Kay was a young Texan who had a deep passion for acting, which eventually led her to become known in Hollywood as the infamous K Callan — first name shortened for some pizzazz and last name appropriated from her ex-husband. Stunning, brilliant, and a true artist with a talent that goes on and on like the energizer bunny, Callan is not only one of the few women who has remained a successful actress for decades, she is also a famous writer who unknowingly helped thousands, including me.
Having originally arrived to Los Angeles, clueless but with a dream, I stumbled upon The Los Angeles Agent Book at Barnes & Nobles. With a first-draft screenplay in hand, all of Callan’s books, The Script Is Finished, Now What Do I Do? How to Sell Yourself as an Actor, and even The New York Agent Book became my career bibles. Written with a raw, down-to-earth perspective, this powerful actress who captures the “realness” within each character she portrays is an equally powerful writer. Little did I know that eight years later, we would cross paths at a movie screening and become friends. With credits that go a mile and a half long, beginning with her 1970’s role in Joe, followed by A Touch of Class, Frankie and Johnny, American Gigolo, Nine Lives, Nip/Tuck, Carnivale, The Closer, Cold Case, CSI: Las Vegas and many more, Callan has made a huge imprint in Hollywood and she isn’t even close to being done.
Among her extensive list of roles, the longest running performance was on Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, where she played Martha Kent in 48 episodes.
“I had a very special ‘feel’ for Martha,” said Callan. “We are very much alike.”
It all began in Dallas, Texas, when Bob’s Big Boy was casting for their next big commercial. After previously performing in a few commercials, Callan was still relatively new to the whole acting thing.
“After they [casting crew] had seen all the models and beautiful people to play this ‘fabulous movie star, Marcella La Snood,’ they brought me in and I ‘acted’ gorgeous and like the ‘fabulous movie star’ and they chose me,” said Callan. “That was pretty cool. It’s always nice to be chosen.”
While working/studying at the Margo Jones theatre, young Callan waltzed into an agent’s office in pursuit of a singing career. And as luck would have it, not only could she act but she had the voice of an angel. However, with little experience, Callan laughingly said, “I got my first gig performing on an air force base and without any clue as to what I was doing; I showed up in a prom dress and was pretty terrible.”
When a nun, the new principle at Callan’s old alma mater, heard what the aspiring starlet was up to, she offered Callan a job at the girl’s catholic school, ending her short-lived singing career. Two weeks later, eighteen-year-old Callan accepted the position and began teaching physical education and drama.
“Back then, the phys-ed teacher was only required to throw a ball and have the students fetch it, so it was a piece of cake,” explained Callan. “And teaching drama… it was fantastic and I found that I was really good at it.
“This was one of the best times of my life.”
Across the way, Mr. Callan taught English and Tennis at the boy’s school. One day, when K Callan (at the time, just Kay) borrowed lights from him, it wasn’t love at first sight. The young teachers became the best of friends. Eventually, however, she fell for him and after the first kiss, a mutual love blossomed.
Putting off plans to move to New York City, K Callan relocated with her husband and three children. After several good years later, the marriage deteriorated and with the kids piled into her station wagon, Mrs. Callan dropped the “r” and moved to NYC as Ms. K Callan, where she began aggressively pursuing her acting career.
“We moved to a very ‘uncool’ area on the Lower East Side,” said Callan.
As destiny would have it, Callan began working on commercials here and there.
“There were three very lean years,” Callan recollects. “I was constantly praying when I opened the mailbox, hoping for a residual.”
However, the big move to NYC finally paid off when Callan landed a role in an independent production called Joe.
Although it was a small budget film, Joe led to a New York Times review and that is what ultimately put Callan on the map. A few years later, she accepted a four-part role on One Day at a Time, which got her out to Los Angeles for a short time.
“Ever since I was a little girl I wanted to be in Hollywood,” Callan mused.
When she flew back to New York, Callan packed up the troops once again and moved to the city of Angels.
Since then, Callan has racked up her portfolio with literally one hundred roles. With such an enormous amount of gigs in her sack, there is a 90% chance that if you flip through the television channels on any given evening, you will spot her. Ms. Callan is a flower that never stops blossoming.
However, life as a freelance actress isn’t always what it is cracked up to be.
“Working as a freelance anything takes a special temperament,” Callan said. “You’re always looking for work and have no guarantee of making the rent next month. You can’t take a vacation because what if ‘they’ should call, and it would be the one time that year that you got a chance to work.
“You are your own mother, father, boss; accountant, etc…” continued Callan. “You must get yourself motivated to seek out work every day, make sure when you do work you put money aside for a rainy day and keep yourself disciplined.”
Callan added, “I was lucky enough to work and be home with my kids. I’ve been so lucky to be an actual working actor.
“The greatest lesson I learned in this business is to get over yourself. Once you’ve worked in any field, it’s easy to become entitled. No one is entitled. Every day is a new day to prove oneself.”
And when asked what she believes an aspiring performer needs to make it in the entertainment business, Callan replied, “Drive, an unhappy family life, and an entrepreneurial bent.”
Being that making it as an actor is very difficult; roughly only about 5% actually succeed. There are many theories as to why – some believe talent is a major factor while others think luck is at play. However, Callan feels that it is “hunger.”
“The 5% are just hungrier. That hunger fuels creativity not only as an actor but as a forager of jobs.”
As a female in Hollywood, youth is crucial in getting roles and there are many unhappy actresses who find it difficult to continue to work as they grow older. However, Callan is not one of those women. Without focusing on the negatives in Tinseltown, neither age nor gender has stood in her way.
“Of course being a woman in Hollywood is harder, but it isn’t a part of my consciousness,” stated Callan. “Being a white man is better than being a white woman. Being a younger white man is better than being an older white man. Being a younger white woman is better than being an older white woman.
“These considerations exist because of the roles that are written and the way our society exists. None of these things matter if you happen to be able to get work. And if there are no roles, reinvent yourself, write/produce something for yourself or choose another job.”
That being said, when asked what other profession she would choose besides acting, Callan replied, “A teacher or writer, both of which I’ve done.”
Back in Dallas when Callan was raising her three children aged four, three, and six months, commuting 50 miles to Denton (taking fifteen hours) while working at home on three correspondence courses to finish her BA and teaching theatre two days a week, directing shows both at the local Little Theatre and at the high school, she recalls having ‘absolutely no free time.’ And ironically, this sparked one of Callan’s fondest memories.
“I told my husband when I finally got my degree I was going to have a party to just see all the people I hadn’t seen during that very busy/stressful time. One Saturday afternoon, I walked in the house and it was full of all my friends. My ex-husband arranged everything – food, people.
“All I had to do was sit and visit,” continued Callan. “That was such an amazingly thoughtful thing to do. I’ve been lucky enough to have several surprise parties in my life and those surprises are all among my best life memories.
“I’m a very lucky person.”
With many more roles ahead of her, K Callan plans to continue working for as long as she lives. And when asked how she knows which roles are right for her, she said:
“It just fits like a great dress.”