Three time Oscar winner Walter Brennan is probably best known for playing unshaven sidekicks like his famous turn as Stumpy in the classic Howard Hawks western of 1959, Rio Bravo, opposite John Wayne. Maybe you prefer him playing nasty in John Ford’s take on the O.K. Corral, My Darling Clementine of 1946 opposite Henry Fonda’s Wyatt Earp. Then again maybe you love the comical side of Walter when he turned up in the western farce of 1969, Support Your Local Sheriff playing the so-called heavy to James Garner’s laidback approach.

Incredibly I haven’t even referenced his three Oscar winning roles. His first win was for another Hawks effort, 1936’s Come and Get It. His second statuette was for 1938’s Kentucky. His third win came in 1940 playing Judge Roy Bean aka The Hanging Judge, alongside laconic Gary Cooper in The Westerner. In my mind this is easily one of his best roles in a career that credits him with no less than 244 roles according to the IMDB.

He also scored a nomination for his work opposite “Coop” the following year in Sergeant York but lost out to Donald Crisp for How Green Was My Valley though Cooper did win the Oscar in the title role of the WW1 hero, Alvin York.

Mainly associated with westerns like others who had a knack for playing sidekicks with an unmistakable delivery, Slim Pickens comes to mind, Walter turned up in numerous classics. Among them the 1954 classic ensemble piece led by Spencer Tracy, Bad Day at Black Rock. By the time television became a viable opportunity, Walter found himself starring in the hit series The Real McCoys which ran for 225 episodes from 1957 to 1963. A young Richard Crenna costarred right alongside.

I’ve known who Walter Brennan was since I was old enough to sit in and watch Red River on TV next to my father. The 1948 Hawk’s classic starring The Duke remains a favorite for both of us to this day. I still get a laugh out of the false teeth storyline. One thing I couldn’t recall is the Walter Brennan recordings released in the early 1960’s and if it weren’t for Willie’s Roadhouse on satellite radio, Walter’s “singing” career may have gone on remaining unknown in my little corner of the world.

Turns out that once Brennan was well into his 60’s he recorded for the Liberty Records label and hit the Country Music charts with a rendition of “Old Rivers”. The song peaked at #5 on Billboard’s Hot 100 for the week of May 26th 1962 stopping short of #4’s classic Ray Charles version of “I Can’t Stop Loving You.” For the record the #1 song that week was an instrumental titled “Stranger on The Shore” by Acker Bilk. Honestly, never heard of it even after I listened in. On the country charts the song peaked at #3 and placed 28th in the years top 50. Not bad for an old timer competing with soon to be legends like Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Patsy Cline, and George Jones.

So here’s that Walter Brennan hit “Old Rivers” where we get him tugging the heart strings in all the right places as he uses that classic delivery of his to act his way though the song penned by Cliff Crofford.

Walter followed up on Old Rivers with his rendition of the Bill Anderson penned tune, Mama Sang a Song, which was the title track of his next LP via the Liberty label.

Walter Brennan isn’t the only actor who dabbled in Country Music. Kevin Costner and ….. wait for it …. Steven Seagal both gave it a shot and I’m sure that trend will continue. Have a look at a couple of tough guys named Jack and Telly who tried out their luck with the Country Music format a few years ago.

Walter Brennan (1894-1974)