Books

Mike has published novels, poetry and television adaptations, including BBC Books, and is best known for his performing arts biographies. His biography of Sean Connery, in print for 30 years, remains the definitive work on the actor. His recent critically acclaimed biography of Robert Redford was a New York Times Bestseller.

To me, writing is character study and poetry equally. I don’t distinguish types, and a novel is as much a research journey as a biography. The best writing has the potent distillation of language and ideas that defines great poetry.

ROBERT REDFORD: THE BIOGRAPHY

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FIRST REVIEWS OF ROBERT REDFORD: THE BIOGRAPHY

“Revealing . . . An unusually well-written movie-star biography . . . What emerges is a comprehensive portrait of a man beset by colliding tides of ambition and hesitation…” Scott Eyman, The Wall Street Journal

“Michael Feeney Callan is … a shining example [of good film biographers]. This is superior fare.” Bryan Forbes, The Daily Mail

“Callan’s book is one of the most thoroughly researched, analytic examinations ever conducted into the life of a popular entertainer.”Jeff Dawson, The Sunday Times

“There are already several biographies of Redford, but since his is far more comprehensive and rather better written, Michael Feeney Callan’s deserves its billing as The Biography.” Lewis Jones, The Daily Telegraph

“Copiously researched.” Film Comment, the Film Society of the Lincoln Film Center

“Callan’s well-informed theories about what makes Redford tick creatively – a love-hate relationship with money and fame, the loss of key loved ones in his formative years – are enough to make an interesting book, but “Robert Redford” also includes anecdotes from film sets and from a sometimes complicated family life. The movie star biography is not a distinguished genre. Such books usually fall into one of two categories: They’re slobberingly reverential or nastily muckraking. Most are clip jobs – that is, they are little more than slapped-together compilations of materials swiped from other sources. But Callan has done his homework. He interviewed Redford multiple times over a 14-year period, and also interviewed the actor’s children and colleagues.” Julia Keller, The Chicago Tribune

“Carefully crafted … Callan is clearly on his game when it comes to dissecting Redford’s film career.” Daniel Bubbeo, Newsday

“An elegant life of Robert Redford gets to the heart of an enigmatic, Gatsbyesque charmer who dreamed of freedom, honesty and social fulfillment. Feeney Callan has written an elegant, perceptive book, admiring, friendly…he gives us Redford warts and all.Philip French, The Observer

“Too seldom is the life of an actor of Robert Redford’s stature given such a finely detailed and well-written exploration.” Douglass K. Daniel, Associated Press

“Meticulous … Callan’s all-access pass results in a deft narrative about the business of making mainstream movies from the 1960s to the present, loaded with insider interviews and compelling mini-histories of how Redford movies like The Candidate, Out of Africa and A River Runs Through It came to be made.” J.M. Tyree, San Francisco Chronicle

“As incisive a biography of Redford as there is ever likely to be.” The New York Times

“Bracing . . . A fascinating study . . . of fame and our uneasy relationship with it.” Maureen Calahan, The New York Post

“Intriguing . . . An all-American beautiful jock with a brutal iron will and the soul of a visionary tyrant, Redford, under Callan’s gaze, emerges as a sui generis American figure. Gripping and intimate …” Gerard Bartell, Kirkus

“This book is for film students who may be familiar with the business of Sundance, but not its origins or aims. It’s for film historians who have seen, in the past decade, the loss of such cinematic giants as Paul Newman, Sydney Pollack, and George Roy Hill and want their (as well as Redford’s) contributions and personalities documented for posterity. It’s for scholars who will value the chapter notes, filmography, and comprehensive index. It’s for fans like me, who have watched Redford’s films since the ‘60s and admire the man’s politics as well as his artistry. If you fall into one of these latter categories, you should treasure this book.” Lynnette Porter, Contributing Editor, PopMatters (the international magazine of cultural criticism)

“Relentless and first-rate … Powered by lengthy, detailed interviews with Redford and access to the actor-director-activist’s decades of journals and notebooks, Callan’s book paints a picture of a restless guy, genuinely torn between impulses of activity and stillness, art and commercial success, hard work and hard play.” 
Chris Foran, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“Deeply researched … Give Callan credit for letting in dissenting voices and for allowing Redford’s less Galahadian qualities to shine forth: the opportunism and narcissism, the scattershot management style, the absentee fathering. Best of all, Callan’s book begins and ends exactly where it should: with that quadrant of Utah soil christened by its owner: Sundance.” Louis Bayard, Washington Post

