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Walter Brennan, Simply One of the Best. "No Brag, Just Fact."


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He was arguably the most spectacularly successful of all Hollywood character actors, if only because of his status of winning three Academy Awards. Certainly he ranks as one of the most familiar of them all to us today, with countless broadcasts of his many films on TCM.

 

Walter Brennan.

 

Brennan appeared in over 230 film and television roles in a career that lasted more than a half century before the cameras. During his stint in the military during WWI a poison gas attack affected his voice, giving it a high pitched sound. In a 1932 accident he lost most of his teeth. These two incidents would help lead to Brennan's ability to play characters much older than himself in the movies. He became an expert, in fact, in playing old coots on the screen.

 

The western is the film genre in which Brennan always seemed particularly at home. Having been raised on the actor's TV comedy work in the then popular series, The Real McCoys, I recall being taken to the show by my parents to see How the West Was Won and shocked at seeing Walter playing a scoundrel, a river pirate, in fact, on the big screen. And, brief as his role is in that film, he was damn good too. But then, wasn't he always?

 

My knowledge of Brennan's life is limited and if there are any inaccuracies in the following brief account, well, my sources are Wikipedia and IMBd.

 

Massachusetts born in 1894, Brennan studied engineering in Cambridge, becoming interested in acting while in school and participating in school plays. At 15 he was doing bits in vaudeville, but before the war he was also a bank clerk and a lumberjack (now there's a contrast!). After the war he travelled to Guatemala where he raised pineapples. Then on to LA where he speculated in real estate, losing almost all his money when the market nosedived.

 

Brennan's first few jobs in the movies began in 1923 as an extra and stuntman and, with the talkies and the loss of his teeth (to be later memorably utilized in two famous Howard Hawks westerns), he started to flourish in small eccentric parts. TCM viewers will often be able to spot him in these small parts early in his film career before he became better known. The Invisible Man here, the Bride of Frankenstein there, a bit in a Three Stooges short, etc..

 

Brennan became the first actor to win a best supporting actor Academy Award for his performance in the 1936 Come and Get It. Two years later he'd have his second for Kentucky and two years after that a third, for one of his most memorable performances, as Judge Roy Bean in The Westerner. Please note, coincidence or not (I think not) he was directed by the illustrious William Wyler in two of those three Oscars wins. Brennan's fourth and final Oscar nod would be in 1941's Sergeant York.

 

There was some controversy about Brennan's three wins, however. From Wikipedia:

 

He was the first actor to win three Academy Awards and remains the only person to have won three Best Supporting Actor awards. However, even he remained somewhat embarrassed as to how he won the awards. In the early years of the Academy Awards, extras were given the right to vote. Brennan was popular with the Union of Film Extras, and since their numbers were overwhelming, he won each time he was nominated. His third win led to the disenfranchisement of the Extras Union from Oscar voting.

 

With his three Oscars behind him (he ranks, along with Jack Nicolson and Daniel Day Lewis as one of only three actors to achieve that landmark in his career) the best work really lay before him, in my opinion, throughout the 1940s. In 1941's Swamp Water, for the first and very few times in his career, Brennan received top billing in a film.

 

He really never slowed down as an actor, graduating to television in the '50s with the big hit, The Real McCoys (1957-63), later to appear in a couple of other series, as well, The Guns of Will Sonnett (including his popular tag line whenever his character wanted to punctuate a statement of his at the end with "No brag, just fact,"), as well as The Tycoon.

 

Brennan's right wing politics also came to the foreground during the '60s and there are, unfortunately, reports that he was racist.

 

Brennan's distinctive voice made him a joy for voice impressionists. Speaking personally, I can do a killer Walter Brennan impersonation.

 

Walter Brennan died of emphysema at age 80 in 1974, with one of the most outstanding acting careers as his legacy, having also memorably appeared in a number of motion picture classics.

 

Here's my own pick of what are probably my favourite Brennan films:

 

1938 Kentucky. Portraying Loretta's Young's crotchety but lovable grandfather and horse enthusiast. Keep in mind, he was only 44 when he played a man around 80.

 

1940 The Westerner. As Judge Roy Bean Brennan had a great showcase role, portraying both the ruthlessness as well as vulnerability of his true life Texas character who ruled a small town and had a thing for stage actress Lily Langtry. He also was able to bring some comic overtones to the proceedings, at times, however, particularly in the hangover scene with Gary Cooper.

