him as Brennan.

During the 1960s he was convinced that the anti-war and civil rights movements were being run by overseas Communists - and said as much in interviews. 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, were the result of perfectly content "Negroes" being stirred up by a handful of "troublemakers" with an anti-American agenda. Those on the set of his last series, "The Guns of Will Sonnett" (1967) - in which he played the surprisingly complex role of an ex-army scout trying to undo the damage caused by his being a mostly absentee father - said that he cackled with delight upon learning of the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, and several crew members recalled how he actually danced a spontaneous jig when he heard of King's murder.

First actor to accumulate three Academy Awards and to date still the only actor to win three Oscars as Best Supporting Actor.

Had four top 100 singles, including the Top 5 hit "Old Rivers" (Liberty Records) which first charted on April 7, 1962. The single spent 11 weeks on the Billboard charts and peaked at number 5.

Hardly ever played the villain, usually being cast as the somewhat eccentric pal to the hero. An exception was his turn as the heartless Old Man Clanton in My Darling Clementine (1946), directed by the prickly John Ford. Ford and Brennan did not get along, and Ford was one of the few directors Brennan didn't collaborate with more than once throughout his career.

He did not have his signature southern, "old coot"-style accent associated with him in real-life, due to being born and raised in Massachusetts.

He was offered the lead role in Herbie Rides Again (1974), but was too ill with emphysema to act. The script was then rewritten for actress, Helen Hayes, as Grandma Steinmetz. If he was not ill and near death, the movie's original role had him picked to be Grandpa Steinmetz. He lost his life, just three and a half months after the movie was theatrically released, on June 6, 1974, in U. S. A.

He won the first ever Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Come and Get It (1936).

His relatives still live in and around Joseph, Oregon where the actor maintained a functioning ranch.

In 1925 Gary Cooper befriended another young, struggling, would-be actor named Walter Brennan. At one point, they were even appearing as a team at casting offices, and although Cooper emerged in major and leading roles first, they would work together in the good years, too. Most memorably they starred in The Westerner (1940) together, where the general critical consensus was that Brennan's underplayed performance as Judge Roy Bean had stolen the film from Cooper.

Inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in 1970.

Interred at San Fernando Mission Cemetery, San Fernando, Los Angeles County, California, USA

Owned a ranch and several businesses in Joseph, Oregon, including the Indian Lodge Motel which still displays several of his portraits in the office.

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