“Reads like a novel with a heavy focus on one character … [It] will show you that a well-written biography can be as compelling as any fiction.” Tony Buchsbaum, January Magazine

“A precise, weighty analysis of Redford’s life and impact, meticulously constructed and delivered with pace and style. Already extracted by Vanity Fair, it is set to become the definitive account, not only of Redford, but also of that era of movie-making that was his hey-day, the era of All The President’s Men and The Candidate.” Emily Hourican, Irish Independent

ANTHONY HOPKINS: A THREE ACT LIFE

Reviewed by Dermot Bogler

Sunday Business Post – 8 January 2006

 

HOPKINS’ LAND OF SHADOWS

Callan’s impressive new biography

 

topstorybookWelsh-born actor, and now American citizen, Anthony Hopkins is locked into the public imagination as either an anally retentive, emotionally repressed Englishman unable to hurt a fly (the butler in the 1993 film The Remains of the Day, or as CS Lewis in Shadowlands, made in that same year) or else as the horrific psychopath Hannibal Lector, in the 1991 film The Silence of the Lambs.

But in a career lasting over half a century, he has played a leading role in over 90 films and major theatrical productions, where he has brought many of the his unique characteristics to bear.

Hopkins’ talent as an actor is to make his audience become emotionally involved with his characters, while at the same time not fully liking them. Irish-born Michael Feeney Callan’s task as a biographer is slightly similar, in that the highly driven but insecure man who comes across in the book is never especially likeable.

Hopkins is amenable, presentable, intelligent and well mannered, but step over into his private life, and the shutters come down and stay down. Callan presents him as a man carrying ghosts as he constantly drives himself forward.

Rather like the characters he is fond of playing, Hopkins has always been something of a misfit, standing – as the Greek poet Cavafy phrased it – at a peculiar angle to the universe.

Like Athlone’s John Broderick, he was born a baker’s son in a small town, and was acutely aware of that social position. Classmates from various boarding schools recall him with no particular affection, while teachers recall being frustrated at this deliberate refusal to engage in sport or even drama – indeed, any activity that might draw him into the herd. Cinema was his fantasy, and acting was to prove his way out. Although, long before film, Hopkins made slow progress through acting school and toured small venues in Wales with the Raymond Edwards group, while people – most especially himself – predicted great things for him.

Hopkins told his fellow cast members that he had been invited to join the National Theatre in London, and became caught up in this lie until he was forced to admit that the call hadn’t come.

However, when Laurence Olivier began to restructure the theatre, appointing radical theatre critic Kenneth Tynan as literary manager, he sought out new talent. He quickly recognised Hopkins’ ability and the Welsh actor became central in the rejuvenated theatre.

Callan’s book is especially good in tracing the leap that Hopkins made out of theatre, turning his back firmly on Olivier once the chance arose to break through into film.

The base for his first film (The Lion in Winter, made in 1968 with Peter O’Toole and Katherine Hepburn, which was filmed in Ardmore Studios in Wicklow) was hardly glamorous. While O’Toole raised hell in Dublin and Hepburn took a romantic cottage nearby, Hopkins and the rest of the cast and crew were holed up in the Glenview Hotel.

Hopkins was nervous, with Hepburn guiding him through scenes, making him turn more to the camera. He embraced the new medium, acting in a host of lesser films during a period of his life that saw his marriage break up and many of the demons of his introversion come to the fore.

He entered a lunatic spiral of manic heavy drinking that, in the actor’s own words, saw him ”standing on the brink of hell… driving over the canyons, blacking out, not knowing where I was going. In the mornings I would wonder did I kill somebody? And would check the front of the car.” When the chance to move to America came, he leapt at it, taking any work he could get, avoiding the English set in Hollywood and drinking in bars alone. What Hollywood really wanted from him was a new Richard Burton. Film by film, Callan painstakingly pieces together Hopkins’ slow path through 20 anguished years to gain universal acclaim as an actor.

A Three-Act Life brings us right up to 2005 in Hopkins’ complex life, and yet the actor remains a sketchy figure, someone who you still don’t quite know, or even want to know. This could be the great chameleon quality of the reserved schoolboy who only came alive among his peers when he gave perfect impersonations of every teacher.

