Keenan Wynn

Keenan Wynn

Born Francis Xavier Aloysius James Jeremiah Keenan Wynn
(1916-07-27)July 27, 1916
New York City, New York, U.S.
Died October 14, 1986(1986-10-14) (aged 70)
Brentwood, Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Cause of death Pancreatic cancer
Resting place Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California
Occupation Actor
Years active 19341986
Spouse(s) Eve Lynn Abbott
(m. 19381947; divorced)
Betty Jane Butler
(m. 19491953; divorced)
Sharley Hudson
(m. 19541986; his death)
Children 5

Keenan Wynn (July 27, 1916 October 14, 1986) was an American actor. His expressive face was his stock-in-trade; and, though he rarely carried the lead role, he had prominent billing in most of his film and television parts.

Early life and career

Wynn was born in New York City as Francis Xavier Aloysius James Jeremiah Keenan Wynn, the son of vaudeville comedian Ed Wynn and his wife, the former Hilda Keenan. He took his stage name from his maternal grandfather, Frank Keenan, one of the first Broadway actors to star in Hollywood. His father was Jewish and his mother was of Irish Catholic background.

Ed Wynn encouraged his son to become an actor, and they both appeared in the original Playhouse 90 television production of Rod Serling's Requiem for a Heavyweight. The son was returning the favor: according to radio historian Elizabeth McLeod, Keenan had helped his father overcome professional collapse, a harrowing divorce, and a nervous breakdown to return to work a decade earlier, and now helped convince Serling and producer Martin Manulis that the elder Wynn should play the wistful trainer. He also appeared in a subsequent TV drama called The Man in the Funny Suit, which detailed the problems they had experienced while working on that show. In it, the Wynns, Serling, and many of the cast and crew played themselves. Keenan also featured in another Rod Serling production, a The Twilight Zone episode entitled, "A World of His Own" (1960) as playwright Gregory West, who uniquely caused series creator Rod Serling to disappear.


Wynn starred in The Amazing Mr. Smith on Mutual April 7-June 30, 1941. He played the title role, "a carefree young man who runs into trouble galore and becomes an involuntary detective."[1]

Film and television

Wynn appeared in hundreds of films and television shows between 1934 and 1986. He was a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer contract player during the 1940s and 1950s. He had a brief but memorable role as a belligerent, unsympathetic drunk in the classic wartime romance The Clock (1945).

His early postwar credits include Annie Get Your Gun (1950), Royal Wedding (1951), Kiss Me, Kate (1953), Battle Circus (1953), The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1956), A Hole in the Head (1959), The Absent-Minded Professor (1961), Son of Flubber (1963) and Dr. Strangelove (1964). He had an uncredited role in Touch of Evil (1958).

In the 1959-1960 television season, Wynn co-starred with Bob Mathias in NBC's The Troubleshooters, an adventure program about unusual events surrounding an international construction company. Wynn played the role of Kodiak, the "troubleshooter", for Mathias's Frank Dugan.

He appeared in numerous television series, such as the ABC/Warner Brothers drama, The Roaring 20s, The Islanders, and the ABC western series, The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters.

Wynn took a dramatic turn as Yost in the crime drama Point Blank (1967) with Lee Marvin. He had a leading role in the third Beach Party movie, Bikini Beach (1964) as a scheming newspaper publisher who wants to banish the local young people. Later he played Hezakiah in the 1965 comedy film, The Great Race (1965). He was the voice of the Winter Warlock in Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town (1970) and appeared in several Disney films, including Snowball Express (1972), Herbie Rides Again (1974) and The Shaggy D.A. (1976) (as a villain who learns Wilbur Daniels's secret, and uses it against him).

He appeared in Francis Coppola's musical Finian's Rainbow (1968), Sergio Leone's epic western Once Upon a Time in the West (also 1968), and Robert Altman's Nashville (1975). During this time his guest television roles included Alias Smith and Jones (1971-1972), Emergency! (1975), Movin' On (1975), and The Bionic Woman (1978).

Wynn appeared in ten episodes of TV's Dallas during the 1979-80 season, playing the part of former Ewing family partner-turned-enemy Digger Barnes. David Wayne, a friend of Wynn's, had played Digger Barnes in 1978, but was unable to continue with the part because of Wayne's co-starring role in the CBS series, House Calls, starring Wayne Rogers.

Wynn was initially cast in Superman (1978) to play Perry White[2] (the boss of Clark Kent and Lois Lane at the Daily Planet) in April 1977. However, by June (production had moved to Pinewood Studios in England), Wynn collapsed from exhaustion and was rushed to a hospital. He was replaced by Jackie Cooper. In 1983, he guest-starred in one of the last episodes of Taxi and Quincy M.E. In 1984, he starred in the television film Call to Glory, which later became a weekly television series.

