Job Actor
Years active 1925-1974
Known for Veteran westerners; distinctive voice
Top Roles Peter Goodwin, Judge Roy Bean, Capt. Bounce of the Riverbird, Bicycle Owner, The Colonel
Top GenresDrama, Comedy, Romance, Western, Adventure, Action
Top TopicsBook-Based, Romance (Comic), Aviation
Top Collaborators (Producer), (Director), (Producer),
Shares birthday with Woody Strode, Arthur Lubin, Barbara Harris  see more..

Walter Brennan Overview:

Legendary character actor, Walter Brennan, was born Walter Andrew Brennan on Jul 25, 1894 in Swampscott, MA. Brennan appeared in over 235 shorts, film and television roles, many of which were uncredited during his early career. His best known films include Come and Get It, The Cowboy and the Lady, Kentucky, The Pride of the Yankees, The Westerner, Meet John Doe, To Have and Have Not, and My Darling Clementine. On television he is most famously known for his role as Grandpa Amos McCoy on The Real McCoys (1957-1963). Brennan died at the age of 80 on Sep 21, 1974 in Oxnard, CA and was laid to rest in San Fernando Mission Cemetery in Mission Hills, Los Angeles County, CA.

Early Life

Walter Andrew Brennan was born July 25h, 1894 in Lynn, Massachustetts and was the second of three children. His father, William, was an engineer while his mother, Margaret, stayed at home to watch after their children. It was assumed at a young age that the young Walter would follow in his father's career footsteps and studied engineering at Rindge Technical High School in Cambridge. However, Brennan found himself more drawn to the stage than the engine and eventually began appearing in his school's local productions. Soon after, he also began to perform in his local vaudeville circuit. After graduating Brennan continued to work in vaudeville while simultaneously working a series of odd jobs to make ends meet. In 1917 he left is job as bank clerk to do his civic duty and enrolled in the U.S military where he served in the 101st Field Artillery Regiment during World War I. While in the midst of trench warfare in France, Brennan was exposed to mustard gas and suffered injury to his vocal chords. The injury, however, proved to help his career more than it hurt his physical body, as it was the mustard gas injury that left him with his distinct high-pitch, piping voice that became so central to his on-screen persona.

After the war, Brennan's health had considerably declined. He then decided to move south to warm climates of Guatemala in hopes that mellow weather would help his overall well being. He stayed there for time, raising pineapples before relocating to Los Angeles to invest in the real estate market. Although he managed to amass a small fortune in the early 1920s, by 1925 the state collapsed and Brennan found himself broke.

Early Career

Thanks to the market collapse, Brennan was in dire need of money and employment. It is this desperation that lead to him to the gates of film studios in search of a job. He was able to find work as an extra, starting with an uncredited role in 1925's Lorraine of the Lions. Over the next decade Brennan worked steady as uncredited extra or in largely background roles. Between 1925 and 1930 Brennan appeared in over 30 films, slowly building his reputation as a reliable actor. Unlike other silent actors of the era, the advent of the "talkies" proved to only help Brennan's career, as his time in vaudeville helped him to imitate a wide array of ethnicities on the spot. Also during this time, Brennan would suffer another career defining injury, this time to his teeth. While on set, he was kicked in the mouth by either a fellow actor or a mule, depending your sources, resulting in the loss of his front teeth. Although fitted for a pair of false teeth, the prematurely balding actor, with his reedy voice and leathery skin, found that without the false teeth he could easily play roles decades older than his actual age.

For the next couple years, Brennan continued to work tirelessly, remaining still in the background. In 1933 alone he appeared in over 21 films, including One Year Later, Ladies Must Love, and The Invisible Man. 1934 would prove as busy as 1933 with Brennan appearing in over 25 films, including the Three Stooges short Woman Haters. The next year he would, again, appearing in over 20 films including a small speaking role in the James Whale horror classic The Bride of Frankenstein. The year would also provide Brennan with that is considered by most to be his breakthrough role.


