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