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Crenna dies at 76

Rambo's boss balanced films and family

Richard Crenna, an Emmy award-winning character actor who starred as a lovesick teenager on the 1950s sitcom “Our Miss Brooks” and as Sylvester Stallone’s Green Beret mentor in three “Rambo” films, died Friday in Los Angeles of pancreatic cancer. He was 76.

“He loved the camaraderie of a crew. He loved the creative process. He’s been working in it pretty much from the beginning,” said his son, actor Richard Anthony Crenna.

His role on the CBS drama series “Judging Amy” was recently put on hold because of his illness.

Crenna tried to balance work and family, bringing his wife and children with him on film shoots, including a yearlong adventure in Hong Kong and Taiwan to film “The San Pebbles,” in which he played a courageous gunboat captain opposite Steve McQueen in the 1966 naval epic.

In “Wait Until Dark,” Crenna played one of three con men who terrorized a blind Audrey Hepburn in the 1967 thriller. Other credits included 1984’s “The Flamingo Kid,” which earned him a Golden Globe nomination, and television’s “The Real McCoys.”

He portrayed Col. Samuel Trautman, the mentor to Stallone’s Rambo character, in all three of those films. 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,” in which he played a macho, sexist police officer whose world changes after he becomes the victim of a sexual assault.

In another role as a tough cop, he played New York City Det. Lt. Frank Janek in the 1985 TV movie “Doubletake” and six sequels.

The Los Angeles native began his showbiz career as a child radio actor.

Crenna was elected last fall to a three-year term on SAG’s national board of directors as rep of the Hollywood division. He ran at the urging of former president William Daniels.

SAG president Melissa Gilbert said, “I speak for the entire elected leadership at SAG when I say how sad we all are to hear of the death of Richard Crenna. He was a talented, successful actor and a dedicated advocate for all performers. Although he had only been on the board of directors since last fall, he spoke passionately about ending our divisiveness and had become a force for change and understanding in the boardroom.

“Richard was funny, warm and generous. We will miss him greatly.

“We send our deepest sympathy to his family and we want them to know that we will carry on inspired by our memories of him.”

Bonnie Bartlett, wife of former SAG president William Daniels, recalled that Crenna was universally admired by his peers.

“He really was on the good side of everyone,” she said. “He could get a little hot under the collar on un-ion issues but he was always such a friend to everyone.”

Bartlett, who portrayed a sister to Crenna’s character in “In the Name of Love: A Texas Tragedy,” said he had been active during the 2000 commercials strike, appearing at protests and walking picket lines. “I walked down Wilshire Boulevard with him on the march on the first day of the strike,” she added. “He was a great union man.”

Crenna is survived by his wife of 47 years, Penni; two daughters and a son; and three grandchildren.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Cedars-Sinai Comprehensive Cancer Center.

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