In 1935 Brennan appeared in over 20 films, the most important of which was King Vidor romance The Wedding Night starring Gary Cooper. Although the film was meant as vehicle for the actress Anne Stern, critics and audiences were more impressed by Brennan's comedic chops, playing the quirky cab driver, Bill Jenkins. Soon after Brennan was signed to a contract by the films producer, Samuel Goldwyn. Now signed to steady contract, Brennan began taking the "quality over quantity" approach to his career, appearing is far fewer but more quality films per year.

In 1936 Brennan co-starred in the Howard Hawks' started but William Wyler completed film Come and Get It. In the film he played widower Swan Bostrom, whose daughter becomes the object of his old friend's desire. The film was financial as well as a critical success and for his efforts, Brennan walked away with the first of four Best Supporting Actor Academy Awards. That year he also starred in the successful films Three Godfathers and Fury. He continued to star in high quality pictures such 1938's The Buccaneer and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer as the Muff Potter, the town drunk unjustly on trial for murder.  That same year he appeared in the David Bulter romance Kentucky. The film tells the classic story of star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet, transposing it the civil area Kentucky Derby. Once again, for his efforts, Brennan walked away his second Best Supporting Actor Oscar.

The New Decade

With the arrival of the new decade Brennan's career continued to flourish. In 1940 he starred opposite Spencer Tracy and Robert Young in the King Vidor adventure film Northwest Passage. That year he also reteamed with Gary Cooper to star in William Wyler's The Westerner. In the film Brennan played the real-life self proclaimed "hanging" Judge Roy Bean, who's fear induced iron-fisted control over the west is challenged by saddle-tramp, Gary Cooper. The film was a great success with much of the praise going towards Brennan's nuanced performance.  The role would bring him is recording third Academy Award  in less than 5 years. That same year Brennan and Cooper would appear on-screen together again, this time for the Frank Capra sentimental comedy Meet John Doe and again the next year for the WWI bio-pic Sergeant York.

In 1941 Brennan had his first leading role in Jean Renoir's American feature debut, Swamp Water. It the film Brennan played fugitive, Tom Keefer, living outside of the law in the Georgia Swaps with his daughter, played by Ann Baxter. By the next year he was back to playing supporting roles, once again opposite Gary Cooper in the Sam Wood bio-pic Pride of the Yankees. The role would give Brennan his forth and final Academy Awards nomination for Best Supporting Actor. In 1944 he played Humphrey Bogart's alcoholic buddy, Eddie, in John Huston's film noir classic To Have or Have Not. Two years later he played against type as the villainous and terrifying Newman Hayes Clanton in John Ford's 946 big screen rendering of infamous Gunfight at the OK Corral, My Darling Clementine.

Continued Success

Brennan remained a popular sight on the big screen from the late 1940s going in to the 1950s. In 1948 he starred opposite John Wayne and newcomer, Montgomery Clift, in the Howard Hawks western Red River. The next year he teamed with old pal, Gary Cooper, one last time for the Delmar Daves wartime drama Task Force. He appeared as his trademark curmudgeon old man opposite Kirk Douglas in the 1951 Raoul Walsh western Across the Great Divide and again in the 1954 Nathan Juran film, Drums Across the River. Although Brennan mostly worked in the either westerns or period pieces, he still made venture's into the modern era, such as his role as the sympathetic town doctor in John Sturges' Bad Day at Black Rock.  

That year Brennan also began working in the growing medium of television, making his small screen debut as "grandpa" in The Screen Directors Playhouse. Over the next couple of years he would make appearance on other series such as Schlitz Playhouse and Cane Grey Theater before being cast in the weekly series The Real McCoys, as the family patriarch Grandpa Amos McCoy. The show would last for six season, ending its popular run in 1963. During that time, Brennan also remained busy on the silver screen. In 1959 he starred opposite John Wayne and Dean Martin in the Howard Hawks western Rio Bravo as Stumpy, the club-footed jailhouse keeper.  Three years later, he appeared in the John Ford/Henry Hathaway 70mm epic western How the West Was One, playing against type as the leader of viscous river gang, Jeb Hawkins.

