Sunday, May 3, 2020

Walter Brennan: The Real McCoy!

By Timothy England

Walter Andrew Brennan--born 1894 and deceased 1974—was a prolific actor and performer of epic proportions. He was the first actor to accumulate three Academy Awards, the only actor to win three Oscars as a Best Supporting Actor.

Within the space of two years, Brennan had moved from accepting largely insignificant roles, such as extras and stand-ins, to that of supporting characters. Brennan’s career began in 1935 with a significant role in Barbary Coast, a Goldwyn production. Here he began an extra but by the end of the production his part was increased to that of a supporting role. Then, in the same year, he landed another supporting role in MGM's 'West Point of the Air.'

In 1936, Brennan took a leading role in 'Three Godfathers.' “He had a small role in 'These Three' with Wyler and a bigger one in Walter Wanger's 'The Moon's Our Home' and 'Fury,' directed by Fritz Lang” ( Wikipedia,

Brennan's Three Oscar Winning Roles

It’s not everyday that an actor wins three Oscars in supporting roles. Brennan certainly didn’t do it in a day, but rather over a 4-year period. The three movies that resulted in this distinction included ‘Come and Get It,' in 1936; 'Kentucky' in 1938; and 'The Westerner' in 1940.

'Come and Get It' (1936) involves an ambitious lumberjack who abandons his saloon girl lover so he can marry wealth. However, years later, he becomes infatuated with the woman's daughter.
“In 1884 lumberman Barney Glasgow leaves his true love, saloon singer Lotta Morgan, to marry Emma Louise, his boss's daughter. His buddy Swan Bostrom marries Lotta instead. Barney becomes a lumber magnate by stripping the Wisconsin forests, without re-planting. After 23 years, Barney finally visits Swan. Lotta has died, but Barney is smitten by their daughter Lotta Bostrom, who looks almost like her mother. His lavish attentions to Lotta create gossip and a rivalry between Barney and his son Richard. Written by Will Gilbert” (IMDb,

And here’s a talented young man to tell you all about it.

Brennan's second Oscar, ‘Kentucky,’ was a “Romeo and Juliet story set amidst horse racing in Kentucky. The family feud of lovers Jack and Sally goes back to the Civil War and is kept alive by her Uncle Peter” (IMDb,

Probably the most touching aspect of this movie is when the Yankee troops came to confiscate the horses on a ranch. The owner, who bred and trained racing stallions, objected and in a fit of rage, was killed by one of the soldiers. In a heart wrenching moment, one of the children ran along side the Captain's horse, crying and yelling that he hated him for killing his father.

His third and final Oscar for Supporting Actor in a movie called ‘Westerner,’ “Judge Roy Bean (Brennan), a self-appointed hanging judge in Vinegarroon, Texas, befriends saddle tramp Cole Harden, who opposes Bean's policy against homesteaders” (IMDb,

The Early Years

In these early days, Brennan played smaller parts, such as extras and stand-ins. His early work began in 1925 when he landed a part in the following movies: 'Webs of Steel,' 'Lorraine of the Lions,' and 'The Calgary Stampede.' The following year, 1926, he landed parts in 'Watch Your Wife,' 'The Ice Flood,' 'Spangles,' 'The Collegians,' and 'Flashing Oars.'

In 1927, Brennan landed parts in 'Sensation Seekers,' 'Tearin' Into Trouble,' 'The Ridin' Rowdy,' 'Alias the Deacon,' 'Blake of Scotland yard,' and 'Hot Heels.' The following year, 1928, he played a part in 'Painting the Town,' 'The Ballyhoo Buster,' The Racket,' and 'The Michigan Kid.' In 1929, 'Silks and Saddles,' 'The Cohens and Kellys in Atlantic City,' Smilin' Guns,' The Lariat Kid,' and so on and so forth (click for more).

Brennan also played a part in the Three Stooges, such as ‘Women Haters’ in 1934. In 1935 he also joined the cast of 'The Wedding Night,' produced by Sam Goldwyn. There were many, many more. In this next video you’ll hear more:

The Real McCoys: TV's Love Affair

Most of us know Brennan from his role in the television series, 'The Real McCoys,' which ran from 1957 through 1963. In this serial, Brennan played the part of Amos McCoy, or Senor Grandpa.

“The Real McCoys is an American situation comedy co-produced by Danny Thomas's Marterto Productions in association with Walter Brennan and Irving Pincus's Westgate Company. The series was broadcast for six seasons, five by the ABC-TV network from 1957–1962 and a final year, 1962–63 by CBS. Set in the San Fernando Valley of California, the series was filmed in Hollywood at Desilu studios” (Wikipedia,

The Real Mccoys - Season 1 Pilot Episode 1

The Real McCoy, Season 1, Episode 18

Brennan In the Western Vein

There is no way that Western Magazine Digest can cover every single twist and turn to Walter Brennan’s magnificent career. But let’s take a quick look at some of the more popular flicks in the Western genre that he’s known for.

My Darling Clementine -- A 1946 American Western film directed by John Ford and starring Henry Fonda as Wyatt Earp during the period leading up to the gunfight at the OK Corral. The ensemble cast also features Victor Mature (as Doc Holliday), Linda Darnell, Walter Brennan, Tim Holt, Cathy Downs and Ward Bond.

Rio Bravo -- “A 1959 American Western film produced and directed by Howard Hawks and starring John Wayne, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, Angie Dickinson, Walter Brennan, and Ward Bond.

Written by Jules Furthman and Leigh Brackett, based on the short story "Rio Bravo" by B. H. McCampbell, the film is about the sheriff of the town of Rio Bravo, Texas, who arrests the brother of a powerful local rancher to help his drunken deputy/friend. With the help of a "cripple" and a young gunfighter, they hold off the rancher's gang.

Rio Bravo was filmed on location at Old Tucson Studios outside Tucson, Arizona, in Technicolor. In 2014, Rio Bravo was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry” (Wikipedia).

How the West Was Won -- “A 1962 American Metrocolor epic-western film. The picture was one of the last "old-fashioned" epic films made by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to enjoy great success. Set between 1839 and 1889, it follows four generations of a family (starting as the Prescotts) as they move from western New York to the Pacific Ocean.

In 1997, the film was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress as being deemed ‘culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant’" (Wikipedia).

In conclusion, it’s hard to imagine another actor that has as many credits to his name was Walter Brennan. Having watched him in Westerns, it’s even more difficult to envision him in other types of movies, but he was such an all around actor that he was able to adapt to almost any role.

In 1932, through an accident, he lost his teeth. After that he was often seen in roles where he took the part of a character who is much older than he was at the time. Despite the loss of his teeth, his career continued to grow in addition to the respect and adoration of Walter Brennan’s followers.

About the Author
On the family farm just outside Nashville, Timothy England grew up surrounded by the beautiful Tennessee hillside where his imagination loved to roam.

His lifelong love of westerns has culminated in his debut novel, Track Down, the first installment in his series centering around US Marshall Jake Boone. To date, Timothy, under the pseudonym Jess Bryan, has written four books, all of them available from Amazon.

Timothy is the author of Track Down, a Western thriller. As United States Marshall, Jake Boone, is hot on the trail of the dangerous Stanton, circumstance pushes his skills and his wits to the limits. Will he be able to live up to his own legend and keep things safe? Or has 'Killer Jake' met his match finally? For more information on this and three other books written by Timothy English, go to:

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