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.
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 previously 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 — opposite Jane Fonda, in the freewheeling cult western, Cat Ballou (1965), and a scene-stealing Lionel 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 two years after the series’ run. Perhaps the true-life romance ruined the show’s illusion, as the series limped away after only one season. Patricia, the second of Michael’s three wives, divorced him in 1970.
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 The Mary Tyler Moore Show (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 jump-start things, both produced and starred in his own film, Double Exposure (1982), 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) and The 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.
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