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Walter Brennan
Brennan in 1958
Born (1894-07-25)July 25, 1894
Lynn, Massachusetts, U.S.
Died September 21, 1974(1974-09-21) (aged 80)
Oxnard, California, U.S.
Place of burial San Fernando Mission Cemetery,
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Occupation Actor
Years active 1925–1974
Spouse(s) Ruth Wells
(m. 1920–74)
Children 3

Walter Andrew Brennan (July 25, 1894 – September 21, 1974) was an American actor.[1] He won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1936, 1938, and 1940, making him one of only three male actors to win three Academy Awards.

Early life

Brennan was born in Lynn, Massachusetts, less than two miles from his family's home in Swampscott, Massachusetts.[2] He was the second of three children born to Margaret Elizabeth (née Flanagan; June 4, 1869 in Charlestown, Massachusetts – February 1, 1955 in Pasadena, California) and William John Brennan (September 2, 1868 in Malden, Massachusetts – August 17, 1936 in Pasadena, California).[citation needed] His parents were both of Irish descent. His father was an engineer and inventor, and young Brennan also studied engineering at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School|Rindge Technical High School in Cambridge, Massachusetts.[3]

While in school, Brennan became interested in acting. He began to perform in vaudeville at the age of 15.[citation needed] While working as a bank clerk, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and served as a private with the 101st Field Artillery Regiment in France during World War I.[2][4] After the war, he moved to Guatemala and grew pineapples before returning to the U.S. and settling in Los Angeles.[citation needed] During the early 1920s, he made a fortune in the real estate market, but lost most of his money during the 1925 real estate slump.[3]


Brennan in Affairs of Cappy Ricks

Finding himself penniless, Brennan began taking parts as an extra in films 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), Girl Missing (1933), the Three Stooges short Woman Haters (1934), and Bride of Frankenstein (1935), in which he had a brief speaking part and also worked as a stuntman. 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 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. 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 dental prosthesis which made him appear to have rotting and broken teeth. Brennan played the top-billed lead in Swamp Water (1941), the first American film by the director Jean Renoir, a drama also featuring Walter Huston and starring Dana Andrews.

In Sergeant York (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 the reporter Sam Blake, who befriended and encouraged Lou Gehrig (played by Cooper) in Pride of the Yankees. He was particularly skilled in playing the sidekick of the protagonist or the "grumpy old man" in films such as 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 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor; 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). Rio Bravo]]

From 1957 to 1963, he starred in the ABC television series The Real McCoys, a sitcom 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. It 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, he 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 old farmer and his mule, which was released as a single in 1962 by Liberty Records with "The Epic Ride of John H. Glenn" on the flip side. "Old Rivers" peaked at number five in the U.S. Billboard chart. In his music, he sometimes worked with Allen "Puddler" Harris, a Louisiana native who was a member of the original Ricky Nelson Band. Brennan appeared as an extremely cantankerous sidekick with John Wayne, Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson in Howard Hawks's 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 starred as the wealthy executive Walter Andrews 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 series as a member of the permanent cast.

Personal life

The Real McCoys (1962), L-R: Tony Martinez, Walter Brennan, Richard Crenna

In 1920, Brennan married Ruth Caroline Wells (December 8, 1897 – January 12, 1997). They had a daughter, Ruth Caroline Brennan Lademan (September 22, 1924 – October 27, 2004).[6] Lademan's husband, Dixon McCully Lademan (1924–2003), was a captain in the U.S. Navy in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.[7]

The two Brennan sons are both apparently living. Arthur Mike Brennan (born 1921) and his wife, Florence Irene Brennan (1925–2003), lived in Joseph, Oregon. Brennan's other son is Walter Andrew "Andy" Brennan Jr. (born 1923).[6] In 1940, Brennan purchased the 12,000-acre Lightning Creek Ranch, 20 miles south of Joseph. He built the Indian Lodge Motel, a movie theater, and a variety store in Joseph, and continued going there between film roles until his death. Some members of his family continue to live in the area.

