Childhood & Early Life
Richard Donald Crenna was born on November 30, 1926, in Los Angeles, California, US, to Dominick Anthony Crenna and Edith J. (née Pollette) as their only child. His father was a pharmacist and mother was a hotel manager in Los Angeles. Both his parents had Italian ancestry.
He studied at the Virgil Junior High School and the Belmont High School in Los Angeles. He completed his graduation from the latter in 1944.
After his high school, he served the U.S. Army as a radioman in the infantry during the Second World War. While serving the army during the War he witnessed ‘the Battle of the Bulge (December 16, 1944 to January 25, 1945),’ the last major offensive campaign by the Germans on the Western Front. For a short while he also served in the ‘Pacific Theater’ of the War where he processed intercepted Japanese radio messages.
Following the war he enrolled at the University of Southern California to pursue higher studies. He was a Kappa Sigma fraternity member there and obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree from the university majoring in English.
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Crenna started attending drama classes during junior high and forayed into acting with radio along with several of his classmates, in 1937. He performed his first role as "the kid who did everything wrong" on the show ‘Boy Scout Jamboree.’ Till 1948 he featured on and off portraying different roles in the show.
Meanwhile, he began playing Walter "Bronco" Thompson in the radio situation comedy, ‘The Great Gildersleeve,’ that started airing in the US from August 31, 1941. He featured in the show till it ended in 1958. Other radio features of Crenna were ‘The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show,’ ‘A Date With Judy’ and ‘My Favorite Husband.’
One of the most notable radio performances of the actor was that of portraying Walter Denton, a clumsy Madison High student with a nasally high, cracking voice, in the American sitcom, ‘Our Miss Brooks.’ The CBS show became a hit from the very outset (1948) and it was eventually adapted as a television series. Crenna portrayed the character of Denton in the TV series as well, the first episode of which aired on October 3, 1952. His character was later dropped from the series in 1956. He also reprised the role in the 1956 film adaptation of the sitcom bearing the same title.
Starting from the early 1950s, he forayed into both films and television. One of his initial notable roles was that of Luke McCoy in the American television sitcom, ‘The Real McCoys.’ It ran for six seasons (October 3, 1957 to June 23, 1963) and his brilliant performance earned him ‘Primetime Emmy Award’ nomination for ‘Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series,’ in 1959. Crenna had also contributed as one of the four directors of the series.
He played the role of California state senator James Slattery in the American television series, ‘Slattery's People,’ that ran on CBS from September 21, 1964 to November 26, 1965. He won one ‘Golden Globe Award’ nomination for ‘Best Actor – Television Series Drama (1965)’ and two ‘Primetime Emmy Award’ nominations, for ‘Outstanding Individual Achievements in Entertainment (1965),’ and ‘Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series (1966)’ for the role.
During the 1960s, Crenna, credited as "Dick Crenna,” directed several episodes of the CBS aired American situation comedy, ‘The Andy Griffith Show.’
He essayed the starring role of Captain Collins, an ill-fated captain of an American gunboat in the American war film, ‘The Sand Pebbles.’ The blockbuster hit film released on December 20, 1966 and also starred Steve McQueen and Richard Attenborough among others.
In the ensuing years, he appeared in several notable films. These include the American thriller, ‘Wait Until Dark’ (1967),’ last film of Jean-Pierre Melville, ‘Un Flic’ (1972),’ the American neo-noir erotic thriller, ‘Body Heat (1981),’ the first three Rambo movies - First Blood’ (1982), ‘Rambo: First Blood Part II’ (1985) and ‘Rambo III’ (1988), comedy film ‘The Flamingo Kid (1984),’ and a parody film, ‘Hot Shots! Part Deux (1993).’
His made his return to weekly network television with the television sitcom, ‘All's Fair.’ The political satire that aired on CBS from September 20, 1976 to April 30, 1977, saw him starring as Richard C. Barrington, a conservative political columnist opposite Bernadette Peters. Other notable TV series of Crenna includes ‘It Takes Two’ (1982-83), ‘Pros and Cons’ (1991-92) and ‘Judging Amy’ (2000-02).
Over the years, he also starred in several television films like ‘Shootout in a One-Dog Town’ (1974), ‘A Girl Named Sooner’ (1975), ‘Mayflower: The Pilgrims' Adventure’ (1979), ‘The Rape of Richard Beck’ (1985) and ‘The Day Reagan Was Shot’ (2001). Of these ‘The Rape of Richard Beck,’ where he played police detective Richard Beck, won him ‘Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie,’ in 1985, and also fetched him a ‘Golden Globe Award’ nomination for ‘Best Actor – Miniseries or Television Film,’ in 1986.
Personal Life & Legacy
He was married to Joan Grisham from 1950 to 1955. In 1957, he married Hannah Smith. Crenna had three children – Seana, born in 1955; Richard Anthony Crenna, born in 1959; and Maria, born in 1966. Seana became a social worker, Richard Anthony an actor, and Maria a Vice President of CBS.
Crenna suffered from pancreatic cancer and succumbed to a heart failure on January 17, 2003, at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. His remains were cremated.
He was awarded a star on the ‘Hollywood Walk of Fame’ at 6714 Hollywood Boulevard.