Leo Penn

Leonard Francis 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.

Leo Penn
Leo Zalman Penn

(1921-08-27)August 27, 1921
DiedSeptember 5, 1998(1998-09-05) (aged 77)
Resting placeHoly Cross Cemetery, Culver City
OccupationTelevision director, actor
Years active1946–1998
Olive Deering
(m. 1947; div. 1952)

Eileen Ryan (m. 1957)
ChildrenMichael Penn
Sean Penn
Chris Penn
RelativesDylan Penn (granddaughter)

Early life

Penn was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants Elizabeth (née Melincoff) and Maurice Daniel Penn (Lithuanian Jewish family).[1][2][3]

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.[4]


A life member of The Actors Studio,[5] 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 Cavage 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. 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. 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.

Penn landed work as a director for many television series, including I Spy, Lost in Space, Star Trek, Blue Light, Custer, the 1976 western Sara, St. Elsewhere, Kojak, Starsky and Hutch, Cagney & Lacey, Little House on the Prairie, Columbo, Hawaii Five-O, Trapper John, M.D., Magnum, P.I. and Father Murphy. In 1983, Penn was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing in a Drama Series for The Mississippi.


Penn supported the Hollywood trade unions[6] and refused to accuse others to the House Un-American Activities Committee in their investigation of suspected Communist infiltration of the film industry. Penn was subsequently blacklisted, and Paramount refused to renew his contract. As a result, Penn was not able to work as a movie actor.[7] He found acting work in television, but CBS ousted him after receiving an anonymous accusation that he had addressed a political meeting.[8] Barred from acting in film or TV, he became a director.[9]

Personal life

His first marriage, to Olive Deering, was dissolved in 1952. He was married in 1957 to actress Eileen Ryan, with whom he had three sons: singer Michael Penn (b.1958), and actors Sean Penn (b.1960) and Chris Penn (19652006).

Leo Penn 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.


Year Title Role Notes
1946The Best Years of Our LivesATC CorporalUncredited
1947Fall GuyTom Cochrane
1949The Undercover ManSydney Gordon
1949Not WantedSteve Ryan
1959The Story on Page OneMorrie Goetz
1962Birdman of AlcatrazEddie KassellisUncredited
1977Sixth and MainDoc
1984The Wild LifeTom's Dad
1995The Crossing GuardHank


  1. Pfefferman, Naomi (October 16, 1997). "Spectator". Jewish Journal. Retrieved May 25, 2018.
  2. "Chopped Liver Gets a Mention, but No Jewish Wins on Oscar Night". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. March 2, 2004. Retrieved May 25, 2018.
  3. Bilmes, Alex (February 16, 2015). "Sean Penn Is Esquire's March Cover Star". Esquire. Retrieved May 8, 2018.
  4. "Famous B-24/PB4Y Crew Members". B-24 Best Web. 2011. Retrieved 2011-07-25.
  5. 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.
  6. Shattuck, Kathryn. "Leo Penn". New York Times. The New York Times Company. Archived from the original on 20 February 2009. Retrieved 15 January 2019.
  7. Hilden, Julie (January 18, 2005). "In Defense of Sean Penn's Speaking Out: How Celebrity Activists Can Serve as A Modern Bulwark of Our Constitutional System". FindLaw.com. Thomson Reuters. Archived from the original on 27 November 2016. Retrieved 15 January 2019.
  8. Kelly, Richard T. (2004). Sean Penn: His Life and Times. New York: Canongate Books. p. 26. ISBN 1-84195-623-6.
  9. Stark, Rachael. "Elia Kazan—Genius or Informant?". Infoplease. Sandbox Networks, Inc. Archived from the original on 22 August 2016. Retrieved 15 January 2019.
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