 

1941 Meet John Doe. Memorable as the Colonel, Long John Willoughby's pal. Those who see this Capra production are not likely to forget Brennan's dissertation about the "helots."

 

All right. You're walking along, not a nickel in your jeans, your free as the wind, nobody bothers ya. Hundreds of people pass you by in every line of business: shoes, hats, automobiles, radios, everything, and there all nice lovable people and they lets you alone, is that right? Then you get a hold of some dough and what happens, all those nice sweet lovable people become helots, a lotta heels. They begin to creep up on ya, trying to sell ya something: they get long claws and they get a stranglehold on ya, and you squirm and you duck and you holler and you try to push them away but you haven't got the chance. They gots ya. First thing ya know you own things, a car for instance, now your whole life is messed up with alot more stuff: you get license fees and number plates and gas and oil and taxes and insurance and identification cards and letters and bills and flat tires and dents and traffic tickets and motorcycle cops and tickets and courtrooms and lawers and fines and... a million and one other things. What happens? You're not the free and happy guy you used to be. You need to have money to pay for all those things, so you go after what the other fellas got. There you are, you're a helot yourself.

 

1941 Sergeant York. Another memorable turn (bringing him his final Oscar nomination) as the rural pastor who has a tremendous influence on the hell raising lifestyle of the title character. "The Devil's got you by the coattail, Alvin."

 

1944 To Have and Have Not. As Eddie, Harry Morgan's rummy partner, limping along and a little vague with booze through much of the proceedings. While it's the Bogart-Bacall banter and chemistry that we primarily remember from this production, Brennan adds to the enjoyment, as well. "Were you ever bit by a bee?"

 

1944 The Princess and the Pirate. A Walter Brennan such as you've never quite seen anywhere else in this Bob Hope pirate spoof. Whiny voiced, cackling, Brennan gives an hysterical comedy performance, pretty much stealing every scene he's. "Oh, you'll like my brother," he tells Hope at one point, "He's twice as smart as me." "Oh, a half wit, eh?" Bob responds, followed by a burst of high pitched cackling from Brennan.

 

1946 My Darling Clementine. One of Brennan's very few villainy roles, memorable as Old Man Clanton opposing the Earps. The actor did not get along with cantankerous director John Ford and this was their only film together. Otherwise, you'd have thought that he would have been a natural as one of Ford's Stock Company players.

 

1948 Red River. The first of two memorable toothless old coot characterizations for director Howard Hawks.

 

1959 Rio Bravo. The other Hawks western, with Brennan giving one of his most lovable performances as fussy old Stumpy, always worried about the Duke and "Dude" and the others, amidst all his cackling and comic interplay with them.

 

1969 Support Your Local Sherriff. I mention this western spoof primarily because it gave Brennan the opportunity to perform a comic variation on his Old Man Clanton performance of over two decades before.

 

So, any other Walter Brennan lovers around here?

 

23efcc04-6016-4a5a-b787-b6e308a501c2_zps

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Whew!

 

For a minute there, I thought I "clicked" into WIKIPEDIA!

 

So, why the long treatise about Walter?  It's not his birthday, and no other special event or anything is scheduled surrounding him.

 

But, I'll bite---

 

Those of us "second wave boomers"  who were raised watching "Grandpappy Amos" have lived this long with most of our adoration of Brennan intact.

 

We enjoyed seeing him(and laughing) in RIO BRAVO and any other movie or TV show in which he would wind up.  From THE REAL McCOYS, to THE TYCOON and THE GUNS OF WILL SONNETT and beyond, he was always well recieved by us.

 

As testament to his loveability, an African American co-worker of mine once said, "I loved Grandpappy Amos even AFTER I found out he was a bigot!"  Going on to say he realized acting wasn't the same as real life.

 

MY biggest surprise( though not to many of the "hard-core" board members) was when, after seeing the movie about 50-60 times over my lifetime, I noticed Brennan as one of the pub dwellers/townsfolk in THE INVISIBLE MAN!  Really.  NEVER noticed that before!

 

From Judge Roy Bean to a drunken deckhand, Brennan could do it all.

 

I agree.  Simply the best.

