Michael Callan

Michael Callan
Michael Callan

Michael Callan. IMDB.

IMDB Entry:

Actor, singer and dancer Michael Callan started life out as Martin Harris Calinieff in Philadelphia on November 22, 1935. A dark-haired charmer, he was taking voice and dance lessons by age 11, with the intentions of becoming the next Gene Kelly. He had the dark, smirking, surly good looks and confident swagger that fit in with the James Dean 50s rebel-like era. He began his professional career as a comic and dancer in Philly night clubs while billing himself as “Mickey Calin”. Eventually, he entertained at such hot spots as the Copacabana and in Las Vegas showrooms.

His move to New York was a wise choice. Given a dancing part in his first Broadway show, “The Boyfriend” (1954), starring Julie Andrews, he followed it with another musical, “Catch a Star” (1955). This, in turn, led to his biggest break of all, the role of “Riff” in the original New York production of “West Side Story” (1957). While the show made virtual theater stars out of its leads Carol Lawrence and Larry Kert, Michael, on the other hand, attracted the interest of Columbia Pictures.

James Darren, Deborah Walley, James Callan
James Darren, Deborah Walley, James Callan

His film career began engagingly enough — not as a singer or dancer, but as a dramatic leading man. Columbia placed him in two fairly strong films in the hopes of promoting and developing his obvious teen-idol promise. The first film was a western soap opera in support of Gary Cooper and Rita Hayworth. In They Came to Cordura (1959), Michael co-starred in this film alongside another male dreamboat, Tab Hunter. His second film was a “B”-level starring role in The Flying Fontaines (1959), in which he plays a circus Romeo whose caddish cavortings under the “big top” accelerate the melodramatic story line. This role pretty much set the tone for what, more or less, would become his screen image — a notorious womanizer and charming, though sometimes, spineless opportunist. His lovely co-star in the movie, Evy Norlund, was a formerly-crowned Miss Denmark (1958). This movie was her only one, since she abruptly gave up her young aspirations when she married singer James Darren and raise a big family.

One of Michael’s biggest disappointments, during this time, was losing the role of “Riff” in the film version of West Side Story (1961), due to contractual restrictions with Columbia. Russ Tamblyn received the honors and the glory. But he did continue to rack up callow, trouble-making co-leads in youth-oriented films, paired up with Hollywood’s loveliest of newcomers, including Tuesday Weld in Because They’re Young (1960),Dolores Dorn in 13 West Street (1962) and Deborah Walley in both Gidget Goes Hawaiian (1961) and Bon Voyage! (1962). In The Interns (1962), he continued to perpetuate his slick image as a roving medical resident who juggles gorgeous Anne Helm and Katharine Bard for his own selfish purposes. In the sequel of sorts, The New Interns (1964), he made his customary moves on Barbara Eden (I Dream of Jeannie(1965)) and Dawn Wells) (“Mary Ann” on Gilligan’s Island (1964)).

Although he managed to show off his dancing skills in Pepe (1960) and in the afore-mentioned “Gidget” film, Michael never capitalized on it. The era of the movie musicals was in a backslide at the time and he focused completely on acting. He was among the international cast of the war epic, The Victors (1963), and was the best-looking marooned member in the British-made Jules Verne fantasy-adventure, Mysterious Island (1961). Interestingly, his last films of real note were in comedies — oppositeJane Fonda, in the freewheeling cult western, Cat Ballou (1965), and a scene-stealingLionel Jeffries in the British satire, You Must Be Joking! (1965). Perhaps his characters were too unsympathetic for their own good; for whatever reason, Michael never managed to hit the cinematic “bad boy” stardom he seemed geared up for.

In the late 60s, he found a venue better-suited for his talents — TV sitcoms. His skirt-chasing characters seemed to have more appeal when played lightly for laughs. His best chance came in the form of Occasional Wife (1966). An ideal showcase, Michael played the lead role of “Peter Christopher”, an up-and-coming executive of a company that strongly pushes the husband/father image. Perennial playboy Callan decides to take on an “occasional wife” (Patricia Harty) for appearances’ sake while trying to conceal his wily ways from the workplace. The show fit Callan like a glove and he and Harty displayed great chemistry, so much so that they married in real-life during the series’ run. Perhaps the true-life marriage ruined the show’s illusion, as the series limped away after only one season. Patricia, the second of Michael’s three wives, divorced him a few years later.

Surprisingly, Michael never starred in another sitcom that got off the ground. He ventured on finding guest appearances on such sitcoms as That Girl (1966), Hazel(1961) and Mary Tyler Moore (1970) and became a favorite player in the extremely popular Love, American Style (1969) sketches, playing (what else?) guys with girl troubles. His TV career eventually took the Fantasy Island (1977), The Love Boat (1977) and Murder, She Wrote (1984) route and, in an effort to jumpstart things, both produced and starred in his own film, Double Exposure (1983), but to little notice. He also returned, occasionally, to the stage in both legit plays and musicals to keep his name alive, including “Absurd Person Singular” and “The Music Man”.

