About Leo Mielziner, Jr.
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 Poland, 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 constantyl 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 life-long 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.