 

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I knew Brennan from his many funny old coot roles of his later years. When I went back and started watching old performances, he really blew me away. His turn as Judge Roy Bean in THE WESTERNER is one of my favorite performances in any western. One of the absolute greatest character actors, ever.

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Don't forget that Brennan was a double threat. In 1962, he had a spoken-word hit record with "Old Rivers," which reached No. 5 on the Billboard pop chart. 

 

 

 

Actor Lorne Greene topped Brennan two years later. The "Bonanza" star had a No. 1 Billboard hit with the spoken-word Western ballad "Ringo."

 

 

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Of course, the greatest of all spoken-word ballads was "Big Bad John," which won Jimmy Dean a 1961-1962 Grammy Award for Best Country & Western Performance. He became a pretty fair actor himself (I loved his turn as a Howard Hughes-like billionaire in the 1971 James Bond film "Diamonds Are Forever"). He also put his name on a mighty fine line of breakfast sausages!

 

 

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I knew Brennan from his many funny old coot roles of his later years. When I went back and started watching old performances, he really blew me away. His turn as Judge Roy Bean in THE WESTERNER is one of my favorite performances in any western. One of the absolute greatest character actors, ever.

 

I agree that Brennan is one of the greatest character actors ever.  Clearly in my top 3.   What he did "off the field" doesn't impact what he did on the screen.

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He was arguably the most spectacularly successful of all Hollywood character actors, if only because of his status of winning three Academy Awards. Certainly he ranks as one of the most familiar of them all to us today, with countless broadcasts of his many films on TCM.

 

Walter Brennan.

 

Brennan appeared in over 230 film and television roles in a career that lasted more than a half century before the cameras. During his stint in the military during WWI a poison gas attack affected his voice, giving it a high pitched sound. In a 1932 accident he lost most of his teeth. These two incidents would help lead to Brennan's ability to play characters much older than himself in the movies. He became an expert, in fact, in playing old coots on the screen.

 

The western is the film genre in which Brennan always seemed particularly at home. Having been raised on the actor's TV comedy work in the then popular series, The Real McCoys, I recall being taken to the show by my parents to see How the West Was Won and shocked at seeing Walter playing a scoundrel, a river pirate, in fact, on the big screen. And, brief as his role is in that film, he was damn good too. But then, wasn't he always?

 

My knowledge of Brennan's life is limited and if there are any inaccuracies in the following brief account, well, my sources are Wikipedia and IMBd.

 

Massachusetts born in 1894, Brennan studied engineering in Cambridge, becoming interested in acting while in school and participating in school plays. At 15 he was doing bits in vaudeville, but before the war he was also a bank clerk and a lumberjack (now there's a contrast!). After the war he travelled to Guatemala where he raised pineapples. Then on to LA where he speculated in real estate, losing almost all his money when the market nosedived.

 

Brennan's first few jobs in the movies began in 1923 as an extra and stuntman and, with the talkies and the loss of his teeth (to be later memorably utilized in two famous Howard Hawks westerns), he started to flourish in small eccentric parts. TCM viewers will often be able to spot him in these small parts early in his film career before he became better known. The Invisible Man here, the Bride of Frankenstein there, a bit in a Three Stooges short, etc..

 

Brennan became the first actor to win a best supporting actor Academy Award for his performance in the 1936 Come and Get It. Two years later he'd have his second for Kentucky and two years after that a third, for one of his most memorable performances, as Judge Roy Bean in The Westerner. Please note, coincidence or not (I think not) he was directed by the illustrious William Wyler in two of those three Oscars wins. Brennan's fourth and final Oscar nod would be in 1941's Sergeant York.

 

There was some controversy about Brennan's three wins, however. From Wikipedia:

 

He was the first actor to win three Academy Awards and remains the only person to have won three Best Supporting Actor awards. However, even he remained somewhat embarrassed as to how he won the awards. In the early years of the Academy Awards, extras were given the right to vote. Brennan was popular with the Union of Film Extras, and since their numbers were overwhelming, he won each time he was nominated. His third win led to the disenfranchisement of the Extras Union from Oscar voting.

 

With his three Oscars behind him (he ranks, along with Jack Nicolson and Daniel Day Lewis as one of only three actors to achieve that landmark in his career) the best work really lay before him, in my opinion, throughout the 1940s. In 1941's Swamp Water, for the first and very few times in his career, Brennan received top billing in a film.

