Joseph Calleia (August 4, 1897 – October 31, 1975) was a Maltese born American singer, composer, screenwriter and actor, both on Broadwayand in film. Calleia played opposite some Hollywood greats, including John Wayne, Gary Cooper, William Holden, Errol Flynn, Rita Hayworth, Mae West, Bette Davis, Orson Welles, Jane Russell, Alan Ladd, William Powell, Mario Lanza, Charlton Heston, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Tyrone Power, and Anthony Quinn.
Born at Saqqajja Square, Rabat, Malta, to Pasquale and Elena Calleja, he was educated at St Julian's and St Aloysius colleges in Malta. He organized a harmonica band of boys which earned him enough money to leave Malta in 1914, at age 17, and began his career touring Europe as a teenage singer with a harmonica band, appearing in the cafés and music halls of many war-torn and weary capital cities. He later went to New York as a singer and then turned to drama.
Although Calleia made over 50 films, he always claimed to prefer stage performance to film acting. He was considered a "bright light" on Broadway between 1926 and 1945, and appeared in several hit plays, including:
- Broadway at the Broadhurst Theatre, September 16, 1926 to February 11, 1928, as "Joe, a waiter"
- The Front Page at Times Square Theatre, August 14, 1928 to April 1929, as "Kruger (Journal of Commerce)"
- The Last Mile at Sam H. Harris Theatre, February 13, 1930 to circa October 1930, as "Tom D'Amoro"
- Grand Hotel at the National Theatre, November 13, 1930 to December 1931, as "the chauffeur", and general stage manager
- Honeymoon at Little Theatre, December 23, 1932 to circa. February 1933, as "Nicola"
- Ten Minute Alibi at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, October 17, 1933 to January 1934, as "the hunter"
- Small Miracle at John Golden Theatre, September 26, 1934 to January 1935, as "Tony Mako"
By 1931, Calleia had landed an MGM contract in Hollywood, where he successfully pursued a career in the film industry, appearing in a total of 57 movies between then and 1955, frequently playing cops or villains in gangster and western films.
He made his screen debut in 1935 with appearances in two B-films: His Woman (1931) and The Girl in the Cab (1933). He very quickly made his mark, playing the role of a criminal in Public Hero No. 1, followed by Riff Raff (1935) in which he played a womanizer, co-starring with Jean Harlow, Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney. In 1936, Calleia wrote the screenplay for the western take onRobin Hood with The Robin Hood of El Dorado. In 1943, he played El Sordo in For Whom The Bell Tolls.