John Calley, one of Hollywood’s most respected dropouts, has dropped back in as the new president of United Artists Pictures.
The man who ran Warner Bros.’ production from 1975 to 1980, served as the studio’s consultant for another seven years and split from Hollywood for five, couldn’t be reached for comment yesterday.
But those who knew him as “one of the hippest players” in showbiz in the ’70s and ’80s and a great friend to filmmakers Stanley Kubrick, Clint Eastwood and his recent partner, Mike Nichols, weren’t a bit surprised that he would surface to revitalize UA — a haven for talent in its glory days.
At 62, Calley is expected to bring some wisdom, talent connections and a lot of experience to a company being reborn. He has been a filmmaker, producer and an executive in charge of worldwide production for a major studio.
His latest efforts included a co-producer credit on Nichols’ “Postcards From the Edge” and he’s been involved with “Remains of the Day”– a soon-to-open project he’ll no longer be directly involved in once he takes over the UA management reins Sept. 13. He will also have to forgo involvement in John Le Carre’s “The Night Manager,” a project in development at Paramount, and a Nichols pic at Savoy Pictures, “A Simple Plan.”
“John is a terrific executive for UA,” said his new boss, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer chairman Frank Mancuso. “We have a start-up situation, and he is a guy that has been producer, filmmaker and has extensive relationships throughout this community. He will be a great attraction for filmmakers’ material to the studio. He will also be a substantial teacher for young executives that he brings on board.”
During his prior high-profile stint at WB, Calley was known as a man with literate but quirky tastes. At WB, he was involved with “A Clockwork Orange, “”Klute,””Dirty Harry” and “The Exorcist.”
He produced “Catch-22,””The Loved One” and “The Americanization of Emily” with Martin Ransohoff. He was also involved in films like “Chariots of Fire” and “All the President’s Men.”
During Calley’s 12-year tenure in the top executive WB posts, 120 films were produced.
The pace took such a toll on Calley that in April 1991 he said in Variety’s Missing Persons column: “By the time I left (WB), I was what you’d call burnt out. There was nothing left. We had made so many pictures and it’s just such a killer job that I’d lost interest.”
After his consulting pact with WB ended in ’87, Calley headed for Connecticut , “expecting the anxiety attacks to start, and they just never did.” So, he read , wrote, sailed and regrouped.
Since he became an indie producer in ’89, Calley told Variety in ’91, he’d had a “couple of studio executive job offers and I wasn’t interested. Those jobs are mostly about a fantasy of how you are beheld by others.
“The actual process — the meetings, the corporate structural stuff, the flow charts — isn’t that much fun.”
Some of Calley’s former WB cohorts were amazed that he would take another top studio post.
“I’m surprised John wants to work that hard! He’s a fabulous guy, irreverent, funny, smart. An endearing smartass, but definitely offbeat,” said one top WB exec.
“Most people at this studio loved him because he had an unusual manner of working with talent in those days. He always managed to bring the best and brightest to Warners because his style was different, because people trusted him. People believed he was a man of his word … you know: real breakthrough stuff in this town!”
Mancuso said he has no specific directive for Calley on how to set up the UA structure except to make it a magnet for bright, young talent. “One of the best things about John is that he comes without prior obligations,” Mancuso said.
The only baggage Mancuso hopes Calley will bring are such strong relationships with the likes of Kubrick and Nichols.
While Calley is not tied to delivering a certain number of films, Mancuso hopes UA and MGM combined will eventually produce 20 to 25 pictures a year. “You have to remember he’s starting without any development,” Mancuso reminded.