 

He really never slowed down as an actor, graduating to television in the '50s with the big hit, The Real McCoys (1957-63), later to appear in a couple of other series, as well, The Guns of Will Sonnett (including his popular tag line whenever his character wanted to punctuate a statement of his at the end with "No brag, just fact,"), as well as The Tycoon.

 

Brennan's right wing politics also came to the foreground during the '60s and there are, unfortunately, reports that he was racist.

 

Brennan's distinctive voice made him a joy for voice impressionists. Speaking personally, I can do a killer Walter Brennan impersonation.

 

Walter Brennan died of emphysema at age 80 in 1974, with one of the most outstanding acting careers as his legacy, having also memorably appeared in a number of motion picture classics.

 

Here's my own pick of what are probably my favourite Brennan films:

 

1938 Kentucky. Portraying Loretta's Young's crotchety but lovable grandfather and horse enthusiast. Keep in mind, he was only 44 when he played a man around 80.

 

1940 The Westerner. As Judge Roy Bean Brennan had a great showcase role, portraying both the ruthlessness as well as vulnerability of his true life Texas character who ruled a small town and had a thing for stage actress Lily Langtry. He also was able to bring some comic overtones to the proceedings, at times, however, particularly in the hangover scene with Gary Cooper.

 

1941 Meet John Doe. Memorable as the Colonel, Long John Willoughby's pal. Those who see this Capra production are not likely to forget Brennan's dissertation about the "helots."

 

All right. You're walking along, not a nickel in your jeans, your free as the wind, nobody bothers ya. Hundreds of people pass you by in every line of business: shoes, hats, automobiles, radios, everything, and there all nice lovable people and they lets you alone, is that right? Then you get a hold of some dough and what happens, all those nice sweet lovable people become helots, a lotta heels. They begin to creep up on ya, trying to sell ya something: they get long claws and they get a stranglehold on ya, and you squirm and you duck and you holler and you try to push them away but you haven't got the chance. They gots ya. First thing ya know you own things, a car for instance, now your whole life is messed up with alot more stuff: you get license fees and number plates and gas and oil and taxes and insurance and identification cards and letters and bills and flat tires and dents and traffic tickets and motorcycle cops and tickets and courtrooms and lawers and fines and... a million and one other things. What happens? You're not the free and happy guy you used to be. You need to have money to pay for all those things, so you go after what the other fellas got. There you are, you're a helot yourself.

 

1941 Sergeant York. Another memorable turn (bringing him his final Oscar nomination) as the rural pastor who has a tremendous influence on the hell raising lifestyle of the title character. "The Devil's got you by the coattail, Alvin."

 

1944 To Have and Have Not. As Eddie, Harry Morgan's rummy partner, limping along and a little vague with booze through much of the proceedings. While it's the Bogart-Bacall banter and chemistry that we primarily remember from this production, Brennan adds to the enjoyment, as well. "Were you ever bit by a bee?"

 

1944 The Princess and the Pirate. A Walter Brennan such as you've never quite seen anywhere else in this Bob Hope pirate spoof. Whiny voiced, cackling, Brennan gives an hysterical comedy performance, pretty much stealing every scene he's. "Oh, you'll like my brother," he tells Hope at one point, "He's twice as smart as me." "Oh, a half wit, eh?" Bob responds, followed by a burst of high pitched cackling from Brennan.

 

1946 My Darling Clementine. One of Brennan's very few villainy roles, memorable as Old Man Clanton opposing the Earps. The actor did not get along with cantankerous director John Ford and this was their only film together. Otherwise, you'd have thought that he would have been a natural as one of Ford's Stock Company players.

 

1948 Red River. The first of two memorable toothless old coot characterizations for director Howard Hawks.

 

1959 Rio Bravo. The other Hawks western, with Brennan giving one of his most lovable performances as fussy old Stumpy, always worried about the Duke and "Dude" and the others, amidst all his cackling and comic interplay with them.

 

1969 Support Your Local Sherriff. I mention this western spoof primarily because it gave Brennan the opportunity to perform a comic variation on his Old Man Clanton performance of over two decades before.

 

So, any other Walter Brennan lovers around here?

 

23efcc04-6016-4a5a-b787-b6e308a501c2_zps

Not to excuse Brennan, but a lot of people were racists in the '30s and '40s.

