September 15, 2011

In Memoriam: John Calley

Studio Head, Producer, Member of SCA Board of Councilors

John Calley, former head of Warner Brothers, United Artists, and Sony, as well as a successful producer and long-standing member of the SCA Board of Councilors, passed away on September 13 at the age of 81.

John Calley 1930-2011

“John was a remarkable leader in the industry, who gave the filmmakers he worked with the ability to realize their visions to the fullest,” said Dean Elizabeth M. Daley. “The films he helped bring to fruition are a testament to a sophisticated and unique sensibility and a true love for good storytelling. We are deeply honored to have had him on our Board of Councilors.”

Calley, who brought enormous commercial hits like The Towering Inferno and The Da Vinci Code to the screen, along with critically acclaimed films like A Clockwork Orange, Chariots of Fire and The Exorcist, was well known for being a patient shepherd and generous collaborator.

“As a studio head he was unfailingly supportive and didn’t try to do the filmmaker’s job,” said director and filmmaking partner Mike Nichols in a statement. “When he believed in someone he trusted and supported him and when very rarely he had a suggestion it was usually a life saver.”

Born in Jersey City on July 8, 1930, Calley served in the Army and worked as a mail clerk for NBC in New York. After a stint in advertising, Calley moved to production company Filmways, where he delivered films like The Cincinnati Kid and Catch-22. Calley had a remarkable run of success at Warner Bros., beginning in 1968. During his time at the studio as head of production, president and vice chairman, the studio created Mean Streets, Superman and All the President’s Men, along with a string of other hits.

Calley stepped away from the entertainment industry starting in 1981, but returned to independent filmmaking in 1989 to produce Postcards from the Edge and The Remains of the Day, a film that earned him a Best Picture nomination. His next challenge came from CAA chief Michael Ovitz, who asked Calley to serve as President and Chief Operating Officer for United Artists Pictures. Under his leadership, the studio released GoldenEye, The Birdcage and Leaving Las Vegas.

Sony also experienced a major turnaround thanks to Calley’s efforts, beginning in 1996. After the success of the first Spider-Man film, the studio went onto release As Good As It Gets, Men in Black and Air Force One.

He stepped down from the chairmanship at Sony in 2003 to focus on producing, working with Nichols on the Oscar-nominated Closer, and bringing Sony The Da Vinci Code, which eventually grossed $758 million worldwide. In 2009, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recognized him with the Irving G. Thalberg Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Calley’s survivors include his daughter Sabrina and stepchildren Emily Zinnemann, David Zinnemann and Will Firth from his marriage to actress Meg Tilly.

Services are pending.