Brennan was politically conservative.[8] In 1963 and 1964, he joined 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 President Lyndon B. Johnson.[9]

In 1964, Brennan spoke at "Project Prayer", a rally attended by 2,500 at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. The gathering, which was hosted by Anthony Eisley, sought to flood Congress with letters in support of school prayer, following two decisions of the Supreme Court in 1962 and 1963 which struck down the practice of enforced prayer in public schools as being in conflict with the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.[10] Also 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, but 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."[10] During the 1960s, he became convinced that the antiwar and civil rights movements were being aided by overseas Communists from the Soviet Union through their support of local communist sympathizers and agitators, and said as much in interviews.[11] He told reporters that he believed the civil rights movement – in particular, the riots in places such as Watts and Newark and demonstrations in Birmingham – had been the result of otherwise content "Negroes" being stirred up by a small number of "troublemakers" with anti-American agendas.[11] In 1972, he supported the presidential campaign of conservative California congressman John Schmitz over that of Richard Nixon, whom he believed to be too moderate.[12] He was a member of the John Birch Society.


Brennan's grave at San Fernando Mission Cemetery

Brennan died of emphysema at the age of 80 in Oxnard, California.[13] His remains were interred at San Fernando Mission Cemetery in Los Angeles.


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 diverse, he is probably best remembered for his portrayals in Western movies, such as Judge Roy Bean in The Westerner, trail hand Nadine Groot in Red River, and Deputy Stumpy in Rio Bravo. He was the first actor to win three Academy Awards and remains the only person to have won Best Supporting Actor three times. However, 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 every time he was nominated. His third win led to the disenfranchisement of the union from Oscar voting. Following this change, Brennan lost his fourth Best Supporting Actor nomination in 1941 for Sergeant York (the award went to Donald Crisp for How Green Was My Valley). In all, Brennan appeared in more than 230 film and television roles during a career that spanned nearly five decades. For his contributions to the motion picture industry, he has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6501 Hollywood Boulevard.[14] 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.



Year Album US Label
1960 Dutchman's Gold Dot
1962 Old Rivers 54 Liberty
'Twas the Night Before Christmas... Back Home 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