As an actor, Hopkins has eclipsed the talent of his idol Richard Burton, although one suspects that Burton, for all his own demons, remained the happier man.

This is an impressive work by one of Ireland’s foremost biographers.

 

“Impressive work from one of Ireland’s leading biographers” – Dermot Bolger, the Sunday Business Post

“This is a serious book … shrewd, detailed, comprehensive” – the Irish Independent

“Meaty .. Callan traces his subjects rebirth, one that led to his present status as one of Britain’s great post-war actors” – the Independent, London

“Vividly portrays a hell-raiser tortured by his own demons” – Michael Arditti, the Times

Sean Connery

connerySean Connery is an enigma. Among European actors his achievements are unparalleled. He was the backbone of one of the most lucrative movie series in history, handcrafting his big screen James Bond alongside Ian Fleming, Cubby Brocolli and Harry Saltzman, and he extended his career from theatre successes in London through every genre of film, from screwball comedies to high drama.

Respected for his political savvy (the “Scotland Forever” tattooed on his arm defines his loyalties), he is also among the most argumentative and litigious of public figures – a fact that doesn’t reduce his colossal fan base. Now in his seventies, he continues to display powerful sex appeal, as compelling today as it was forty years ago alongside Ursula Andress in Dr No.

Connery family members, friends and co-stars have contributed to this celebrated, intimate biography, the first and most distinguished work on the actor, which has now been brought fully up to date to include The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Recognised by students of cinema as the definitive book on Connery, Callan’s was the source work referred to and quoted from by Cubby Broccoli in his own published memoir, When the Snow Melts.

 

“A necessity for Connery and Bond fans” – the Los Angeles Times

“Timely and fascinating” – Booklist

“Remarkably well documented … admirable” – Screen International

“Easily the best … The book’s real strength is the author’s impressive grasp of the ambience of the movie business, the deft, assured way he handles his vast knowledge … every line reveals the love for the subject of the true aficionado” -Ray Comiskey, the Irish Times

Richard Harris

harrisHe came in like a whirlwind and he ended like a summer breeze. The legendary Richard Harris was a genius whose frenzied existence sometimes overshadowed his talent, yet never eclipsed it. His death in the winter of 2002 marked the passing of one of the great eccentric spirits of modern cinema and the end of an era. Over 45 years, his career spanned small theatrical productions, homegrown British films and Hollywood blockbusters. Renowned for roles in This Sporting Life, Camelot and Unforgiven, Harris’s off-screen exploits drinking and womanising with fellow hell-raisers like Burton and O’Toole also brought him worldwide fame.

To mark his passing, award-winning author Michael Feeney Callan, a friend of Harris’s since the seventies, has revisited his original study of the actor (first published in 1990), and conducted further research and interviews to create a fresh and newly revealing tribute. This unique biography benefits from the long span of Callan’s association with Harris and documents the highs and lows of his personal and professional life with the profoundest insight, culminating with the resonant swansong performance as Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

 

“Thorough and entertaining … There is enough hard fact throughout the epic anecdotes to keep both studious and prurient readers happy” – the Guardian

“Callan writes with immense and heartfelt affection … four stars” – Total Film

“Brutally honest” – the Mail on Sunday

“Through Callan’s astute composition, Harris transcends the anticipated gin-soaked reputation” – Kirkus

Best Irish Short Stories

bestirishshortstoriesIn Ireland, the short story continues to thrive as nowhere else in the English-speaking world. All over Ireland, change is taking place with effects seemingly as irreversible as those of the bomb and the bullet. A pitched battle between the old and the new, between temerity and timidity, has revitalised the Irish short story, and in a variety of ways reverberates through the pages of this collection.

What V.S. Pritchett has seen as the “traditional Irish taste for poetic, highly-imaged language” is still to be enjoyed in these pages…

Contains 14 stories by leading and emerging Irish writers, among them William Trevor (Christmas in London), Jennifer Johnston (Trio), John McGahern (All Sorts of Impossible Things) and Michael Feeney Callan (Chrysalis). Edited, and with an introduction by David Marcus.

Julie Christie

juliechristieJohn Schlesinger’s film, Darling, made Julie Christie a star at 24, won her an Oscar and turned her into one of the idols and icons of the sixties, epitomising the new cool, classless, freewheeling, fashionable spirit of that decade. She was the classic overnight success – lionised by the critics, courted by Hollywood and consumed by the media with dizzy relish. It was, in the end, a shattering experience but one that Julie Christie came through to become a star of a new kind – determined to keep her independence both on and off screen, and to be judged on her work, not on her private life.

