01 April 1917
United States of America
28 October 1980|
Multi-talented young American child actor. His parents were Nathan Haines Janney and Rebecca Bernice Kohn. No Birth Certificate but have contempory newspaper birth announcement. Divorced by 1920 (Census). He remarried and died in an automobile accident in 1934 near San Luis Obispo CA. The local police department ran a "blurb" in "Variety" to locate and notify the ex-wife and son.|
The family were wealthy and socially active wholesale liquor distributors until "Prohibition" took effect in 1919. Dad, NATHAN, was a salesman for the KOHN business. In 1913, Mom, BERNICE, went to NYC to study at a music school while staying with her successful lawyer brother. In Feb.1914, she married J.G.ROSENTHAL in San Francisco. They went to live in NYC. Her Dad gave them a "draft of six figures (personal check) for a wedding present. I don't know what happened to the ROSENTHAL marriage but by 1915 she was married to JANNEY who was working for her Dad. They stayed in Ogden and her father died in 1917, a few months before Grandson LEON was born and left an estate of $60,000.
About 1924, BERNICE took LEON to Los Angeles to "shop him around" to movie studios with only little success. In an interview she said they struggled financially until she consulted a numerologist about 1926 who told her to return LEON to his birth name (JANNEY). She did and their luck changed almost immediately!
I don't find (yet) any evidence that BERNICE, LEON, or his Dad ever acted professionally on the stage or toured in Vaudeville before LEON became a success in films.In the 1934 LA City Directory she lists her profession as "publicity agent" and in the later 1930's and 1940's she found her niche as an acting coach in NYC and my guess is that she "enhanced her resume' " with years of musical/acting experience in Vaudeville to attract business for herself and LEON.Her early coaching of the youngster probably was a good part of his success. In 1929, her wealthy Mom died leaving her all her jewelry and $6000, and with 4 wealthy, successful brothers, I don't think she ever struggled financially but used this as a publicity ploy. By the time ROACH found him, LEON was a well-known, talented Hollywood acting "phenom". After ROACH hired him, he probably figured out that the pre-teen, experienced actor would not "fit in" with the rest of the "Gang".
One article in 1937 says that LEON will inherit $300,000 from a trust when he turns 21. That could be from his Grandmother KOHN or from a patent for railroad car couplers that his GrGrandfather invented. I saw it mentioned only once and it could be Hollywood publicity stuff. LEON enlisted in the Navy WWII.I need to confirm it, but one source says he was a translator. He worked on films and was a spokesperson for them. He was in constant demand for radio plays because of his proficiency with dialects and accents. In an interview he said that often he played several characters in a single radio play with a different accent for each character.
In 1950, his Mom was "found dead in her hotel room" in Paris, France. He paid the US State Department $500 to have her cremated and returned to NYC, though for an extra $1000 he could have had her embalmed and the body returned to NYC.
LEON was married at least 3 times and had as his only child, DONALD, who died in NYC in 2011 ("NY Times" obit.).
Real name: Leon Elbert Janney
||Films listed on this page: complete Hal Roach filmography.|
Jim Jarvis (research and information)
This page was last updated on: 23 July 2017