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Kenneth MacKenna

Kenneth MacKenna
Born Leo Mielziner, Jr.
(1899-08-19)August 19, 1899
Canterbury, New Hampshire, U.S.
Died January 15, 1962(1962-01-15) (aged 62)
Glendale, California, U.S.
Occupation Actor, Director
Years active 1920–1961
Spouse(s) Kay Francis (1931–1933) (divorced)
Mary Philips (1938–1962) (His Death)

Kenneth MacKenna (August 19, 1899 - January 15, 1962) was an American actor and film director, born Leo Mielziner, Jr. in Canterbury, New Hampshire.


Parents were portrait artist Leo Mielziner, Sr.(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). Ella and Leo were married October 20, 1896 in Boston, Massachusetts after having fallen in love in Paris, where Leo was a young artist. Leo, Sr. was born in New York City had a career as a notable portrait artist, living with his wife and children between Paris, New York, Cape Cod and New Hampshire. Leo, Sr. died in Truro, Massachusetts.

Ella, Kenneth's mother, was born in Manchester, New Hampshire of Anglo-Irish descent and was a Catholic, she died in New York City. Ella was successful as a writer, submitting among other things a monthly column called "Aube du Siecle" for Vogue magazine, during a period when she and Leo and the young Mielziner boys, Leo, Jr. and Jo, lived in Paris. 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. took MacKenna as his stage surname, changing the spelling slightly.

Ella Lane McKenna Friend was the direct descendant of John Friend who came to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the early 1630s (Henderson, Mary C. Mielziner: master.., pg 27). The Moses Mielziner family, Kenneth's paternal grandfather, immigrated from Posen, Prussia, and Kenneth's grandfather was a Reform Rabbi, Moses Mielziner associated with Hebrew Union College Moses Mielziner was a descendant of Joseph Caro. A complete history of the Mielziner family can be found in the wonderful book by Mary C. Henderson, Mielziner:master of modern stage design (2001).

Much about the life of Kenneth MacKenna, the history of Moses Mielziner, his grandfather, and the life of his brother Jo Mielziner can be learned through the respectful and accurate descriptions given in Mary C. Henderson's book about his brother, Jo Mielziner, Mielziner: Master of Modern Stage Design (2001). In Henderson's book 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 constanty 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, given 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 divorced him ten-years later. Kenneth MacKenna married Mary Philips in 1938. It was the second and final marriage for both.

MacKenna was first married briefly to actress Kay Francis on January 17, 1931. They divorced in February 1933. 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. MacKenna and Philips were buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.


Before Leo, Jr. was 10 years old his family had moved to New York City. He acted in and directed plays while in his teens. He served in the military. After returning to New York City, he signed a three-year acting contract with producer William A. Brady. He appeared in seven Broadway shows by 1923 and toured the country in two of those. After sound films arrived, he signed a contract with Fox Film Corporation in 1929 and moved to California.

Starting in 1931, he directed a few films in Hollywood. He 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.

Broadway stage

  • 1920 Opportunity as Jimmy Dow
  • 1920 Immodest Violet as Arthur Bodkin
  • 1922 The Nest as Max Hamelin
  • 1922 The Endless Chain as Kenneth Reeves
  • 1922 The World We Live In as Commander-in-Chief of Yellow Ants and as Felix
  • 1923 The Mad Honeymoon as Wally Spencer
  • 1923 The Crooked Square as Robert Colby
  • 1923 Windows as Johnny March
  • 1923 Dumb-bell as Ted Stone
  • 1924 We Moderns as Richard
  • 1924 Catskill Dutch as Peetcha
  • 1924 Nerves as Jack Coates
  • 1924 The Far Cry as Dick Clayton
  • 1925 The Sapphire Ring as Dr. Erno Nemeth
  • 1925 Oh, Mama as Georges La Garde
  • 1926 The Masque of Venice as Jack Cazeneuve
  • 1926 What Every Woman Knows as John Shand
  • 1928 The Big Pond as Pierre Dimarande
  • 1928 A Play without a Name as John Russell
  • 1934 By Your Leave as David MacKenzie
  • 1934 Wife Insurance as Gregory Landon
  • 1934 Merrily We Roll Along as Richard Niles
  • 1935 Othello as Iago
  • 1935 Macbeth as Macduff
  • 1936 Aged 26 as Charles Armitage Brown
  • 1937 Penny Wise as Gordon
  • 1959 The Highest Tree as Aaron Cornish

Produced & directed

  • 1936 Co-respondent Unknown

Film appearances (acting)

  • 1925 Miss Bluebeard as Bob Hawley
  • 1925 A Kiss in the Dark as Johnny King
  • 1926 The American Venus as Horace Niles
  • 1927 The Lunatic at Large as William Carroll & Henry Carroll
  • 1929 Pleasure Crazed as Capt. Anthony Dean
  • 1929 South Sea Rose as Dr. Tom Winston
  • 1930 Forever Yours (film left unfinished by Mary Pickford)
  • 1930 Men Without Women as Chief Torpedoman Burke
  • 1930 Crazy That Way as Jack Gardner
  • 1930 Temple Tower as Bulldog Drummond
  • 1930 The Three Sisters as Count d'Amati
  • 1930 The Virtuous Sin as Lt. Victor Sablin
  • 1932 Those We Love as Freddie Williston
  • 1933 Sensation Hunters as Jimmy Crosby
  • 1961 Judgment at Nuremberg as Judge Kenneth Norris

Films (directing)

  • 1931 Always Goodbye Fox Film Corp.
  • 1931 The Spider Fox Film Corp.
  • 1931 Good Sport Fox Film Corp.
  • 1932 Careless Lady Fox Film Corp.
  • 1933 Walls of Gold Fox Film Corp.
  • 1934 Sleepers East Fox Film Corp.


  • Mary C. Henderson, Mielziner: Master of Modern Stage Design (2001)
  • Personal correspondences: Philips/MacKenna family and Hackett family

External links

  • Mielziner Family Papers collection
  • Internet Movie Database
  • Internet Broadway Database
  • photo gallery of Ken MacKenna NY Public Library, Billy Rose Collection

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