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Walter Brennan was oneof those actors who was "born old."  Or maybe we only saw him in roles where he portrayed old men?

I still have the Old Rivers LP. 

 

I don't think so.

 

He didn't appear that old in THE INVISIBLE MAN nor TO HAVE OR HAVE NOT.

 

BURT MUSTIN on the other hand ALWAYS looked old.  Of course, Mustin's career was largely on stage musicals and some radio until his acting career started to take off after reprising his DETECTIVE STORY stage role for the 1951 movie.  At that point he was 67 years old, which is WHY to us "boomers" who grew up seeing him on TV a lot always remembered him as an old man!  And in another "actuality"-----

 

The first few movies I saw CLAUDE RAINS in, HE was playing old men, and I thought that's what he usually did in movies.

 

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Claude Rains was already 44 when he got started with INVISIBLE MAN.

 

I once read Walter Brennan said that he'd lost his teeth young, and because of that he was able to play much older if called on. He cited his toothlessness as a great boost to his career!

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Claude Rains was already 44 when he got started with INVISIBLE MAN.

 

I once read Walter Brennan said that he'd lost his teeth young, and because of that he was able to play much older if called on. He cited his toothlessness as a great boost to his career!

He had intentionally gone to an incompetent dentist for years.

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Brennan brings his special persona to every role. I'm not a fan, possibly from knowing his personal foibles.

 

I will say however, I think Brennan really utilizes his voice skillfully in all his roles-much more so than his facial expression. He also uses great body language & gestures to get a role across, he's a very skillful actor.

 

Brennan is from Swampscott, a wealthy Boston suburb. I can't drive through the town without saying a little hello to him. (In contrast, Bette Davis's hometown 35 miles west was a very industrial, blue collar town where the original pink flamingo lawn ornaments are made)

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Brennan brings his special persona to every role. I'm not a fan, possibly from knowing his personal foibles.

 

I will say however, I think Brennan really utilizes his voice skillfully in all his roles-much more so than his facial expression. He also uses great body language & gestures to get a role across, he's a very skillful actor.

 

Brennan is from Swampscott, a wealthy Boston suburb. I can't drive through the town without saying a little hello to him. (In contrast, Bette Davis's hometown 35 miles west was a very industrial, blue collar town where the original pink flamingo lawn ornaments are made)

You'd never guess that Brennan, who had a c & w persona, was from a wealthy Boston suburb.

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Brennan is from Swampscott, a wealthy Boston suburb. I can't drive through the town without saying a little hello to him. (In contrast, Bette Davis's hometown 35 miles west was a very industrial, blue collar town where the original pink flamingo lawn ornaments are made)

 

In a switch from his usual roles, Brennan played a wealthy businessman in the 1964-65 ABC sitcom "The Tycoon." He starred as millionaire Walter Andrews, the head of a major corporation. Van Williams, who would team up with Bruce Lee a couple of years later in ABC's "The Green Hornet" series, co-starred as Brennan's personal pilot. 

 

 

 

The sitcom only lasted one season for a total of 32 half-hour episodes. When Brennan returned to television, it was in the ABC Western series "The Guns of Will Sonnett," produced by Aaron Spelling with Danny Thomas as executive producer. In that show, Brennan played the title character, a savvy grandfather searching with his grandson (Dack Rambo) for the boy's estranged father. Sonnett could handle himself in tight situations, and frequently backed up his straight talk with that line: "No brag -- just fact."

 

Notice that Brennan did the opening theme song in the spoken-word tradition of his 1962 Billboard hit "Old Rivers."

 

 

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While as a kid I pretty much watched The Real McCoys weekly on television (this was my introduction to Walter Brennan), I never viewed either The Tycoon or The Guns of Will Sonnett.

 

However, Brennan's often repeated "No brag, just fact" tag line in the promotions of the Sonnett series made a big enough impression upon me that I still recalled it all these years later, incorporating it as part of the title of this thread tribute to the actor.

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Brennan looked seventy when he was thirty and also seventy when he was seventy. Did he not used to take his teeth out in early films to look older. He always gave a good performance to be sure.

 

Unlike DENIS LEARY, who still looks 30 at 60+

 

But as far as "looking one's age" goes.......

