Full disclosure: I do a pretty good Walter Brennan impression. I liked ol’ Walter from his days on The Real McCoys (whu…whu…whu…whur’s lil’ Luke, ye knotheads?) to the Guns of Will Sonnet (No brag . . . jes fact). But Walter Brennan was more than just some old guy character actor with a distinctive voice. Nope. He was a war hero. Guess which war?
Brennan was born in 1894. He saw action in WWI, or as they called it at the time, “The War to End All Wars.” Nobody back then believed there would ever be another war as big as that one. Fat chance.
Brennan suffered through a mustard gas attack, which gave him his distinctive voice. In 1932, he was in a serious accident that knocked out most of his front teeth. His dentures further affecting his speech.
After the war, he relocated to Guatemala to grow pineapples, then moved to S. Cali to take advantage of the real estate boom. Brennan made him millions. Which he subsequently lost in the real estate bust that followed.
Finding himself sans-income, he turned to acting. One career and three Oscars later, he’s widely regarded as America’s best character actor. He remains tied with Jack Nicholson for the most Academy Awards given for a Best Supporting Actor.
With his war injuries, dentures, and prematurely-receding hairline, Brennan often portrayed characters that were decades older than he was. While he could be found in any number of roles and genres, he’s most remembered for his work in Westerns.
Brennan is one of the guys that made Westerns what they were: a genre filled with men who had backbone, a working moral compass, grit and determination. Men who weren’t afraid to defend themselves with a gun. Brennan made it look easy. And for that, we owe him a debt of thanks.