Calley calling it quits

Sony Pix chief segues to production deal

This article was updated at 7:17 p.m.

After seven years and increasing rumblings about when John Calley would step down as chairman and CEO of Sony Pictures Entertainment, the exec has relinquished his duties, the Culver City studio announced Thursday.

Calley won’t be leaving the lot entirely, however. He has entered into a first-look production deal at Sony and is already at work on a film version of the bestseller “The Da Vinci Code” with Ron Howard; “Closer,” based on the Patrick Marber play, with longtime friend and collaborator Mike Nichols; and adaptations of Erica Jong’s 1970’s feminist zeitgeist novel “Fear of Flying” (Diane English will write the script) and “The Company” by Robert Littell.

Furthermore, he will remain on Sony’s board of directors and its seven-person operating committee.

Worked on classic pics

From his early days working with directors like Stanley Kubrick and creating challenging films such as “A Clockwork Orange” and “The Exorcist,” to his more recent popcorn hits like “Spider-Man,” Calley has remained a respected figure admired for his good taste.

“I’ve been lucky over my career to be able to transition back and forth between my two great passions — managing studios and producing movies,” Calley, 73, said in a statement. “It feels like the right time to close this chapter and begin a new one.”

Calley has made such open-book/closed-book statements before — indeed, he has fashioned his career on them, to a certain degree. In 1980, arguably at the peak of his career as head of Warner Bros., where he began in 1969, he suddenly stepped down, leaving Burbank for a 13-year-long personal hiatus spent at homes in Block Island and Connecticut.

Thinking back on those times, Calley did not describe them as exactly vibrant. “Too much recreational sleeping,” he told interviewers in later years.

Calley’s unintended vacation was terminated by a phone call from Michael Ovitz, then searching for a candidate to propose for the top job at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s ailing United Artists division. A meeting was arranged and thus began the second act in Calley’s movie career, during which he revived his name, and the studio’s, with hits such as “The Birdcage” and “Get Shorty.”

Successor undetermined

Sony is not naming a Calley successor. Rather, the triumvirate of vice chairs in place since October 2002 will take over day-to-day management: Amy Pascal, head of Columbia Pictures; Jeff Blake, head of worldwide marketing and distribution; and Yair Landau, who runs Sony’s digital and television operations.

Someone else whose input in the studio’s film biz will grow with Calley’s absence is Sony Corp. of America chairman Howard Stringer, to whom Pascal, et al., report.

“John is not only a valued friend and colleague, but also an elegant, intelligent and passionate champion of both the creative process and the sound business practices that have reinvigorated our studio,” Stringer said.

Calley’s resignation comes before the expiration of the two-year deal he signed with Sony in February.

Calley’s battle with diabetes may have hastened his exit.

With the recent news that Col prexy Peter Schlessel is planning to step down himself by the year’s end, and with the studio experiencing a more uneven year than 2002, when hits like “Spider-Man” and “Men in Black” brought in $2.8 billion in worldwide ticket sales, all eyes will be on Culver City to see how the post-Calley era shapes up.

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