Penny Chaipis, 72, actress and Tribeca travel agent


By Albert Amateau

Penny Chaipis, an actress Off Off Broadway in the mid-1970s, and founder of a Tribeca travel agency next to where her late husband, Tom Chaipis, ran Magoo’s, a bar and restaurant, died Sept. 17 in the Allentown, Pennsylvania, hospital. She was 72.

Born in Greenwich Village to Sterling Warren and Helen Kourakos Warren, she was named Elaine Mae Warren on her birth certificate, but she was always called Penny.

“I don’t know how she got that name but by time I was born four years later she was ‘Penny’ to everyone in the family,” said her bother, Alexander Warren. “She later changed her name to Penelope,” he added.

Penny Warren went to the High School of Performing Arts in the Theater District and graduated when she was 16.

“She wanted to study acting in Boston, but my dad couldn’t afford to send her to college,” her brother recalled.

When she was 19 she married Russell Smith, a writer living in the Village, and had three children with him, but the couple separated in 1962.

She married Tom Chaipis, who ran Magoo’s, a bar and restaurant on Sixth Ave. at Walker St. in Tribeca, in 1964.

“That was when Tribeca was nothing but factories and starving artists,” her brother said.

Magoo’s had a lunchtime crowd from the big AT & T building across the street, and at night artists who had living and studio lofts in Tribeca would frequent the place, her brother said.

“I think they called it Magoo’s because people thought Tom looked like Mr. Magoo in the movie cartoon,” her brother said.

Penny met Doric Wilson, a patron of Magoo’s who founded TOSOS (The Other Side of Silence), a theater company that showcased plays by gay writers or with gay themes. She began acting with the company in the mid-1970s, appearing in “27 Wagon Loads of Cotton” by Tennessee Williams and “The Hostage” by Brendan Behan, among other plays. Wilson, honored as a groundbreaking theater producer, died in May of this year.

In the mid-1980s, Penny opened Aloft Travel Agency on the second floor of the building where Magoo’s was located.

“She had a warm and generous personality and so did Tom,” her brother said. “They had three children and Tom adopted her three previous children, who all took Tom’s name,” he added.

Tom Chaipis amassed a considerable art collection by accepting paintings and other works to settle artists’ bar and restaurant bills over the years. When they sold the place around 1988, a Japanese collector bought the art. The proceeds allowed them to go back and forth to Greece until Tom Chaipis died in 1991.

In addition to her brother, who lives in the Village, three sons, Dr. Philip Chaipis of Florence, S.C., Christian Chaipis of Alburtis, Pa., and Peter Chaipis of California, and a daughter, Zoe of Alburtis, Pa., also survive along with several grandchildren.

A memorial service was held on Sept. 20 at Perazzo’s Funeral Home, 199 Bleecker St., and burial was in Mt. Hope Cemetery in Hastings-on-Hudson.

“We had a gathering of family and friends, from seven years old to 80, on Sept. 21 at Gene’s on W. 11th St. We all stood up and toasted the memory of a great lady,” her brother said.