In many ways the most successful and familiar character actor of American sound films and the only actor to date to win three Oscars for Best Supporting Actor, Walter Brennan attended college in Cambridge, Massachusetts, studying engineering. While in school he became interested in acting and performed in school plays. He worked some in vaudeville and also in various jobs such as clerking in a bank and as a lumberjack. He toured in small musical comedy companies before entering the military in 1917. After his war service he went to Guatemala and raised pineapples, then migrated to Los Angeles, where he speculated in real estate. A few jobs as a film extra came his way beginning in 1923, then some work as a stuntman. He eventually achieved speaking roles, going from bit parts to substantial supporting parts in scores of features and short subjects between 1927 and 1938. In 1936 his role in Come and Get It (1936) won him the very first Best Supporting Actor Academy Award. He would win it twice more in the decade, and be nominated for a fourth. His range was enormous. He could play sophisticated businessmen, con artists, local yokels, cowhands and military officers with apparent equal ease. An accident in 1932 cost him most of his teeth, and he most often was seen in eccentric rural parts, often playing characters much older than his actual age. His career never really declined, and in the 1950s he became an even more endearing and familiar figure in several television series, most famously The Real McCoys (1957). He died in 1974 of emphysema, a beloved figure in movies and TV, the target of countless comic impressionists, and one of the best and most prolific actors of his time.
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