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Walter Brennan
The Man and His Life

Born: 25 July 1894 Swampscott, Massachusetts, USA
Died: 21 September 1974 Oxnard, California, USA

Walter Brennan (July 25, 1894 September 21, 1974) was a three time Academy Award winning American actor. He is remembered as one of the premier character actors in motion picture history.

Early Life and Career

Born Walter Andrew Brennan in Swampscott, Massachusetts to Irish emigrants on July 25, 1894, his father was an engineer and inventor. The younger Brennan would go on to study engineering before becoming an actor.

While in school, he became interested in acting, and began to perform in vaudeville. After serving in World War I (where, according to legend, his vocal cords were damaged by mustard gas as well causing him to age prematurely), he moved to Guatemala and raised pineapples, before settling in Los Angeles. During the 1920s he would become involved in the real-estate market where he would make a fortune. Unfortunately, he lost most of his money when the market took a sudden downturn. Finding himself broke, he would begin taking bit parts in as many films as he could get in order to earn money. He also worked as a stunt man during this time.

In the early 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 in 1937 for his role as Swan Bostrom in the period film Come and Get It.

Successful Career as a Character Actor

Throughout his career, Brennan was frequently called upon to play characters considerably older than he was in real life. An accident in 1932 that cost him many of this teeth; his rapidly thinning hair, thin build, and raspy voice all made him seem older than he really was. He used these physical features to great effect in many of his roles. He was particularly skilled in playing the hero's sidekick or as the "grumpy old man" in a picture. He was hardly ever cast as the villain. One notable exception to this was his role as the heartless Old Man Clanton in the classic 1946 film My Darling Clementine opposite Henry Fonda.

In the 1950s, he starred in the television series The Real McCoys, and appeared in several other movies and television programs, usually as an eccentric "old-timer" or "prospector". He also made a few recordings, the most popular being "Old Rivers" in 1962.

In 1967, he starred in the television series The Guns of Will Sonnett, where he played a father in search of his gunfighter son, James, with his grandson, Jeff, played by Dack Rambo. After the series went off the air, Brennan continued working in both television and feature films. Among his television appearances at this time were three episodes of Alias Smith and Jones, the western comedy starring Pete Duel and Ben Murphy. Brennan played retired confidence man Silky O'Sullivan in two episodes, and Elmer Gantry, one member of a dwindling trail drive team, in another.

Status in Film History

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. He was the first actor to win three Academy Awards. He remains the only person to have won three Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor (see Academy Awards below).

Unlike many actors, Brennan's career never really went into decline. As the years went on, he was able ply his talents to find work in dozens of high quality films, and later television appearances throughout the 1950s and 60s. As he grew older, he simply become a more familiar, almost comforting film figure whose talented and entertaining performances continued to endear him to new generations of fans. In all, he would appear in more than 230 film and television roles in a career spanning nearly five decades.

Political Beliefs and Later Life

Brennan was politically conservative, and supported American Independent Party candidate (and former governor of Alabama) George Wallace over Republican Party candidate (and, at the time, former Vice President) Richard Nixon during the 1968 Presidential campaign because he felt Nixon was too liberal.

For his contribution 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, Oklahoma.

On his death from emphysema, aged 80, on September 21, 1974 in Oxnard, California, Walter Brennan was interred in San Fernando Mission Cemetery in Los Angeles, California. Brennan's wife, Ruth, whom he married in 1920, lived to be 100, and is buried next to him. They had four children, a daughter and three sons.

Academy Awards

1936 - Best Supporting Actor in Come and Get It
1939 - Best Supporting Actor in Kentucky
1941 - Best Supporting Actor in The Westerner

1942 - Best Supporting Actor in Sergeant York

Preceded by:
Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
for Come and Get It
Succeeded by:
Joseph Schildkraut
for The Life of Emile Zola
Preceded by:
Joseph Schildkraut
for The Life of Emile Zola
Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
for Kentucky
Succeeded by:
Thomas Mitchell
for Stagecoach
Preceded by:
Thomas Mitchell
for Stagecoach
Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
for The Westerner
Succeeded by:
Donald Crisp
for How Green Was My Valley

Source: From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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