 

Spencer tracy was 64 when he did GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER,  but don'tcha think he looks MUCH older?

 

But back to Brennan-----

 

I watched THE TYCOON mostly BECAUSE Brennan was in it.  If I remember right, he was a HENRY FORD type of character....a millionaire corporate head who, like Ford, built his empire up from nothing.  An AUTO empire if I remember right.  I particularily recall an episode in which both he and TOMMY IVO, who in the episode DIDN'T know of Brenna's character's status, built a AA fueler together.

 

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He was arguably the most spectacularly successful of all Hollywood character actors, if only because of his status of winning three Academy Awards. Certainly he ranks as one of the most familiar of them all to us today, with countless broadcasts of his many films on TCM.

 

Walter Brennan.

 

Brennan appeared in over 230 film and television roles in a career that lasted more than a half century before the cameras. During his stint in the military during WWI a poison gas attack affected his voice, giving it a high pitched sound. In a 1932 accident he lost most of his teeth. These two incidents would help lead to Brennan's ability to play characters much older than himself in the movies. He became an expert, in fact, in playing old coots on the screen.

 

...

 

This was an interesting post.  Thanks.  The WWI poison gas damage to Brennan's voice reminds me of "Whispering" Jack Smith, whose voice was also affected by WWI poison gas, though it quite possibly helped him as he was a very popular crooner in his day. 

 

Here is a clip from Fox movie Happy Days (1929).   He is the guy in the middle talking then singing in the beginning.  A rare existing movie appearance for him.

 

 

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Not to excuse Brennan, but a lot of people were racists in the '30s and '40s.

 

 

Lon Chaney was born in 1883 and he was not a racist. He died in 1930, I believe. And not to burst your bubble, but many classic film actors were not racist in the 30's and 40's. Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, James Cagney,  Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, Myrna Loy, Claudette Colbert, Henry Fonda, Spencer Tracy, John Garfield, William Holden, Gregory Peck, Fredric March,  Burt Lancaster...not racist. 

 

In the 50's Paul Newman, James Dean, James Garner, Marlon Brando, Lee Marvin...again, not racist.

 

So, the "everyone was racist in the 30's and 40's" meme doesn't wash. Walter Brennan was a loser. I also think he played the same exact fake folksy character in every single movie and he ripped off his ENTIRE style from George "Gabby" Hayes, who did it much better. 

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This is sad. I must admit to never having heard about Brennan's racism before this thread. So does he now get added to the ever-growing list of people I won't like anymore? I try to separate artists personal foibles from their work, but it doesn't always work out that way. I can't really imagine laughing at Bill Cosby ever again. Whenever I see Ward Bond, I think about what a brutish thug he was to so many during the HUAC years. Jimmy Stewart was supposedly a racist. A major 50's era star was supposedly an assaulter (original word censored). Etc.

 

Ignorance is bliss when it comes to performers.

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This is sad. I must admit to never having heard about Brennan's racism before this thread. So does he now get added to the ever-growing list of people I won't like anymore? I try to separate artists personal foibles from their work, but it doesn't always work out that way. I can't really imagine laughing at Bill Cosby ever again. Whenever I see Ward Bond, I think about what a brutish thug he was to so many during the HUAC years. Jimmy Stewart was supposedly a racist. A major 50's era star was supposedly a ****. Etc.

 

Ignorance is bliss when it comes to performers.

 

There is quite a lot of talk about political correctness these days. A version of political correctness on this board is the maxim that says what actors do in their private lives shouldn't affect our feelings about their work on screen. But it does.

 

It's a decision we all have to make for ourselves. Brennan's racism was particularly vicious; he was outspoken.  I actually never admired his work that much. Even as a kid, long before I knew about him as a person, I found his performances kind of annoying, with a couple of exceptions.

 

There was something particularly racist about the children of Irish immigrants in Boston/Southie (see following article). Brennan, though he grew up 15 miles from Boston, the child of working class Irish immigrants, was part of that culture.

 

http://gawker.com/5946312/the-most-racist-city-in-america-boston

 

But in the end, each of us has to decide for ourself whether an actor's offstage life will affect our feeling about him/her onscreen.  For me, in Brennan's case, it's not that difficult, because I've never been a fan. Though I like his performances in Sergeant York and as the jerk in Stanley and Livingstone.

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