Sony execs, talent recall late studio chief's humor and impact

Hours after Sony Pictures named a park in the center of its Culver City lot in honor of late chairman John Calley, Sony topper Amy Pascal and hundreds of other friends and family attended a memorial service that served as a tribute to his memory.

Pascal was joined at the dais by Howard Stringer, Buck Henry, Mel Brooks, Dana Delany and Warren Beatty; other guests included Annette Bening, Pierce Brosnan, scribe Robert Towne, producers Brian Grazer and Yair Landau, Sony Classics prexy Michael Barker and CAA’s Bryan Lourd.

“The world isn’t the same,” remarked Pascal. “John was a true original, a masterful manipulator and the most insanely seductive person I’ve ever known. He didn’t care what anyone else thought. He had the appropriate amount of cynicism about Hollywood but he made sure to never let it get the better of him.”

Despite the fact that Calley never went to college, Pascal called him “one of the most educated men I’ve ever met. He was so good at spinning people around in circles so he could get what he wanted. He would bring people into his office to fire them and they’d leave thinking he was a fantastic guy.” Before Pascal left the podium, she told the crowd, “There are a few people you meet who change your life, and he changed mine.”

A highlight reel featuring movie clips and tributes from collaborators Tony Bill, Norman Jewison, Maria Bello, Robin Swicord also screened, though the audio and video were out of sync. “If you’d told John Calley that his memorial reel would be out of sync, he probably would have said, ‘So was I, much of the time,’ joked Stringer, who added that Calley had “an unusual lack of ego. He ran three studios with maximum taste and minimal tyranny.”

Brooks, who confessed that he “loved to bullshit and hangout in Calley’s office,” said that during the making of Warner Bros.’ comedy “Blazing Saddles,” he used Calley to broker peace between himself and Ted Ashley, who objected to several of the film’s raunchier gags.

“John set the environment where creative work could happen,” said Swicord, while Bello added that “John loved to sleep because he loved to dream, and if he were still here, he’d probably describe his life as a happy accident.”

The reel featured Calley talking about the pressures of being a powerful studio head making multi-million dollar decisions. “It’s scary, but if you use your gut and you’ve got a good one, then you’ll do very well.”

Delany made sure to wear a dress to the event, “because as we all know, he liked legs.” With tears welling up, Delany spoke of how she visited Calley’s Century City condo every week toward the end of his life, which she described as “physically challenging but mentally and emotionally rich.” She also recalled a time when Calley was in bed with Elaine May, who rolled over and asked him, “you want me to leave now so you can fantasize about me?” to which Calley replied, “yes.”

The actress continued to give a glimpse into her close personal friendship with Calley: “He was a man of great curiousity and ideas who was still trying to figure life out and distill life to its purest form. He was on the verge of death many times but he refused to give up and had the strongest will to live of anyone I’ve ever met.”

Delany recounted that when she asked Calley why he kept removing his breathing tube in the middle of the night, worried that he was trying to end his life, he replied, “I have no desire to commit suicide. I think I’m quite remarkable.”

That feeling seemed to be shared by everyone who met him, as evidenced by the outpouring of emotion at an intimate reception following the memorial.

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