Today is the birthday of the great Hollywood character actor Walter Brennan (1894-1974). When still a student in his native Massachusetts Brennan got his first professional experience in local vaudeville and musicals. That’s the extent of his vaudeville connection, but it counts here!
Later Brennan took a variety of laboring jobs and served in World War I before breaking into silent films in the mid 1920s as an extra and stunt man. In the early thirties he began to began to speaking roles in B movie serials at the same time he was doing extra work in major Hollywood productions. By 1936 he was getting real roles in big budget films at the major studios and winning the first ever best supporting actor Oscar (the first of three he would win).
Brennan’s folksy demeanor made him perfect for westerns, and to this day that’s all most people know him for, although he played all sorts of characters during his fifty year career. By the 1950s he was basically a sort of self-caricature and became best known for his role on the tv series The Real McCoys. It was what the public wanted and Brennan was happy to give it to them. But it should never be forgotten that he was one of Hollywood’s finest actors during its Golden Age. His classic performances in great films are too numerous to list here; if you don’t already know them just scan his IMDB entry.
To find out more about the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. And check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc