If life throws you a lemon – make lemonade.
~ Joan Collins
Meet lemonade maker extraordinaire, Walter Brennan (1894 – 1974). Walter was more than just some old school actor with a
raspy distinctive voice. Walter was also an Army WWI veteran, a Guatemalan pineapple farmer and Southern Californian real estate mogul.
Walter was born in Lynn, Massachusetts. Walter Andrew Brennan was the second of three children by engineer William John Brennan and his wife, Margaret. In high school, Walter fell in love with acting after appearing in several school plays. After graduation, Walter worked in vaudeville while holding down various odd jobs until 1917.
In 1917, he enlisted and fought in World War I where he survived a poisonous mustard gas attack. One lasting effect of the attack was his voice changed – something everyone would notice everyday for the rest of his life. The mustard gas damaged his vocal cords so that when he spoke, he sounded funny.
People would laugh when he spoke and he became embarrassed by his voice. After the war he went to Guatemala where he tried pineapple farming there until he realized he hated it. After returning from Guatemala, he relocated to Southern California to take advantage of the rapidly growing real estate market.
Walter made millions which he promptly lost in the Depression. To make a living he returned to acting where he first was a stuntman. In 1932, while performing Walter was in a serious accident which knocked out most of his front teeth.
His dentures also affected his speech. People would say Walter sounded like an old geezer. When he removed his dentures he looked like an old man and his prematurely-receding hairline further helped him look like a senior citizen.
Walter turned these liabilities into assets by playing old men. Walter often portrayed characters who were decades older than he was. While he played a variety of roles he is best remembered for his work in Westerns. 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 extremely diverse, he is probably best remembered for his portrayals in Westerns. He remains tied with Jack Nicholson for the most Academy Awards given for a Best Supporting Actor. Walter would appear in more than 230 film and television roles in a career spanning nearly 50 years.
Walter is one of the men that made Westerns so popular back in the day playing rugged, determined individuals, people of character, and was handy with a gun and/or rifle.
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