The Who2 Blog

The Forgotten Oscar Champ

Quick question: What actor is tied with Jack Nicholson for the most male acting Oscars in film history?

(And the envelope goes to…)

We mentioned Walter Brennan in an earlier post about Harrison Ford’s movie career and women (and hair). But we didn’t talk much about the man himself.

Walter Brennan was to the 1940s as… who is to the 2000s? William H. Macy? J.K. Simmons? There’s no exact analogue.

Brennan was a character actor so popular that he won three of the first five Oscars ever given for best supporting actor. Brennan won for films from 1936, 1938 and 1940 — Come and Get It, Kentucky, and The Westerner, respectively. (Yeah — not big titles. In those days the roles were often quite small, too.)

Brennan was the all-time acting Oscar champ until Katharine Hepburn caught him in 1969 (for The Lion In Winter) and then passed him in 1982 with her fourth Oscar, for On Golden Pond. Nicholson tied him for the male lead with As Good as It Gets in 1997 — 60 years after Brennan won his first.

(Yow! Brennan and Nicholson once appeared together. The IMDB says Jack guested on a 1967 episode of Brennan’s TV western The Guns of Will Sonnett.)

Brennan was Oscar-nominated once more for Sergeant York (1941) but never again, perhaps due to sheer Brennan exhaustion on the part of the Academy. Ironically, those next two decades gave Brennan his juiciest movies, supporting John Wayne, Henry Fonda, and every other great actor of the day in classic films like Red River and How the West Was Won. He was with Bogart and Bacall in To Have and Have Not. He was in the early Natalie Wood romance Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hey! He was all over the place.

He finally gravitated to westerns and established the Brennan we remember today: The grizzled and bedentured old coot with a cackle and a shotgun. But in those years he got no Oscar love.

Which is where he and Ford cross paths. Despite 35 years of blockbuster films and over $3 billion at the box office, Ford has been Oscar-nominated just once, for Witness. (He lost to William Hurt in Kiss of the Spider Woman. Hurt beat Nicholson that year, too, for Prizzi’s Honor.)

Never winning, OK. But nominated only once? That ain’t fair.

Perhaps Mr. Ford should take a tip from Brennan and other character actors and collect himself a few supporting Oscars as a bedentured sidekick, eccentric uncle, boxing old-timer, bartender, psychologist, shadowy crime boss, beloved chauffeur, lonely assembly-line worker, angry neighbor and/or karate sensei?

Of course the question is, would he take roles with Brennan-esque names like Skid, Zeke, Cap, Doc, Stumpy, Cappy, Groot?

We’d love to see it.

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