This Actor Won 3 Oscars in 5 Years, Forcing Academy to Change Its Rules

This Actor Won 3 Oscars in 5 Years, Forcing Academy to Change Its Rules
Image credit: Legion-Media

He had a little bit of 'extra' help.


  • Even the biggest names in Hollywood history haven't accomplished this.
  • His unusual Oscar winning streak required a change in the rules.
  • This actor had a brilliant range, but did his acting really deserve this incredible success?

Since 1929, the Academy Awards, commonly referred to as the Oscars, have been a means of recognizing and celebrating excellence in many areas of the film industry. The small, gold-plated statuette has become a symbol of the highest level of prestige and cinematic success that some of the best in the business could hope to win just once in their lives.

Imagine the surprise and outrage in the industry when Walter Brennan took home 3 Oscars in the incredibly short span of just 5 years.

Winning more than once is almost unheard of

As of 2024, there are only 44 actors who have won the Oscar more than once. Meryl Streep has won three in the space of 30 years, Anthony Hopkins won his first Oscar in 1992, and his second almost 30 years later in 2021. It took these actors, and many others, most of their careers to earn their prestigious awards.

So, how did Walter Brennan achieve this feat in 5 short years?

Born in 1894, Brennan began his acting career in 1923 as an extra and stuntman. He slowly worked his way up to speaking parts and eventually, supporting roles, making a name for himself with his impressive range of characters.

His career spans over 40 years, but he seemed to have explosive and incomprehensible success in a very short period of his lengthy acting history.

He was nominated for and awarded his first Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Swedish lumberman Swan Bostrom in the romantic drama Come and Get It (1936). He would receive the same award for his supporting role as an old horse ranch owner in Kentucky (1939) and once again for his portrayal of Judge Roy Bean in The Westerner (1941). Brennan came close to having four wins when he received a nomination for Sergeant York (1942).

This Actor Won 3 Oscars in 5 Years, Forcing Academy to Change Its Rules - image 1

How did he win so many awards so quickly?

There's no disputing his talent, however, in the early days of the Academy Awards, there were many creases to be ironed out, and rules to be established.

Brennan's rapid success raised eyebrows and left many questioning the validity of his achievements. There was no rigging involved in his wins, but it was revealed that his Oscar success came from a flawed voting system that allowed movie extras to vote. Brennan's endorsement by the large extras union gave him a massive number of votes and won him three Oscars.

These extras were allowed to vote between 1936 and 1940, with the dates coinciding almost exactly with Brennan's Oscar wins. His streak ended after film extras lost their ability to vote, and he received only one nomination for 1942's Sergeant York.

His infamous win streak ended with the rule change, and although he never received another Oscar, he went on to play many more beloved, versatile roles. From finding fame as farmer Amos in The Real McCoys, which ran for six years, to his final film, Smoke in the Wind (1975), Walter Brennan made a name for himself that was loved and respected in the industry.

This Actor Won 3 Oscars in 5 Years, Forcing Academy to Change Its Rules - image 2

When it comes to voting for the prestigious Academy Awards, extras are still not part of the process. Active Academy members receive nomination ballots each year and can vote to determine the nominees in their respective categories. With a far more controlled process and a more exclusive membership, there will likely never be another actor to win multiple Oscars in a short span of time.