Richard Crenna

Richard Crenna

Richard Crenna obituary in “The Guardian” in 2003.

Films like First Blood (1982) and the dire Rambo III (1988) helped earn Richard Crenna, who has died aged 75, a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, but he made better films along the way. With The Sand Pebbles (1966) he had entered that dependable category, the character star, and he showed it in films like The Flamingo Kid (1984), memorably portraying a slimy card shark helping the working-class Matt Dillon. That won him a Golden Globe nomination, but as he put it, “What matters is to keep working.”

From the 1930s, Crenna did just that – on US radio for 15 years, on film and in innumerable television movies and series. He began with auditions for Boy Scout Jamboree, and more than six decades later was still using his fine voice as narrator on Darkness At High Noon: The Carl Foreman Documents (2002). 

Radio saw Crenna through high school and the University of Southern California. He debuted, uncredited, in movies in Let’s Dance (1940). He also got involved in union work, beginning a struggle – opposed by the president of the Screen Actor’s Guild, Ronald Reagan – to get residual payments for TV actors. He eventually won, and three years ago joined the SAG board of directors. Advertisement

Crenna was a love-struck fan in television’s I Love Lucy (1951), but it was the role of Walter, in Our Miss Brooks, that established his fame, culminating with a spin-off feature film in 1956. In 1957, he featured in TV’s The Real McCoys; later he directed many episodes, and was in other series, such as The Rockford Files and Lou Grant. 

After McCoy, Crenna produced and acted in the legal drama Slattery’s People. Its cancellation led to featured cinema roles, beginning with The Sand Pebbles, in which he was a courageous gunboat captain. More than 100 films and TV movies followed. In Wait Until Dark (1967), he was a thug terrorising blind Audrey Hepburn; he was sent into space in Marooned (1969). He was in the great Jean-Pierre Melville’s final work, Un Flic (1972), and in the less notable Breakheart Pass (1975), being menaced by Charles Bronson. 

In the TV version of Double Indemnity (1973), he played the duped insurance agent, Walter Neff, and in the reworked noir classic, Body Heat (1981), he was the cuckolded husband. By 2001 he was playing his old opponent in The Day Reagan Was Shot. One of his most notable – and Emmy-winning – roles was in The Rape Of Richard Beck. For two years before his hospitalisation, he starred opposite Tyne Daly in Judging Amy. 

After a brief first marriage, Crenna married Penni Sweeney in 1959. She and their three children survive him. 

· Richard Anthony Crenna, actor, born November 30 1927; died January 17 2003Topics

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