Saturday, September 5, 2015

Director/Actor Leo Penn 1998 Holy Cross Cemetery

Leo Z. Penn (August 27, 1921 – September 5, 1998) was an American actor and director and the father of musician Michael Penn and actors Sean Penn and Chris Penn.

Early life

Penn was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants Elizabeth (née Melincoff) and Maurice Daniel Penn. Leo Penn may have had distant Sephardic ancestry, as his father's surname was originally "Piñon."[1]

Penn served in the United States Army Air Forces during World War II as a B-24 Liberator bombardier with the 755th Bomb Squadron, 458th Bomb Group, stationed in England as part of the Eighth Air Force.[2]


Penn supported the Hollywood trade unions[3] and refused to accuse others to the House Un-American Activities Committee. He was blacklisted, and Paramount refused to renew his contract. As a result Penn was not able to work as a movie actor.[4] He found acting work in television, but CBS ousted him after receiving an anonymous accusation that he had addressed a political meeting.[5] Barred from acting in film or TV, he became a director.[6]


A life member of The Actors Studio,[7] Penn won the Theatre World Award in 1954 for his performance in the play The Girl on the Via Flaminia. He acted in numerous roles in the early years of television. In 1956, he was cast as Mr. Rico in the episode "Ringside Padre" of the religion anthology series, Crossroads. In 1957, he appeared in the episode "One If by Sea" of the military drama series, Navy Log. He was also cast in an episode of Beverly Garland's 1957-1958 groundbreaking crime drama, Decoy. In 1960, he played Cabbage in "The Poker Fiend" on Richard Boone's CBS western series, Have Gun - Will Travel. In 1961, he was cast as Tiko in the episode "The World Is Her Oyster" of the ABC adventure series, The Islanders, set in the South Pacific, and appeared in an episode of the ABC crime drama The Asphalt Jungle. He also appeared in another ABC adventure series, Straightaway, which focuses on automobile racing.

Penn landed work as a director for many television series, including Star Trek, I Spy, Blue Light, Starsky and Hutch, Custer, the 1976 western Sara, St. Elsewhere, Kojak, Cagney and Lacey, Columbo, Trapper John, M.D. and Father Murphy. Penn later resumed some acting roles. On March 3, 1961, he co-starred with Peter Falk and Joyce Van Patten in the episode "Cold Turkey" of the ABC legal drama series, The Law and Mr. Jones starring James Whitmore. About this time, he also appeared on Pat O'Brien's ABC sitcom, Harrigan and Son. He directed also for the original hit TV series Hawaii 5-0. In the 1961-1962 television season Penn acted in the CBS crime drama, Checkmate in the episode The Button-Down Break and starred as Jerry Green in Gertrude Berg's CBS's sitcom Mrs. G. Goes to College renamed at mid-season as The Gertrude Berg Show. In 1983, Penn was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing in a Drama Series for The Mississippi.

Personal life

His first marriage, to Olive Deering, was dissolved in 1952. He was married in 1958 to actress Eileen Ryan, and became the father of three boys, singer Michael Penn (b.1958), and actors Sean Penn (b.1960) and Chris Penn (1965-2006). He died of lung cancer in Santa Monica, California, on September 5, 1998 at the age of 77, and was interred at the Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California.


1. Kelly, Richard T. (2004), Sean Penn: His Life and Times, New York: Canongate Books, pp. 9–10, ISBN 1-84195-623-6 
2. "Famous B-24/PB4Y Crew Members". B-24 Best Web. 2011. 
 3. New York Times obituary of Leo Penn 
4. Hilden, Julie at In Defense of Sean Penn's Speaking Out dated Tuesday, January 18, 2005 
5. [ reminiscence by Leo Penn] quoted on p.26 of Kelly, Richard T. (2004), Sean Penn: His Life and Times, New York: Canongate Books, p. 26, ISBN 1-84195-623-6 
6. Elia Kazan—Genius or Informant? 
7. Garfield, David (1980). "Appendix: Life Members of The Actors Studio as of January 1980". A Player's Place: The Story of The Actors Studio. New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc. p. 279. ISBN 0-02-542650-8.

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