  • Lorraine of the Lions (1925) (uncredited)
  • The Ice Flood (1926) (uncredited)
  • Blake of Scotland Yard (1927) (uncredited)
  • Alias the Deacon (1928)
  • Smilin' Guns (1929) – ranch foreman
  • The Long Long Trail (1929)
  • One Hysterical Night (1929)
  • King of Jazz (1930)
  • See America Thirst (1930)
  • Scratch-As-Catch-Can (1931)
  • Grief Street (1931)
  • Texas Cyclone (1932) – Sheriff Lew Collins
  • Law and Order (1932) – Lanky Smith
  • Two-Fisted Law (1932) – Deputy Sheriff Bendix
  • Horse Feathers (1932) (uncredited)
  • Manhattan Tower (1932) (uncredited)
  • Sensation Hunters (1933) – stuttering waiter
  • My Woman (1933) – stuttering performer (uncredited)
  • The Invisible Man (1933) (uncredited)
  • The Life of Vergie Winters (1934) (uncredited)
  • Woman Haters (1934) (uncredited)
  • Riptide (1934) (uncredited)
  • You Can't Buy Everything (1934) (uncredited)
  • The Prescott Kid (1934)
  • Biography of a Bachelor Girl (1935) as Reporter on Ship (uncredited)
  • Helldorado (1935) as Pete, the Waiter (uncredited)
  • Northern Frontier (1935) as Stuttering Cook
  • The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1935) as First Gossip (uncredited)
  • Law Beyond the Range (1935) as Abner
  • Restless Knights (1935) as Father (uncredited)
  • The Wedding Night (1935) as Bill Jenkins
  • West Point of the Air (1935) as Soldier at Kelly's Wreckage (uncredited)
  • Bride of Frankenstein (1935) as Neighbor (uncredited)
  • Party Wire (1935) as Paul - Railroad Telegrapher (uncredited)
  • Spring Tonic (1935) as Bum (uncredited)
  • Lady Tubbs (1935) as Joseph (uncredited)
  • Man on the Flying Trapeze (1935) as 'Legs' Garnett
  • Welcome Home (1935) as Walter (uncredited)
  • Alice Adams (1935) (scenes deleted)
  • We're in the Money (1935) as Wedding Witness (uncredited)
  • She Couldn't Take It (1935) as Peddler (uncredited)
  • Barbary Coast(1935) as Old Atrocity
  • Metropolitan (1935) as Grandpa (uncredited)
  • Seven Keys to Baldpate (1935) as Station Agent
  • Three Godfathers (1936) as Sam "Gus" Barton
  • These Three (1936) as Taxi Driver
  • The Moon's Our Home (1936) as Lem
  • Fury (1936) as 'Bugs' Meyers
  • Come and Get It (1936) as Swan Bostrom
  • Banjo on My Knee (1936) as Newt Holley
  • She's Dangerous (1937) as Ote O'Leary
  • When Love Is Young (1937) as Uncle Hugo
  • Affairs of Cappy Ricks (1937) as Cappy Ricks
  • Wild and Woolly (1937) as Gramp 'Hercules' Flynn
  • The Buccaneer (1938) as Ezra Peaves
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1938) as Muff Potter
  • The Texans (1938) as Chuckawalla
  • Mother Carey's Chickens (1938) as Mr. Ossian Popham
  • The Cowboy and the Lady (1938) as Sugar
  • Kentucky (1938) as Peter Goodwin
  • The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (1939) as Walter
  • They Shall Have Music (1939) as Professor Lawson
  • Stanley and Livingstone (1939) as Jeff Slocum
  • Joe and Ethel Turp Call on the President (1939) as Jim
  • Northwest Passage (1940) as "Hunk" Marriner
  • Maryland (1940) as William Stewart
  • The Westerner (1940) as Judge Roy Bean
  • Nice Girl? (1941) as Hector Titus
  • Meet John Doe (1941) as The 'Colonel'
  • Sergeant York (1941) as Pastor Rosier Pile
  • This Woman Is Mine (1941) as Captain Jonathan Thorne
  • Swamp Water (1941) as Tom Keefer
  • Rise and Shine (1941) as Grandpa
  • The Pride of the Yankees (1942) as Sam Blake
  • Stand by for Action (1942) as Chief Yeoman Henry Johnson
  • Hangmen Also Die (1943) as Prof. Stephen Novotny
  • Slightly Dangerous (1943) as Cornelius Burden
  • The North Star (1943) as Karp
  • Home in Indiana (1944) as J. F. "Thunder" Bolt
  • To Have and Have Not (1944) as Eddie
  • The Princess and the Pirate (1944) as Featherhead
  • Dakota (1945) as Captain Bounce of the Riverbird
  • A Stolen Life (1946) as Eben Folger
  • Centennial Summer (1946) as Jesse Rogers
  • My Darling Clementine (1946) as Newman Haynes Clanton
  • Nobody Lives Forever (1946) as Pop Gruber
  • Driftwood (1947) as Murph
  • Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay! (1948) as Tony Maule
  • Red River (1948) as Nadine Groot
  • Blood on the Moon (1948) as Kris Barden
  • The Green Promise (1949) as Mr. Matthews
  • Brimstone (1949) as Brimstone "Pop" Courteen
  • Task Force (1949) as Pete Richard
  • Singing Guns (1950) as Dr. Jonathan Mark
  • A Ticket to Tomahawk (1950) as Terence Sweeny
  • Curtain Call at Cactus Creek (1950) as Rimrock Thomas
  • The Showdown (1950) as Cap Mackellar
  • Surrender (1950) as Sheriff Bill Howard
  • Along the Great Divide (1951) as Timothy 'Pop' Keith
  • Best of the Badmen (1951) as "Doc" Butcher[15]
  • The Wild Blue Yonder (1951) as Major General Wolfe
  • Return of the Texan (1952) as Grandpa Firth Crockett
  • Lure of the Wilderness (1952) as Jim Harper
  • Sea of Lost Ships (1953) as C.P.O. "Chief" O'Malley
  • Drums Across the River (1954) as Sam Brannon
  • The Far Country (1955) as Ben Tatum
  • Four Guns to the Border (1954) as Simon Bhumer
  • Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) as Doc Velie
  • At Gunpoint (1955) as Doc Lacy
  • Glory (1956) as Ned Otis
  • Come Next Spring (1956) as Jeffrey Storys
  • The Proud Ones (1956) as Jake
  • Good-bye, My Lady (1956) as Uncle Jesse Jackson
  • Tammy and the Bachelor (1957) as Grandpa
  • The Way to the Gold (1957) as Uncle George Williams
  • God Is My Partner (1957) as Dr. Charles Grayson
  • Rio Bravo (1959) as Stumpy
  • Shoot Out at Big Sag (1962) as "Preacher" Hawker
  • How the West Was Won (1962) as Colonel Jeb Hawkins
  • Those Calloways (1965) as Alf Simes
  • The Oscar (1966) as Orrin C. Quentin
  • The Gnome-Mobile (1967) as D.J. Mulrooney / Knobby
  • Who's Minding the Mint? (1967) as Pop Gillis
  • The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band (1968) as Grandpa Bower
  • Support Your Local Sheriff! (1969) as Pa Danby
  • The Over-the-Hill Gang (1969) as Nash Crawford
  • The Over-the-Hill Gang Rides Again (1970) as Nash Crawford
  • Home for the Holidays (1972) as Benjamin Morgan
  • Smoke in the Wind, TV movie (1975) as H. P. Kingman


  • Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theatre – 1 episode – Sheriff Larson (1957)
  • The Real McCoys – 224 episodes – Grandpa Amos McCoy (1957–1963)
  • The Tycoon – 32 episodes – Walter Andrews (1964–1965)
  • The Guns of Will Sonnett – 50 episodes – Will Sonnett (1967–1969)
  • The Young Country (TV movie) – Sheriff Matt Fenley (1970)
  • To Rome with Love – 17 episodes – Andy Pruitt (1970–1971)
  • Alias Smith and Jones – episode – "The Day They Hanged Kid Curry" – Silky O'Sullivan (1971)
  • Alias Smith and Jones – episode – "21 Days to Tenstrike" – Gantry (1972)
  • Alias Smith and Jones – episode – "Don't Get Mad, Get Even" – Silky O'Sullivan (1972)


  1. Obituary Variety, September 25, 1974.
  2. 2.0 2.1 World War I Draft Records, Essex County, Massachusetts, Roll 1684678, Draft Board 24.
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Walter Brennan - Full Biography". The New York Times Company from All Movie Guide. Archived from the original on March 7, 2016. Retrieved January 8, 2017. 
  4. "Dickinson Research Center > Home". 
  5. "The Ford Show, Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford". Retrieved November 25, 2010. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 "Ruth Caroline Wells Brennan (Wife of Walter Brennan)". Retrieved February 21, 2016. 
  7. "Dixon McCully Lademan (son-in-law of Walter Brennan)". Retrieved February 21, 2016. 
  8. "The Republicans of Classic Hollywood". Retrieved 2013-02-10. 
  9. "The Impact of the Draft Goldwater Committee on the Republican Party". Archived from the original on 2001-03-03. Retrieved 2013-08-24. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 ""The Washington Merry-Go-Round", Drew Pearson column, May 14, 1964" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-02-10. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 Eder, Bruce (2015). "Walter Brennan: Biography". All Movie. Retrieved April 15, 2015. 
  12. "Walter Brennan". Turner Entertainment Networks. 2015. Retrieved April 15, 2015. 
  13. Chawkins, Steve (October 8, 1999) "Camarillo Decides on the 'Real McCoy'". Los Angeles Times.
  14. "Walter Brennan Inducted to the Walk of Fame". Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. February 8, 1960. Retrieved December 7, 2016. 
  15. Comcast-Encore Western Channel

External links

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