The father of two daughters (from his first marriage), he has been glimpsed only here and there, since the mid-90s. Recent movie credits include Stuck on You (2003) andThe Still Life (2006). He’s also been spotted, occasionally, at various signings and conventions. While perhaps not climbing the height of heights expected, Michael reached an enviable plateau and merits strong attention for his fine contributions to 60s and 70s film and TV.

– IMDb Mini Biography By: Gary Brumburgh / gr-home@pacbell.net

The above IMDB entry can also be accessed online here.

The Telegraph obituary in 2022:

Michael Callan, actor and dancer who starred as Riff in the original Broadway production of West Side Story – obituary

He was inspired by Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly but was contractually forbidden from reprising his biggest stage role in the film adaptation

Telegraph Obituaries20 October 2022 • 3:23pm

Michael Callan with Jane Fonda in Cat Ballou (1965)
Michael Callan with Jane Fonda in Cat Ballou (1965) CREDIT: Hulton Archive

Michael Callan, who has died aged 86, was a handsome actor and dancer who was likened to James Dean for his sex appeal and swagger; he originated the role of Riff, leader of the Jets, in West Side Story on Broadway, and played the bandit Clay Boone, the romantic lead opposite Jane Fonda, in Cat Ballou (1965) with Lee Marvin.

On television he joined Patricia Harty in Occasional Wife, a cute one-season sitcom in 1966-1967; Callan’s marriage to his co-star was as brief as the show’s run. He was also Rhoda’s long-term date (alongside Valerie Harper), in 30 episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

He was born Martin Harris Calinieff into a Jewish family in Philadelphia on November 22 1935, and was sent aged 11 by his mother to a vocal coach. “I thought I sounded like Sinatra,” he said. “Mama said I absolutely didn’t, but as I’d shown an interest in something beyond soccer she decided to get me a professional to do something about it.”

He never did match his teen idol, but he did pick up dance moves – his voice coach was also a tap dancer. “My new icon was Gene Kelly,” he recalled. “I thought unlike Fred Astaire, Mr Kelly has that double whammy of sex appeal… Not that I even knew what sex appeal was, but I liked athletics and he moved like an all-star athlete.”

Even at 15, the youngster was earning decent money hoofing in local night clubs, then in 1954 he beat 300 other hopefuls to the job of “swing boy”, or understudy, in Sandy Wilson’s musical The Boy Friend, on Broadway, starring a young Julie Andrews – his services were called upon a couple of dozen times during the run – and danced on The Ed Sullivan Show.

That put him in the sights of the choreographer Jerome Robbins, who was casting West Side Story. “There were a great many kids like me up for that part,” said Callan. “I was told I was too cute! Imagine! But I really wanted it, I was asked if I could backflip, so I did a backflip, and eventually, after a year of rounds, I got it. Riff set me on my way.”

With Dick Clark in the high-school drama Because They're Young (1960)
With Dick Clark in the high-school drama Because They’re Young (1960) CREDIT: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Under the watchful eye of the casting agent and later screenwriter Joyce Selznick (niece of the Gone With the Wind producer, David O Selznick) – who had previously discovered Bernie Schwartz, the New York trucker she reinvented as Tony Curtis – Callan signed a seven-year contract with Columbia. He made his screen debut as an army private fighting the Mexicans in They Came to Cordura (1959) with Gary Cooper and Rita Hayworth.

His other roles included a trapeze artist in The Flying Fontaines (1959) – for which he received a Golden Globe “Rising Star” nomination – and a troubled youth in the high-school drama Because They’re Young (1960). He was prevented by his Columbia contract from reprising his West Side Story role on the big screen but he did have a decent role in the all-singing, all-surfing comedy Gidget Goes Hawaiian (1961).

The same year he was in the fantasy adventure, Mysterious Island, then played a juvenile delinquent threatening Alan Ladd in 13 West Street (1962, the last film released during Ladd’s lifetime). He was a young doctor in the hit drama The Interns (also 1962) and in its 1964 sequel The New Interns, alongside George Segal and Telly Savalas.

He appeared in the Michael Winner comedy, You Must be Joking (1965), with Lionel Jeffries, but began to work more in television, on such shows as Dr Kildare, Ironside, Quincy M.E., The Love Boat, Fantasy Island and Murder, She Wrote.

He turned his hand to producing with the crime horror Double Exposure (1982), and returned to his theatre roots with, Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah! (1997), based on the song parodies of Allan Sherman.

Michael Callan married Carlyn Chapman in 1960; they had two daughters but divorced in 1967, and that year he married (and quickly divorced) Patricia Harty. He married, thirdly – and also divorced – Karen Malouf. He is survived by his daughters.

Michael Callan, born November 22 1935, died October 10 2022

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