John Calley

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This article is about the 20th-century American film producer. For the 18th-century British engineer, see John Calley (engineer).
Not to be confused with Jon Kelly.
John Calley
Born John Nicholas Calley
July 8, 1930
Jersey City, New Jersey, U.S.
Died September 13, 2011(2011-09-13) (aged 81)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Occupation American film studio executive, film producer
Spouse(s) Olga Schoberová (m. 1972–92)
Sandra Hotz Lean
Meg Tilly (m. 1995–2002)

John Nicholas Calley (July 8, 1930 – September 13, 2011)[1] was an American film studio executive and producer. He was quite influential during his years at Warner Bros. (where he worked from 1968 to 1981)[2] and "produced a film a month, on average, including commercial successes like The Exorcist and Superman."[3] During his seven years at Sony Pictures Entertainment starting in 1996, five of which he was chairman and chief executive, he was credited with "reinvigorat[ing]" that major film studio.[4]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Together with Mike Nichols and Ismail Merchant, Calley produced 1993's The Remains of the Day, for which the trio received an Oscar nomination—Calley's only such Best Picture nomination.

A best picture nomination Calley potentially missed was when, as Sony's new head, he nixed the studio's backing of Terence Malick's 1998 film The Thin Red Line, reportedly because he thought Malick couldn't keep to the budget. (The film stayed on budget and received seven Academy Award nominations.)

He was honored with the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences at the inaugural Governors Awards ceremony on November 11, 2009.[5] For the ceremony, Calley, unable to attend in person due to illness, recorded remarks that were projected on a giant video screen, remarks characterizing the life of a film studio executive and called "one of the night's more startling bits of honesty": "You're very unhappy for a long period of time. And you don’t experience joy. At the end you experience relief, if you’re lucky."[6]

According to Mervyn LeRoy in his autobiography Mervyn LeRoy: Take One, Calley played a big role in LeRoy's exit of Warner Bros. when The Kinney Company acquired it. Calley notified LeRoy that due to a "change in corporate thinking", the studio was not going to support his effort in producing the story Thirteen Clocks. When LeRoy asked Calley about the promises that he had made before, Calley answered "We'll have to wait and see".[7]

In 2000, John was presented with a commemorative plaque honoring 750,000 copies sold of the soundtrack to the hit 1999 film, "Cruel Intentions".


Calley attended Columbia University in the late 1940s, and then briefly served in the Army.[8] His early life also included working for his father—"who had possible criminal ties"—as a used-car dealer.[9] His first significant industry job was at NBC's New York headquarters, at age 21,[10] when he started in the mailroom.[9]

From 1972 until a divorce in 1992, he was married to Czech actress and former Playboy cover girl[11] Olga Schoberová, though neither spoke the other's language in their first few years together. Calley adopted her daughter Sabrina, who became a set costumer.[12]

When he left Warner Bros. in the early 1980s, citing an unhappy marriage and burn-out after involvement in the production of 120 films, Calley settled into life as a virtual hermit in his 35-room house on Fisher's Island in Long Island Sound.[9] Later in the 1990s, after marrying Sandra Hotz Lean, the ex-wife of famed film director Sir David Lean,[9] the couple moved to Washington, CT. [See Discussion] In 1995, he married actress Meg Tilly; they divorced in 2002.[13]

John Calley's best friend, director/producer Mike Nichols, with whom he collaborated on The Remains of the Day, as well as on Catch-22, Postcards from the Edge, The Birdcage and Closer, said this after Calley's death from a long-term, undisclosed illness:[14] "John was unique. As a friend he was always there and always funny. He made life a joy for those he loved. As a studio head he was unfailingly supportive and didn't try to do the filmmaker's job. When he believed in someone he trusted and supported him and when very rarely he had a suggestion it was usually a lifesaver. In fact that's what he was: a lifesaver."[8]


  1. ^ Notice of John Calley's death in The Los Angeles Times
  2. ^ Weinraub, Bernard; Fabrikant, Geraldine (June 13, 1999). "The Revenge of the Bean Counters; Studios Yell 'Cut!' As Costs Spiral For Filmmaking". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-03-08. 
  3. ^ Fabrikant, Geraldine (May 26, 1997). "A Strong Debut Helps, as a New Chief Tackles Sony's Movie Problems". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-03-08. 
  4. ^ "Chief Steps Down At Sony Pictures". The New York Times. October 3, 2003. Retrieved 2010-03-08. 
  5. ^ "Screen legend Bacall honoured with Oscar". World News Australia. November 16, 2009. Retrieved 2010-03-08. 
  6. ^ Cieply, Michael (November 15, 2009). "Hollywood Dinner Has Oscars on Menu". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-03-08. 
  7. ^ LeRoy, Mervyn; Kleiner, Dick; "Mervyn LeRoy: Take One" Hawthorn Books, INC. 1974 p. 219
  8. ^ a b Natale, Richard (13 September 2011). "John Calley, studio lion,dies at 81". Variety. Retrieved 13 September 2011. 
  9. ^ a b c d Owen, David. "Return of the Mogul". The New Yorker. Retrieved 13 September 2011. 
  10. ^ Finke, Nikki. "R.I.P John Calley". Retrieved 13 September 2011. 
  11. ^ Schoberová, Olga. "Olga Schoberová IMDb". inc. Retrieved 14 September 2011. 
  12. ^ "Sabrina Calley – Biography". inc. Retrieved 13 September 2011. 
  13. ^ "Meg Tilly- Biography". inc. Retrieved 13 September 2011. 
  14. ^ Barnes, Brooke (14 September 2011). "John Calley, Hollywood Chief, Dies at 81". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 September 2011. 

External links[edit]