Veteran character actor Richard Crenna dies at 76


Published: Sunday, January 19, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 18, 2003 at 9:36 p.m.
LOS ANGELES - Richard Crenna, the Emmy award-winning character actor who starred as a lovesick teenager on "Our Miss Brooks" and Sylvester Stallone's Green Beret mentor in the "Rambo" films, has died. He was 76.
Crenna, whose credits also included "Wait Until Dark," "The Flamingo Kid," and television's "The Real McCoys," died Friday of pancreatic cancer at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, daughter Seana Crenna said Saturday.
"This came very sudden," she said. Crenna's role on the CBS drama series "Judging Amy" was recently put on hold as he battled cancer.
Born in Los Angeles, Crenna's career began at the age of 10 when he broke into radio. The squeaky-voiced youngster appeared on "Burns and Allen"; later, he played love-sick teen Walter Denton on "Our Miss Brooks," moving with the show when it switched to television.
"For the first 20 years I was almost exclusively a radio actor - until television came in," Crenna told The Associated Press in 1999. "In those days, radio actors were considered actors who could talk, but they couldn't walk and talk at the same time."
Crenna disproved that theory, playing pitcher Daffy Dean in 1953 film "Pride of St. Louis" and bringing his Denton character to television and the big screen.
From 1957 through 1963, he played opposite Walter Brennan on the television series "The Real McCoys." In the show's last two seasons, Crenna directed some episodes; he later directed episodes of "The Andy Griffith Show" and "Lou Grant."
In 1966, Crenna appeared with Steve McQueen in "The Sand Pebbles," and played one of three con men who terrorized a blind Audrey Hepburn in the 1967 thriller "Wait Until Dark."
Crenna moved easily between television and the movies, and worked steadily through the years. He appeared in several critically hailed movies, including roles as the cuckolded husband in the steamy 1981 film "Body Heat," and as the conniving card shark opposite Matt Dillon in 1984's "The Flamingo Kid."
The latter role earned him a Golden Globe nomination for best supporting actor.
He also portrayed Col. Samuel Trautman, the mentor to Stallone's "Rambo" character, in all three of those films. His character's name: Col. Denton Walters, a nod to his old radio persona.
Crenna later spoofed that role in the 1993 comedy "Hot Shots! Part Deux," a parody of such high-testosterone films.
He earned an Emmy for his 1985 performance as the title character in "The Rape of Richard Beck," where he played a macho, sexist police officer whose world changes after he becomes the victim of a sexual assault.
Crenna's work as a tough-guy cop became a staple. He played Lt. Frank Janek in a series of television movies during the '80s and early '90s, and appeared in 1999 in a four-hour television series about three generations of a police family.
Most recently, he appeared as the love interest opposite Tyne Daly on CBS' "Judging Amy." An episode featuring a wedding between the two characters was recently postponed because of Crenna's illness.
Crenna is survived by wife Penni and three adult children.
Family members were arranging a public service to be held Jan. 25.

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