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How This Actor’s Multiple Oscar Wins Prompted Rule Changes at the Academy

Academy Awards

Walter Brennan, renowned for his portrayal of cantankerous old characters alongside Hollywood’s biggest names like John Wayne and Humphrey Bogart, achieved an astounding feat in the late 1930s and early 1940s by securing three Oscars for acting within just five years. His rapid ascent raised eyebrows, prompting questions of potential rigging or favoritism within the Academy.

Who was Walter Brennan?

Walter Brennan
Walter Brennan

Walter Brennan, a pioneer character actor in Hollywood with a career spanning four decades, carved a niche for himself by portraying endearing yet grumpy elderly figures, often providing comic relief. His memorable performances alongside iconic stars like John Wayne and Humphrey Bogart showcased his versatility and comedic timing, making him a beloved fixture in the industry.

Brennan’s Oscar-Winning Roles

In 1937, Brennan clinched the first-ever Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role in “Come and Get It,” demonstrating a remarkable range from comedic to more serious moments. His portrayal of Swan Bostrom, a lovable character with a thick Swedish accent and an endearing earnestness, captivated audiences and solidified his talent.

Come and Get It

The following year, Brennan’s performance in “Kentucky” further cemented his reputation as a master of comedic relief. Playing the role of Sally’s uncle, Peter, Brennan infused the character with his trademark brashness and stubbornness, providing a delightful counterpoint to the film’s romantic subplot.

However, it was Brennan’s portrayal of the villainous Judge Roy Bean in “The Westerner” that truly showcased his acting prowess. His casual yet imposing demeanor opposite Gary Cooper’s protagonist added depth and complexity to the character, earning Brennan widespread acclaim and his third Oscar.

1936Academy AwardsBest Supporting ActorCome and Get ItWon
1940The WesternerWon
1941Sergeant YorkNominated

The Controversy Surrounding Brennan’s Wins

Despite Brennan’s undeniable talent, speculation arose regarding the circumstances of his multiple Oscar wins. It was suggested that his victories may have been influenced by the inclusion of extras in the voting process during that period. This suspicion gained traction, particularly after Brennan’s third win for “The Westerner,” leading to a scandal that ultimately resulted in the removal of extras’ voting rights.

Brennan was simply an actor who gained a lot of respect when he was an extra, and his fellow extra members saw fit to pay it forward.

While Brennan’s wins undoubtedly sparked debate, they also serve as a reminder of the inherent politics involved in award ceremonies.


Walter Brennan’s unprecedented success in securing three Oscars within five years left an indelible mark on Hollywood history. While his achievements may have been clouded by controversy, they shed light on the nuances of the award system and the broader dynamics at play within the entertainment industry. As we reflect on Brennan’s legacy, we are reminded that behind every accolade lies a story of talent, perseverance, and the intricacies of Hollywood politics.

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Written by:

Harry Bikul
Postgraduated from Jahangirnagar University. Loves blogging and reading other people's writing. Spends leisure time watching good movies. Wants to travel around the world.

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