The Late Walter Brennan

Wonderful character actor!

Loved him as Amos McCoy in The Real McCoys (Where’d we get that phrase from anyway?) and many many other roles , but did he ever play anything other than a wizened, wise old man???

Surely he didn’t come out of the womb lookin’ like that???:slight_smile:

That was meant to be funny, BTW. I know there are many great actors who got their start late in life.



Brennan had played bit parts in movies and worked as a stuntman. When he was in his mid-30s, he was in an accident (legend has it he was kicked in the face by a horse/mule) that cost him most of his teeth, which, combined with his early balding, made him perfect for old man roles.

I have to admit I often get him confused with the fabulous Walter Huston. Who’s a terrific actor and hardly interchangeable with Brennan’s typical performance of the standard old prospecting dude. And yet there’s always a moment when watching TCM that, when I see there’s a movie with Walter Huston on, I think Brennan, not Huston.

Here’s a link to a download of Affairs of Cappy Ricks:

Brennan would have been 42 when it was filmed, which makes it the earliest picture of him I can find offhand.

One of my favorite performances was late in his career- the remorseless old river pirate who pimps his daughter and robs and kills pioneers and traders going to/coming from the frontier in HOW THE WEST WAS WON. On the commentary they said that after several good guy/wacky grandpa roles in a row he loved the chance to play someone evil.

In addition to having the record for most Oscars he was one of the richest men in show business. His ranch in Oregon alone was more than 30,000 acres. No brag, just fact.

Almost certainly it goes back to “The Real McKay,” which was a famous Scots whiskey from the mid-1800s. To the uninitiated, “McKay” in Scots sounds like “Makai” in an outlander’s ears. So, it’s kinda “McCoy.” The phrase “real McCoy” starts showing up around the 1890s. Has nothing whatsoever to do with the boxer, an early Afro-American inventor of self-lubricating locomotive parts, or anything else that you can invent. It all goes back to the Scots whiskey distillers. Period.

Brennan was playing codger roles early on. Most movies I’ve seen him in are in that vein. Old before his time, I guess.

In Stanley and Livingston (1939), he played more or less his own age (mid 40s), but, yeah, mostly he started playing old coots and codgers in his 30s.

I loved The Real McCoys. Richard Crenna was hot, and he stayed hot.

My favorite Walter Brennan western is the one with Gary Cooper. Too lazy to look up the title. Brennan played Judge Roy Bean, Cooper was in front of him, in trouble, but he got out of it by telling Brennan that he knew Lily Langtry, whom the Judge had a huge crush on. Maybe it’s Walter Brennan with a crush that makes that movie stand out for me.

I know that Walter Brennan played a U.S. Navy admiral in a movie he was in with Gary Cooper, (I can’t recall the title), and in another movie with Gary Cooper, (Sergeant York), Brennan played the local preacher (and owner/operator of the local general store), and he didn’t seem “grizzled” there.

I think he was also in a television show from the 1960’s called “The Tycoon”, where he played the title role.

One nice early role was opposite W.C. Fields in The Man on the Flying Trapeze in 1935. He plays a burglar who gets drunk from Fields’s still. From the photo, he doesn’t look particularly old or grizzled, though he clearly did not have leading man looks.

My favorite Brennan line: “No brag. Just fact.” from The Guns of Will Sonnett

Brennan was in one of John Wayne’s greatest films Red River.

“Was you ever stung by a dead bee?”

I can’t think of Walter Brennan without thinking of the nightclub owner in Good Morning, Vietnam who was desperately looking for pictures of Walter Brennan naked.


And I will always remember him as Old Man Clanton in My Darling Clementine and Doc in Bad Day at Black Rock. He really was an amazing character actor.

He won Oscars because he was popular with extras, and extras could vote at the time. After his third win the Academy put a stop to that. This is nothing to hold against him, just the way it was.

What I do hold against him is that was a right-wing supporter of Wallace and others. He opposed the civil rights movement. He thought foreign commies were behind the Vietnam protests.

He was a versatile character actor, I’ll give him that. But I can’t stand the guy.

One bit of trivia I recall is that Brennan played a bicyclist attacked by The Invisible Man in the Universal picture of that name. Too far away to recognize, though.
Brennan always did seem to be old, though. Unlike Jimmy Durante, who also always seemed to be old, but you could actually find pictures and film clips of a young Durante with hair. I can’t recall ever seeing a young Brennan.

I have a recording of Brennan reading works by Mark Twain. It’s on a collection of Twain stories, read by various actors, and in the older ones Twain is definitely expected to be old – he’s invariably voiced as an old man, by older actors – which is undoubtedly why Brennan is reading the part. (People seem to forget or ignore that he started lecturing while still in his thirties. The modern trend is to present a younger Twain.)

Forgot about that one. Only it’s, “Ever been bit by a dead bee?”


On history of “The Real McCoy”:

His role in MY DARLING CLEMENTINE (1946) as the main bad guy is amazing – he’s totally convincing, and radiates evil. There’s a shot where his (black) hat shades his face, with his eyes shining out of the darkness, that’s absolutely bone-chilling.