Later Career and Life

After The Real McCoys ended, Brennan immediately began working on another show, The Tycoons. This one, however, would only last a season.  Despite his second TV show's relatively short run, it did nothing to lessen the popularity of Brennan. He remained a regular fix on both the big and small screen throughout the late 1960s and into the early 1970s. Although he mostly worked on TV, he could still be seen as a supporting character in films like Those Calloways, The Oscar and 1969's Support Your Local Sheriff! In 1971 he would become a regular on the popular CBS sitcom To Rome with Love starring opposite John Forsythe. He made his final screen appearance with the television movie Smoke in the Wind, filmed in 1974. Brennan would never see the final results, as it was released after his death in 1975. In 1974 he was preparing to star in the Disney film Herbie Rides Again, but proved to ill to make the full commitment. Walter Brennan died on September 21, 1974. He was 80 years old.

(Source: article by Minoo Allen for Classic Movie Hub).


Walter Brennan and Gary Cooper appeared in eight films together: Watch Your Wife (1926, Cooper had a bit part), The Wedding Night (1935), The Cowboy and the Lady (1938), The Westerner (1940), Meet John Doe (1941), Sergeant York (1941), The Pride of the Yankees (1942) and Task Force (1949).



Walter Brennan was nominated for four Academy Awards, winning three for Best Supporting Actor for Come and Get It (as Swan Bostrom), Kentucky (as Peter Goodwin) and The Westerner (as Judge Roy Bean) in 1936, 1938 and 1940 respectively.

Academy Awards

YearAwardFilm nameRoleResult
1936Best Supporting ActorCome and Get It (1936)Swan BostromWon
1938Best Supporting ActorKentucky (1938)Peter GoodwinWon
1940Best Supporting ActorThe Westerner (1940)Judge Roy BeanWon
1941Best Supporting ActorSergeant York (1941)Pastor Posier PileNominated

He was honored with one star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in the category of Motion Pictures. In addition, Brennan was inducted into the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum .

BlogHub Articles:

Swamp Water (1941) with Walter Huston and

By Orson De Welles on Mar 17, 2016 From Classic Film Freak

Share This!1941?s Swamp Water is a great example of the product not coming as advertised.? From the title and the promotional materials, including the theatrical poster, you?d think this is a typically substandard B-grade horror picture.? Granted, those sometimes schlocky horror pictures can be a gr... Read full article

A Real American Character: The Life of

on Feb 8, 2016 From Journeys in Classic Film

became an archetype, not a stereotype,” which explains author Carl Rollyson’s title “A Real American Character.” Brennan was best known for playing old coots, seguing from starring as a?loveable drunks in To Have and Have Not (1944) to becoming America&#... Read full article

A Real American Character: The Life of

on Feb 8, 2016 From Journeys in Classic Film

became an archetype, not a stereotype,” which explains author Carl Rollyson’s title “A Real American Character.” Brennan was best known for playing old coots, seguing from starring as a?loveable drunks in To Have and Have Not (1944) to becoming America&#... Read full article

and Marilyn Monroe Book Giveaway (November via Facebook and Blog)

By Annmarie Gatti on Nov 4, 2015 From Classic Movie Hub Blog

?A Real American Character: The Life of ? AND ?Marilyn Monroe: A Life of the Actress? Book Giveaway Qualifying?Entry Task for FACEBOOK and Blog Contest Okay, now it?s time for the?Facebook/Blog?version of our and Marilyn Monroe Book Giveaway. That said,?we?ll be giving a... Read full article

and Marilyn Monroe Book Giveaway (via Twitter November 2 through November 28)

By Annmarie Gatti on Nov 2, 2015 From Classic Movie Hub Blog

?A Real American Character: The Life of ? AND “Marilyn Monroe: A Life of the Actress” Book Giveaway Qualifying?Entry Task for TWITTER Contest And now for our next contest! I am thrilled to say that CMH will be giving away?FOUR copies?of?A Real American Character: The Life o... Read full article

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Walter Brennan Quotes:

Tom Keefer: It's like being dead all these years, and now you're - you're a tellin' me to come back to life again.

Eddie: [Oft repeated line] Was you ever bit by a dead bee?

Nash Crawford: [on conspiracy] Thinking is one thing that's bound to give the mayor fits. He can't tax it, he can't stop it, and he can't even tell when anybody's doin' it!

read more quotes from Walter Brennan...

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Best Supporting Actor Oscar 1936

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

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.

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