John Nicholas Calley (July 8, 1930 – September 13, 2011) 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, and "produced a film a month, on average, including commercial successes like The Exorcist and Superman." During his seven years at Sony Pictures starting in 1996, five of which he was chairman and chief executive, he was credited with "reinvigorat[ing]" that major film studio.
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. 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."
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."
Calley was born in Jersey City, New Jersey. He grew up in poverty and was raised by a single mother during the Great Depression. As a child, he worked at a button factory and then as a janitor at his own high school.
He attended Columbia University in the late 1940s, and then briefly served in the Army. His first significant industry job was at NBC's New York headquarters, at age 21, when he started in the mailroom.
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 a quieter life in his 35-room house on Fisher's Island in Long Island Sound. Later in the 1990s, with his companion, Sandra Hotz Lean, the ex-wife of famed film director Sir David Lean, the couple moved to Washington, CT. [See Discussion] In 1995, he married actress Meg Tilly; they divorced in 2002.
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: "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."
The John N. Calley Foundation was founded in 2012 after John Calley's death in 2011. Given his reputation for identifying and nurturing creative visionaries, The Calley Foundation honors John Calley's legacy by providing opportunities for unrecognized, talented youth. The Foundation is based in Southern California and funds various non-profit organizations, including the Ghetto Film School - Los Angeles.