Kenneth MacKenna
Kenneth MacKenna.jpg
Leo Mielziner Jr.

(1899-08-19)August 19, 1899
DiedJanuary 15, 1962(1962-01-15) (aged 62)
Resting placeForest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California
  • Actor
  • director
Years active1920–1961
(m. 1931; div. 1934)
(m. 1938)

Kenneth MacKenna (born Leo Mielziner Jr.; August 19, 1899 – January 15, 1962) was an American actor and film director.


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MacKenna was born as Leo Mielziner Jr. in Canterbury, New Hampshire, to portrait artist Leo Mielziner (December 7, 1868 - August 11, 1935), the son of a prominent Reform rabbi (Moses Mielziner) and Ella Lane McKenna Friend (March 18, 1873 – February 2, 1968). [1]

Although Kenneth changed his name from Mielziner to MacKenna for stage purposes, it was taken from family roots. Ella's mother’s maiden name was Margaret A. McKenna, and Ella was also named McKenna. So it seemed natural for Leo, Jr., to take MacKenna as his stage surname, changing the spelling slightly.[citation needed]

In Mary C. Henderson's book about his brother, Jo Mielziner, Mielziner: Master of Modern Stage Design (2001), she states, "Kenneth MacKenna was the classic example of the first born son. On reaching manhood, he felt that it was his duty to take care of his entire family: mother, father and sibling. Responsible, intelligent and clear-headed he was constantly setting up strategies for his family as if he knew instinctively what was best—and he was usually right." (p. 92). Kenneth's devotion to his wife, Mary Philips, and to his brother, Jo, as well as to Jo's adopted son, Michael Mielziner, continued until his death and then beyond. His own professional success as a story director with MGM allowed him to help support his brother's career, give generously to others, and contribute to the theatre, even after his own death. Mielziner was a five-time Tony Award winner.

Kenneth and his wife, Mary Philips, both actors, were also long-time supporters of the arts. As angels for the first production of South Pacific, Kenneth first brought the book to Richard Rodgers, suggesting its production as a stage musical. The Rodgers had been long-time friends with the MacKennas/Mielziners. Mary Martin, who starred in that production, created an embroidered signature scarf of all the stars in that first production of South Pacific and presented it as a gift of thanks to Kenneth and Mary. This scarf was later given as a gift to Lucille Hackett (née Bardorf), cousin and beloved "sister" to Mary Philips. Kenneth's role as an angel and his position as a director with MGM can be further researched through the Mielziner papers at the New York Public Library and through the library at MGM. Mary Philips had a successful career as a stage and film star during the golden age of the theatre. In September 1924, Humphrey Bogart had appeared in the Broadway play Nerves with Kenneth and Mary Philips. They all became good and lifelong friends. Philips was later married to Bogart (1928–1938), but the marriage ended in divorce. Kenneth MacKenna married Mary Philips in 1938. It was the second and final marriage for both.

MacKenna was first married to actress Kay Francis on January 17, 1931.[2] They divorced in February 1934. He married Mary Philips in August 1938 and they remained married until his death from cancer. As his wife, long-time friend, and companion, Philips described Kenneth as her true soulmate and felt as though her own life had come to an end when Kenneth died.[citation needed] MacKenna died on January 15, 1962, in Santa Monica, California, at age 62. He and Philips were buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.[3]


Kenneth MacKenna and J. Farrell MacDonald in Men Without Women (1930)
Kenneth MacKenna and J. Farrell MacDonald in Men Without Women (1930)

MacKenna was involved with bonds and stocks until he was discovered by William Brady and became a member of the cast of At 9:45.[4] He debuted on Broadway in Opportunity (1920).[5] While in New York, he also directed and produced plays for the Theater Guild.[6] After sound films arrived, he signed a contract with Fox Film Corporation in 1929 and moved to California.[citation needed]

Starting in 1931, he directed a few films in Hollywood, then resumed his Broadway theatre career in the mid-1930s. Soon Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer hired him as a story editor in New York. Later, back in Hollywood, he was made department head. He returned to acting in the late 1950s both on stage and in film.

One of MacKenna's last roles was portraying fictional Judge Kenneth Norris in the film Judgment at Nuremberg, which was released less than a month before MacKenna's death.


  1. ^ "Mielziner family papers 1890-1935". The New York Public Library Archives & Manuscripts. The New York Public Library. Archived from the original on March 21, 2020. Retrieved March 21, 2020.
  2. ^ Kear, Lynn; Rossman, John (2016). The Complete Kay Francis Career Record: All Film, Stage, Radio and Television Appearances. McFarland. p. 8. ISBN 978-1-4766-0287-5. Retrieved March 21, 2020.
  3. ^ Ellenberger, Allan R. (2001). Celebrities in Los Angeles Cemeteries: A Directory. McFarland. p. 61. ISBN 978-0-7864-0983-9. Retrieved March 21, 2020.
  4. ^ "Notes deluge matinee idol". The Billings Gazette. Montana, Billings. Central Press. March 13, 1927. p. 20. Retrieved March 21, 2020 – via
  5. ^ "Kenneth MacKenna". Internet Broadway Database. The Broadway League. Archived from the original on March 21, 2020. Retrieved March 21, 2020.
  6. ^ Boland, Elena (September 7, 1930). "Family skeleton exposed". The Los Angeles Times. California, Los Angeles. p. 36. Retrieved March 21, 2020 – via