Richard Crenna gained fame on TV's "Our Miss Brooks" and "The Real McCoys" and made a successful transition from comedy to drama on television and in movies such as "The Sand Pebbles" and "Body Heat."
Called "... one of the few gentlemen I met in the business" by director Garry Marshall, Crenna was equally adept at comedy and drama. "He was one of the rare ones that could do both and also be a human being off the set," Marshall said.
"I've always been a very good fan of his and was happy to get him in 'Flamingo Kid,' " said Marshall, who directed Crenna as the slick and dishonest gin-rummy champ at a posh Long Island beach club who takes star Matt Dillon under his wing. "Matt Dillon was 19 and all over the place, and Richard helped him so much — just solidified him as an actor. Richard knew his way around a joke and did it honest; that's more important."
Opposite Sylvester Stallone, Crenna memorably appeared as Col. Trautman, Rambo's former Vietnam War commander, in three of the most profitable big-screen action movies of the 1980s: "First Blood," "Rambo: First Blood Part II" and "Rambo III."
Crenna's dramatic acting chops first garnered the attention of Hollywood in 1966 when he transitioned from television comedy to play the humorless and unexpectedly courageous gunboat captain in director Robert Wise's 1966 epic drama "The Sand Pebbles," starring Steve McQueen. Roles as a criminal who terrorizes a blind Audrey Hepburn in "Wait Until Dark" and as one of three astronauts trapped in an orbiting lab whose rockets won't fire in "Marooned" soon followed.
In the 1980s, Crenna's name was nearly a symbol for made-for-television movies as they gained artistic prominence. In 1985, he received an Emmy as outstanding actor in a limited series or special for "The Rape of Richard Beck," in which he played a sexist, macho cop whose attitudes about rape undergo a dramatic change after he is sexually attacked.
Crenna began his more than six-decade career as a former child radio actor beginning in the late 1930s in roles he later called "all the idiot adenoidal kids" including Oogie Pringle on "A Date With Judy," Beasey on "The Hardy Family" and Waldo on "Burns and Allen." He also played Bronco, a slightly older variation of his standard character, on "The Great Gildersleeve."
Television viewers were introduced to Crenna as Walter Denton, the squeaky-voiced, not-so-bright high school student on Eve Arden's "Our Miss Brooks," when the popular radio series moved to TV in 1952.
In 1957, Crenna graduated to his first adult character, the married Luke, on "The Real McCoys." The popular comedy series, starring Walter Brennan as the lovably cantankerous McCoy patriarch whose West Virginia clan moves to a farm in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley, ran for six seasons.
"He was just an absolutely magnificent actor," recalled actress Janet Waldo, a longtime friend and costar. They appeared together in a classic "I Love Lucy" episode, in which they played teenagers who have mad crushes on Lucy and Ricky and the Ricardos try to thwart the youngsters' unwanted attention by portraying themselves as unappealing oldsters. "It was always fun to work with Dick," said Waldo. "He's the kind of guy everybody wanted to be with."