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Michael Callan, the actor and dancer who portrayed Riff in the original Broadway production of West Side Story before starring in such films as Gidget Goes Hawaiian, The Interns and Cat Ballou, has died. He was 86.
Callan died Monday night of pneumonia at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, his daughter Rebecca Goodman told The Hollywood Reporter.
A contract player at Columbia Pictures, Callan made about a dozen movies at the studio, starting with They Came to Cordura (1959), a Western starring Gary Cooper, Rita Hayworth, Van Heflin and Tab Hunter.
On the 1966-67 NBC comedy Occasional Wife, Callan starred as a confirmed bachelor who sets up a woman (Patricia Harty) in an upstairs apartment so she can pose as his wife in order to help him advance at the baby food company where he works. (His boss believes all his execs should be married.)
Perhaps because the premise was a bit risqué for its day, the Screen Gems series was canceled after one season. In real life, Callan and Harty both got divorced and wed in June 1968, but their marriage wouldn’t last much longer than their series. (Fun fact: Vin Scully was the narrator on Occasional Wife.)
After appearing on Broadway in the musicals The Boy Friend and Catch a Star!, the Philadelphia native auditioned for Riff but was told he was “too good-looking” for the part, he recalled in a 2006 interview. Nevertheless, West Side Story director-choreographer Jerome Robbins phoned a year later, asking him to audition again.
“I went to the theater and did my song and dance, and I heard from the back Robbins’ voice saying, ‘Can you do a backflip?’ I just threw a backflip, got lucky, and it worked out,” he said.
He sparkled on stage as the leader of the Jets and led his fellow gang members in the menacing Leonard Bernstein-Stephen Sondheim number “Cool.”
Callan portrayed the dancer Eddie opposite Deborah Walley in Gidget Goes Hawaiian (1961), then starred as a selfish, strung-out medical resident in the melodrama The Interns (1962). He returned to play Dr. Alec Considine again in The New Interns (1964), this time putting the moves on Barbara Eden and Dawn Wells.
And in the Western farce Cat Ballou (1965), he was memorable as the dashing bandit Clay Boone opposite Jane Fonda and, in an Oscar-winning turn, Lee Marvin.
Martin Calinoff was born in Philadelphia on Nov. 22, 1935. He studied ballet and tap, and dancers who frequented his dad’s luncheonette taught him acrobatics in exchange for free milkshakes.
He was a regular on Horn & Hardart’s Children’s Hour, a local radio program, and by the time he was 15, he was performing in local nightclubs, billed as Mickey Calin.
Shortly after graduating from high school, he came to New York and got a small part in 1954 in The Boy Friend, which marked the American debut of Julie Andrews.
He spent about a year on West Side Story before Joyce Selznick — a talent agent (and niece of Gone With the Wind producer David O. Selznick) who had discovered Tony Curtis and James Darren — saw him on Broadway. He departed for Hollywood, signing a seven-year contract at a starting salary of $650 a week, and Columbia execs changed his name to Michael Callan without telling him.
After roles in They Came to Cordura, The Flying Fontaines (1959) and Because They’re Young (1960), he dusted off his dancing skills in the Cantinflas-starring musical Pepe (1960), directed by George Sidney.
For United Artists’ 1961 adaptation of West Side Story, Riff was portrayed by Russ Tamblyn. Callan had auditioned for his old part as well as that of Tony (Larry Kert on Broadway, Richard Beymer in the movie) but wasn’t hired, perhaps because his Columbia contract contained restrictions. Instead, he was sent to Spain to star in the Jules Verne adventure Mysterious Island (1961).
He then appeared in such films as 13 West Street (1962), Bon Voyage! (1962), the war epic The Victors (1963) and You Must Be Joking! (1965) before trying his hand at series television with Occasional Wife.
Callan played a generous guy with a mysterious job who dates Rhoda (Valerie Harper) on the first season of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and the criminal cyborg Metallo on six episodes of the 1989-92 syndicated series Superboy.
His résumé also included TV appearances on Hazel, That Girl, Love, American Style, Police Story, Charlie’s Angels, T.J. Hooker, One Life to Live and Murder, She Wrote and such movies as Lepke (1975), Double Exposure (1982) and the Farrelly brothers’ Stuck on You (2003).
Survivors include his daughters, Rebecca and Dawn, whom he had with his first wife, onetime Miss Dallas and Las Vegas showgirl Carlyn Chapman; sisters Sheri and Sandy; grandchildren Michael, Ella and Asher; and a close companion at the MPTF home, Susan.
After he and Harty called it quits in 1970, he was married to Karen Malouf from 1975 until their 1984 divorce.
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