Lon McCallister bio
If remembered at all, Lon McCallister is associated with Boy-Next-Door roles in several “family” movies of the mid- and late ’40s. Born Herbert Alonzo McCallister Jr. in Los Angeles (on April 17, 1923), he grew up in L.A.’s West Adams District, where MGM star Ramon Novarro was a neighbor. (Photo: Lon McCallister publicity shot ca. 1945.)
Lon McCallister movies
McCallister began his film career in the mid-’30s, featured either as an extra or a bit player, often at MGM, in movies such as Romeo and Juliet (1936), The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1938), and Babes in Arms (1939).
After years of negligible roles, things finally began picking up for McCallister when he was cast as one of the young leads in Sol Lesser Productions’ United Artists-distributed Stage Door Canteen (1943), a pro-war-effort, all-star extravaganza directed by Oscar winner Frank Borzage and written by future director Delmer Daves. The film consists of a series of revue acts connected by a thin storyline about young soldiers (one of them played by McCallister) and waitresses at the Broadway-star-populated (Katharine Hepburn, Lynn Fontanne, Alfred Lunt, Tallulah Bankhead, Martha Scott, Gypsy Rose Lee, etc.) canteen of the title. But flimsy plot or no, Stage Door Canteen was a major box office hit.
The following year, Private Lon McCallister was one of the All-American Boys eager to Serve Their Country in what’s probably George Cukor’s very worst movie, the Fox release Winged Victory. (McCallister and Cukor, who had also directed Romeo and Juliet, would remain friends for decades.)
Much more entertaining was Fox’s idealized, Technicolored slice of Middle-American life, Home in Indiana (1944), in which McCallister had two pert and pretty leading ladies, Jeanne Crain and June Haver.
At that point, however, military service abruptly halted McCallister’s movie career. Upon his return to the big screen three years later, he would be unable to recover his professional momentum.
Lon McCallister: Post World War II movie career
In 1947, Lon McCallister had a major role in another Sol Lesser Productions feature released via United Artists, the Delmer Daves-directed The Red House, starring Edward G. Robinson. But if that was a relatively prestigious, if now largely forgotten, thriller, McCallister’s Fox movies during that time were all minor fare.
An announcement that McCallister would play a “baby-faced killer” in Robert Siodmak’s classy crime drama Cry of the City went nowhere; instead, the nice boy from back Home in Indiana was cast in Thunder in the Valley (1947) and The Big Cat (1949), paired with the talented, but fast-fading former child actress Peggy Ann Garner, while the highly fictionalized The Story of Seabiscuit (1949) had him featured opposite another fast-fading former child star, Shirley Temple, in one of her last movies. (As Seabiscuit, the racing-horse story was “rebooted” more than half a century later by future The Hunger Games director Gary Ross, with Spider-Man’s Tobey Maguire in a role — somewhat — akin to McCallister’s in the 1949 movie.)
And finally, Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay! had McCallister romancing June Haver, whose stardom never reached the heights of fellow Fox blonde Betty Grable, and dealing with her younger sister Natalie Wood. (Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay!’s chief claim to fame is the presence of Marilyn Monroe in a bit role.) By 1950, McCallister was no longer associated with Fox.
After four other minor movies, the last of which was the Korean War drama Combat Squad (1953), and a handful of television appearances, McCallister, 30 years old, retired from films. He then spent several years in England and elsewhere in Europe, and traveled for months in South America — apparently accompanied by fellow former Fox actor William Eythe (more details about the McCallister-Eythe relationship in the follow-up piece).
Later on, McCallister began investing in California real estate, focusing on that endeavor in the ensuing decades.
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