Melissa Leo

Melissa Leo at the "Prisoners" World Premiere, Academy of Motion

Leo in 2013, photo by s_bukley/

Birth Name: Melissa Chessington Leo

Place of Birth: Manhattan, New York City, New York, U.S.

Date of Birth: September 14, 1960

Ethnicity: German, English, distant Scottish

Melissa Leo is an American actress. She won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for The Fighter (2010). She is also known for her roles in the films Frozen River, Olympus Has Fallen, Prisoners, The Equalizer, The Big Short, and Snowden, and on television’s Homicide: Life on the Street, Louie, and Wayward Pines, among many other works.

She has German, English, and distant Scottish, ancestry; her surname is of German origin. She is the daughter of Margaret (Chessington), a teacher, and Arnold Leo III, a fisherman, editor at Grove Press, and spokesperson for the East Hampton Baymen’s Association. Her aunt (father’s sister) is author, art historian, curator, photographer, and consultant Christine Leo Roussel. She was raised partly on the Red Clover Commune, in Putney, Vermont.

Melissa has a son with her former partner, actor John Heard.

While Melissa is sometimes described as being of Italian descent, there is no documented Italian heritage anywhere in her recent or relatively recent ancestry.

Melissa’s paternal grandfather was Arnold Gustav Leo (the son of Arnold Gustave/Gustav Leo and Lida/Leda May Christman). Melissa’s grandfather Arnold was born in New York. Melissa’s great-grandfather Arnold was the son of German parents, Gustave “Carl” Leo, from Mannheim, Karlsruhe, Baden-Württemberg, and Caroline/Carolina “Lina” Baptistella, from Mainz, Darmstadt, Rhineland-Palatinate. Lida was the daughter of Charles Christman and Mary Hyne.

Melissa’s paternal grandmother was Elinore Baisley Wellington (the daughter of James M. Higby Wellington and May Bird Howell). Elinore was born in New York. James was the son of James Wellington and Jane Wilson. Melissa’s great-grandmother May was the daughter of George Howell and Sarah Eleanor Baisley.

Melissa’s maternal grandfather was James Buell Chessington (the son of James Buell Chessington and Mollie Past). Melissa’s grandfather James was born in New York. Melissa’s great-grandfather James was the son of Guy M. F. Montgomery/Chessington and Sarah Priscilla Glover. Mollie was the daughter of Edward Swain Past and Mary Ann Whiteman.

Melissa’s maternal grandmother was Frances Clara/Clarise Stone (the daughter of Clarence Albert Stone and Ferna/Fern May/Mae Forrest). Frances was born in California. Ferna was the daughter of Wilson Albro Forrest and Ethel Lenora Chapman. Ethel was the daughter of Martin Van Buren Chapman and Mary E. Stiles; Mary E. was the daughter of David Stiles and Clarinda Cummings Shaw; Clarinda was the daughter of Levi Shaw and Phila Merritt.

Sources: Genealogy of Melissa Leo –

Marriage record of Melissa’s paternal grandparents, Arnold Gustav Leo and Elinore Baisley Wellington –

Genealogy of Melissa’s maternal great-grandmother, Ferna/Fern May/Mae Forrest –

9 Responses

  1. Otm1988 says:

    Leo is Italian as least partly. She won award below which only goes to Italian-American Actresses

    The L.A. Italia Film, Fashion and Art Festival is focusing this year’s lineup on outstanding women in global entertainment and has added two new honorees to the festivities.

    Oscar nominee Diane Warren will receive the fest’s Best Song of the Year Award, for Marshall‘s “Stand Up for Something,” which she co-wrote with Common. And Oscar winner (The Fighter) Melissa Leo will receive the event’s Italian-American Artist of the Year Award.

    • follers says:

      I can’t really explain it, other than perhaps both Leo and the organization thought she must have Italian ancestry (through Germany, maybe?). I don’t think there’s any documentation of it.

      U.S. Senator Mike Enzi was a member of the Italian-American Senate caucus under similar circumstances, I think.

      • andrew says:

        I think she may be like 1/64 Italian or less. There’s no chance ‘Baptistella” is a German surname, it’s after the common Venetian surname “Battistella”. This would be still a large stretch to consider her as “Italian-American”.

  2. Otm1988 says:

    She is definitely Italian. She won award in 2018 from

  3. bablah says:

    *James was the son of James Wellington and Jane Wilson. May was the daughter of George Howell and Sarah Eleanor Baisley.

  4. andrew says:

    I thought she had Italian heritage. Leo and Baptistella are not German

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