Born July 28, 1952 as Glenn Irwin Pinnell in Andrews, Texas, Pennell
grew up in Lubbock and College Station. He was an independent
filmmaker best known for The Whole Shootin' Match which won
seven Awards and inspired Robert Redford to start Sundance.
He became interested in film as a teenager and would use his
father's Super 8 camera to shoot skits starring his brother and
sisters. He graduated from A&M Consolidated High School. Pennell
then attended the University of Texas at Austin majoring in
Radio-Television-Film but dropped out in 1973 during his junior year
to do film work. His first job was with a firm that produced
highlight films of Southwest Conference football games. In his spare
time, he used the company's equipment to work on his own projects.
He changed his name while in his early twenties. His first name is
supposedly based on the story that Pennell was once told his large
nose looked like the beak of an eagle. His last name comes from 2nd
Lt. Ross Pennell, a character from John Ford's She Wore a Yellow
Ribbon (1949). Ford was one of his father's favorite directors.
In the early 1980s, Pennell moved to Houston, where he produced and
directed his second feature film Last Night at the Alamo in 1984.
The story, co-written with screenwriter Kim Henkel, follows a group
of friends gathering at a soon-to-be-demolished bar for the last
time. The movie was well received, garnering praise at the New York
Film Festival and the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado. Film
critics Vincent Canby, Stanley Kauffmann and Roger Ebert also gave
the movie rave reviews.
In 1989, Pennell directed Ice House, starring Melissa Gilbert, for
Upfront Films. With grant money, Pennell completed two more
independent projects during the 1990s, Heart Full of Soul and Doc's
Full Service. His final feature, "Doc's Full Service", had its World
Première at the SXSW Film Festival in 1994. Both films are regarded
Pennell struggled with alcoholism and drug addiction for much of his
adult life. For years before his death, he was intermittently
homeless and often borrowed or begged for money. Pennell died in
Houston July 20, 2002 eight days short of his 50th birthday. He is
buried in College Station Cemetery. At the time of his death,
Pennell had a grant from the Independent Television Service to
develop a script based on his treatment of My Dog Bit Elvis.