Richard Donald Crenna was born in Los Angeles, California of Italian immigrant parents on November 30, 1926. His father was a pharmacist while his mother managed a hotel. He attended Virgil Junior High School (now Virgil Middle School) where he got his first taste of acting. He signed up for drama classes because he'd already taken woodshop, and he noticed that the goof-offs and the pretty girls all went for the drama courses. He thought that was the place for him. He then moved along to Belmont High School in Los Angeles where he earned letters in both track and basketball. After graduating high school Crenna attended USC where he majored in theatre arts and was a member of the Kappa Sigma Fraternity. Crenna wed shortly after graduating from USC, but the marriage was of short duration. He remarried in the late 50's to his second wife Penni Sweeney with whom he remained wed until his death.
Richard Crenna began his career in radio, being asked by a teacher to audition for a part on Boy Scout Jamboree. He did and was accepted, beginning his career at the age of 11. His work on Boy Scout Jamboree lasted on an off/on basis for the next 17 years while working in hundreds of other projects. His other work included My Favorite Husband, The Hardy Family, Burns and Allen, Dear John, A Date With Judy, The Great Gildersleeve, and Our Miss Brooks. When Our Miss Brooks made the transition to television, Crenna went along. His run with the show lasted from 1952 to 1956. His part was written out due to a format change, forcing him to find other work. He also appeared in an early episode of I Love Lucy, playing a lovestruck teenager.
He landed the role of Luke McCoy on The Real McCoys, starring alongside veteran character acter Walter Brennan. The Real McCoys was about a transplanted West Virginia family working a farm in California. Crenna had found a home, staying with the series from 1957 until 1963. While acting on the series Crenna also had the opportunity to direct. He was later to direct other shows such as episodes of The Andy Griffith Show, Lou Grant, and The Rockford Files.
One foot in film, the other still in TV
Richard Crenna landed a role after his stint on The Real McCoys the following year in Slattery's People. It was a political drama which proved to be short-lived, lasting just one year. It allowed Crenna, who was known for his comedic talents, to display his dramatic abilities which in turn brought him many film offers. He was in The Sand Pebbles in 1966 along with Steve McQueen. Crenna played a criminal in Wait Until Dark, (1967), a thriller in which he terrorized Audrey Hepburn while trying to acquire a heroin filled doll. He shifted gears again in Marooned, (1969), in which he was commander of a doomed space capsule running out of air. One of his best known roles was in First Blood, the first in the franchise of Rambo films, playing Rambo's mentor Colonel Samuel Trautman. Crenna spoofed his Colonel Trautman character in Hot Shots! Part Deux, (1993).
A varied career continues
Following the success he had enjoyed on The Real McCoys, Richard Crenna attempted to find another hit television series, but that was not to be. His roles were wide and varied, but he was never again to find that big hit on the small screen. Richard Crenna was in the TV historical miniseries Centennial, (1978). Crenna was a sexist macho cop who had to rethink his assumptions regarding rape when he became a victim in The Rape of Richard Beck (1985). That role led to Crenna winning an Emmy Award for Best Performance by an Actor. Crenna often found himself cast as a cop, most memorably as Lt. Frank Janek in Doubletake, (1985). That role became a recurring role during the next decade as several more installments of the popular TV movie were added. He had a recurring role on TV's Judging Amy starting in 1999, playing the part of Jared Duff. He was Tyne Daly's love interest on the show. His and Daly's characters were to marry on the show, but his untimely and sudden death forced a rewrite.
Richard Crenna was father to 3 children. His daughter Seana is oldest, being born in 1955 of his first wife. Seana has a career as a social worker. She was followed by brother Richard Anthony Crenna (also an actor) in 1962 and another sister named Maria, (a CBS Vice President) in 1966, both by Crenna's second wife Penni. He also had 2 grandchildren, the eldest named Emma (1994) and the youngest named Isabella (1997).
Richard Crenna was a long time member of the Screen Actor's Guild (SAG). He was part of the fight in the 1950's over actors receiving residual fees for their television work. He was on the Board of Directors of SAG at the time of his death.
Richard Crenna had his share of trials. He was a survivor of thyroid cancer, a disease which almost robbed him of his voice. He also fought pancreatic cancer. Richard Crenna passed away January 17, 2003 in Los Angeles, California of sudden heart failure. He was in the intensive care unit of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center when he died. Richard Crenna was cremated.
Richard Crenna earned an Emmy Award in 1985. He garnered 3 other Emmy nominations in his career for The Real McCoys (1959), Slattery's People in both (1965) and (1966). He also received 3 nominations for the Golden Globe Awards. He was awarded a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame in 1988. His star is located 2 positions away from that of his Rambo co-star Sylvester Stallone.
Richard Crenna was a character actor who brought believability to the parts he performed. Though involved in both hits and misses, he was always credited with being a dependable, consistant performer. As he matured he brought a stolidness to his characters. He was a likeable, personable man who brought a life full of experience and nuance to his craft. Richard Crenna didn't simply act, he portrayed his characters.
Our Miss Brooks Walter Denton (1952-56)
The Real McCoy's Luke McCoy (1957-63)
Judging Amy Jared Duff (2000-02)
FILMOGRAPHY AS ACTOR
Out of the Ashes (13-Apr-2003)
The Day Reagan Was Shot (09-Dec-2001)
Wrongfully Accused (23-Jul-1998)
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (23-Mar-1997)
Hot Shots! Part Deux (21-May-1993)
Rambo III (25-May-1988)
Summer Rental (09-Aug-1985)
Rambo: First Blood Part II (24-May-1985
The Flamingo Kid (21-Dec-1984)
Table for Five (1983)
First Blood (31-Oct-1982)
Body Heat (28-Aug-1981)
Death Ship (7-Mar-1980)
A Fire in the Sky (26-Nov-1978)
Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell (31-Oct-1978)
The Evil (5-May-1978)
Breakheart Pass (25-Dec-1975)
A Girl Named Sooner (18-Jun-1975)
Jonathan Livingston Seagull (23-Oct-1973) VOICE
Un Flic (Oct-1972)
Red Sky at Morning (12-May-1971)
The Deserter (25-Mar-1971)
Doctors' Wives (3-Feb-1971)
Wait Until Dark (26-Oct-1967)
The Sand Pebbles (20-Dec-1966)
Made in Paris (9-Feb-1966)
John Goldfarb, Please Come Home (24-Mar-1965)
Our Miss Brooks (1956)
It Grows on Trees (28-Nov-1952)
The Pride of St. Louis (2-May-1952)