He won the first Oscar ever awarded to a supporting actor. And, he triumphed in the same category twice more in quick succession — for films that weren’t even his best.
Walter Brennan seen above with Gary Cooper — a close personal friend with whom he appeared most notably in 1940’s The Westerner— was for at least three decades classic Hollywood’s preeminent old geezer.
He played with or without his false teeth, and was often drunk onscreen. As critic David Thomson observed, he portrayed the old timer for so long that his real age hardly seemed relevant.
In fact, Brennan was born in 1894 in Massachusetts, fought in World War I, moved to the West Coast, made and lost a fortune in real estate and started taking silent movie bit parts to pay the rent. He never looked back — his career stretched over 50 years, covering some 245 credits — and wound down just before his death at age 80 in 1974.
Brennan claimed he never made a movie he wouldn’t take his family to see. In any case, he played his Oscar-winning roles in 1936’s Come and Get It, 1938’s Kentucky and the aforementioned The Westerner.
We suspect these as admirable as these films are, classic movie fans most readily recall Brennan’s excellent turn as Humphrey Bogart’s tippling sidekick in Howard Hawks’ 1944 adaptation of the 1937 Ernest Hemingway novel, To Have And To Have Not.
Then, there he is as “stumpy” in Hawk’s 1959 western Rio Bravo; in John Ford’s 1946 western My Darling Clementine; and perhaps most memorably in Hawks’ Red River in 1948. It can be argued that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences got its Walter Brennan citations wrong.
Brennan graced just about any picture he played in — one of Hollywood’s most durable and talented supporting actors.