Personal life and last years

Wynn was married to former stage actress Eve Lynn Abbott (1914–2004) until their divorce in 1947, whereupon Abbott married actor Van Johnson, one of the couple's closest friends.[3] Abbott contended her marriage to Wynn was a happy one, but that her divorce and remarriage was engineered by MGM studio-boss Louis B. Mayer, who refused to renew Wynn's contract unless Abbott divorced him and married Johnson, who was the subject of many rumors concerning his homosexuality.[4]

One son, actor and writer Ned Wynn (born Edmond Keenan Wynn), wrote the autobiographical memoir We Will Always Live In Beverly Hills. His other son, Tracy Keenan Wynn, is a screenwriter whose credits include The Longest Yard and The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (both 1974). His daughter Hilda was married to Paul Williams. He was an uncle by marriage to the Hudson Brothers.

In his later years, Wynn undertook a number of philanthropic endeavors and supported several charity groups. He was a long-standing active member of the Westwood Sertoma service club, in West Los Angeles.

During his last few years, Wynn suffered from pancreatic cancer, which caused his death in 1986. His ashes are interred in Glendale's Forest Lawn Memorial Park in The Great Mausoleum, Daffodil Corridor, Columbarium of the Dawn, in a niche alongside his father, Ed Wynn, his daughter, Emily (February 13, 1960 – November 27, 1980) who died from lupus and his aunt, Blanche Leopold (May 18, 1880 – December 26, 1973).

Partial filmography


  • Wagon Train - episode - The Luke O'Malley Story (1958) as Luke O'Malley
  • The Untouchables (1959-1961) as Augie 'The Banker' Ciamino / Joe Fuselli
  • The Twilight Zone - episode (1960) as A World of His Own
  • Rawhide - episode - Incident at Cactus Wells (1962) as Simon Royce
  • Combat (1962-1966) as Brannigan / Col. Clyde
  • Ben Casey - episode - Behold a Pale Horse (1962) as O. J. Stanley
  • Death Valley Days - episode - Grass Man (1962) as Josh Tavers
  • Bonanaza - episode - Alias Joe Cartwright (1964) as Sergeant O'Rourke
  • The Wild Wild West - episode - The Night of the Freebooters (1966) as Thorwald Wolfe
  • Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. - episode - Show Me the Way to Go Home (1966) as Harry Purcell
  • Then Came Bronson (1969 ?) as motorcycle enthusiast / older man (befriends Bronson)
  • Lancer - episode - Blue Skies for Willie Sharpe (1970) as Kansas Bill Sharpe
  • Alias Smith and Jones (1971) as Artie Gorman / Horace Wingate / Charlie Utley
  • Mod Squad - episode - And a Little Child Shall Bleed Them (1971) as Luther
  • Hawaii Five-O - episode - Journey Out of Limbo (1972) as Hummel
  • Cannon - episode - The Island Caper (1972) as Matt Dixon
  • Alias Smith and Jones - episode - What Happened at the XST? (1972) as Artie Gorman
  • McMillan & Wife - episode - The Devil You Say (1973) as Professor Zagmeyer
  • Hec Ramsey - episode - A Hard Road to Vengeance (1973) as Bullard
  • The New Perry Mason - episode - The Case of the Telltale Trunk (1973) as Victor Harding
  • Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974-1975) as Captain Joe 'Mad Dog' Siska
  • Movin' On - episode - The Elephant Story (1975) as Barnaby
  • Emergency! - episode - Back-Up (1975) as Wild Bill
  • The Bob Newhart Show - episode - What's It All About, Albert? (1975) as Dr. Albert
  • The Bionic Woman - episode - Rancho Outcast (1978) as Gustave
  • Dallas - 10 episodes (1979-1980) as Digger Barnes
  • Fantasy Island - episode - Mr. Nobody/La Liberatora (1981) as Willie the promoter
  • The Greatest American Hero - episode - Good Samaritan (1982) as Ira Hagert
  • Hardcastle and McCormick - episode - Just Another Round of That Old Song (1983) as Henry Willard
  • Quincy M.E. - episode - Whatever Happened to Morris Perlmutter? (1983) as Morris Perlmutter
  • Taxi - episode - Tony's Baby (1983) as Leo
  • Highway to Heaven - episode - Popcorn, Peanuts and CrackerJacks (1985) as Doc Brisby
  • Call to Glory - (1984–1985) as Carl Sarnac



  1. Dunning, John. (1998). On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-507678-3. P. 24.
  2. Supermanii.Com - Christopher Reeve
  3. Vallance, Tom (27 August 2004). "Evie Wynn Johnson: Actress and ambitious Hollywood wife". The Independent. Retrieved 29 May 2016.
  4. Heymann, C. David (2011). Liz: An Intimate Biography of Elizabeth Taylor. New York: Simon and Schuster. p. 81. ISBN 1559722673. Retrieved 29 May 2016.

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