Sunday, September 20, 2009

Committing Atrocity

A wharf rat who navigates docks
avoiding the cops and the rocks
He came from the gutters
and curses and mutters
and probably don't change his socks

From Glenn Kenny's blog, Some Came Running:
"I think Walter Brennan was the greatest example of a personality I ever used," (Howard) Hawks told (Joseph) McBride (in McBride's Hawks on Hawks). Brennan was 40, an "extra man" on various Hollywood lots, when he was brought to Hawks by a production man for consideration for a small part in Barbary Coast, a Ben Hecht—Charles MacArthur-penned tale of Gold-Rush-era San Francisco. According to Todd McCarthy's biography of Hawks, the director burst out laughing at the mere sight of the lanky, and more grizzled than his actual years ought to have indicated, Brennan. What closed the deal was when Hawks asked him to read some lines.
"With or without?" the actor asked.
"With or without what?" Hawks asked.
And so Brennan won the part of "Old Atrocity." "He was supposed to work three days, and I kept him around a month," Hawks told McBride. In the finished film, we first see him piloting a rowboat... "Sufferin' snakes! A white woman! Jumpin' Jee-hosephat! Whiter than a hen's egg..."

"He worked in six pictures for me, and he only had [written] parts in two of them," Hawks told McBride. "The rest of the time I'd just call him up. He didn't worry about it—he'd do anything you wanted him to do. I'd say, 'Walter, I've got a picture.' 'Fine,' he'd say. 'I'll be over tomorrow.'" Photo: Brennan in Barbary Coast (Howard Hawks, 1935)

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