Leo Penn
Penn in 1964
Leo Zalman Penn

(1921-08-27)August 27, 1921
DiedSeptember 5, 1998(1998-09-05) (aged 77)
Occupation(s)Television director, actor
Years active1946–1995
(m. 1947; div. 1952)
(m. 1957)
RelativesDylan Penn (granddaughter)

Leo Zalman Penn (August 27, 1921 – September 5, 1998) was an American actor and director. He was the father of musician Michael Penn and actors Sean and Chris Penn.

Early life

Penn was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts, the son of Russian-Jewish immigrants Elizabeth (née Melnicoff) and Maurice Daniel Penn (Lithuanian-Jewish family).[1][2][3] He 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, Cannon, 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., Hart To Hart, 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.[citation needed]


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 Communist political meeting.[8] Barred from acting in film or TV, he became a director.[9]

Personal life and death

Penn married Eileen Ryan in 1957, and they had three sons: Michael Penn, Sean Penn, and Chris Penn.[6] Penn died from lung cancer at Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California, on September 5, 1998, at the age of 77.[6]


Year Title Role Notes
1946 The Best Years of Our Lives ATC Corporal Uncredited
1947 Fall Guy Tom Cochrane
1949 The Undercover Man Sydney Gordon
Not Wanted Steve Ryan
1959 The Story on Page One Morrie Goetz
1962 Birdman of Alcatraz Eddie Kassellis Uncredited
A Man Called Adam Director
1977 Sixth and Main Doc
1984 The Wild Life Tom's Dad
1995 The Crossing Guard Hank


  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 July 25, 2011.
  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. ^ a b c Shattuck, Kathryn (September 10, 1998). "Leo Penn". The New York Times. Archived from the original on February 20, 2009. Retrieved January 15, 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 November 27, 2016. Retrieved January 15, 2019.
  8. ^ Kelly, Richard T. (2004). Sean Penn: His Life and Times. New York City: 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 August 22, 2016. Retrieved January 15, 2019.