Her work has always been distinguished. Roles in Billy Liar and Darling propelled her into great experiments, from Dr Zhivago, which cast her as a conventional love interest, to Nicholas Roeg’s darkly memorable Don’t Look Now and Merchant and Ivory’s Heat and Dust. But in protecting her private life, Christie has been less successful. The long-term, headline love affair with Warren Beatty created a media momentum that she found hard to shake and her subsequent relationship with journalist Duncan Campbell – a social activist with whom she shared many causes – was shadowed by constant intrusions.

Callan charts Christie’s life in this bio-filmographical work that concentrates on her accomplishments as an actor, and discusses her film choices in detail.

Lovers and Dancers

loversanddancersCommencing in strife-torn Ireland in the early nineteenth century. Lovers and Dancers is a richly-woven saga of proud men and headstrong women caught up in the dramatic conflicts of the times.

At the heart of the story is the great house, Drumloch. Its master is Redmond Bouchard, handsome drinker and gambler, who sees his fortune crumble as he desperately strives to retain his heritage. His only children are twin daughters. Donna is passionate and caring; Letitia, beautiful but heartless. Rebelling against all the social conventions of the time they become involved with the sons of a tenant farmer. And thenceforward their only future lies far away from the rigid barriers of religion and class in famine-racked Ireland.

Moving first to pioneer America, and then on to the new colony of Australia, the interweaving strands of this powerful novel encompass a giant spread of turbulent events.

 

“A novel true to the realities of heart and fact … a book you give in to…” – Books Ireland

“Absorbing reading … Somewhat in the vein of Wuthering Heights … Rich and sparkling” – Liverpool Daily Post

“Callan is able to view both sides of the class struggle, which makes for powerful reading” – Sutherland Echo

“A joy to be able to report … a book of this scale and style coming from an Irish typewriter” – Irish Independent

Jayne Mansfield

jaynemansfieldPregnant at 15, married at 16, at 18 the spectacularly endowed Vera Palmer left Dallas, Texas for Hollywood, determined to become famous. She became Jayne Mansfield, a curious blend of homespun innocence and outstanding sexuality. With her 40 inch bust, perfect teeth and an insatiable lust for publicity, she was made for the camera. And she had the personality to match – she was as brazen and sexy as the image she created for herself.

Insane though it sounds, Jayne’s achievement in Hollywood was a feminist victory. No man created Jayne Mansfield – she did it all herself. She understood instinctively the power of her sexuality and she exploited it without shame to get what she wanted. One writer described her as “all bust, bum and broken promises”. Her first agent saw the skill of the trick: “She knew it all, she wanted to do it all by herself.”

Mansfield’s shining moment was brief. She died, not a movie star, but a second-rate nightclub entertainer, decapitated in a car crash. There were stories of occult curses and wild boozing sprees, and even in death she was the centre of a blaze of publicity. But, according to her former husband, adviser and lifelong love, Mickey Hargitay, she was, when she died, just at the point of reinventing herself.

Callan examines Mansfield’s life and the uniqueness of her short, fated career.

Fifty Fingers

fingersCallan’s first published poetry was in New Irish Writing in the seventies. Barbara, the very first poem, is included in this volume of collected poetry that spans thirty years. The collection is divided into two sections, Passion and Experience. Much of the Passion work dates from the seventies and eighties; the Experience poems are mostly later works and their themes range from meditations on Americanism (Pearl City, Divine Wind), to depression (Handing), iconography (Meeting Famous People) and loss of innocence.

Jockey School

jockeyschool“Fancy the guv’nor taking on a girl! There must be a hell of a shortage of lads.”

But it was true. A sixteen-year-old girl known as Billy was the latest hand at Rectory Training Stables, joining Tiny, Phil and Pete in their daily tasks. Twenty valuable horses were stabled there, and had to be fed, watered and mucked-out each day. It was heavy, exhausting work, and when it was done, Pat, the head lad, found plenty of other tasks to keep Billy busy.

Yet Billy didn’t intend to remain a stable lad for long. Her sights were set on being a jockey … and she was prepared to tackle whoever needed tackling to achieve her aim.

Based on the hit BBC television series by Alan Janes, starring Dana Humphries.

Did You Miss Me?

didyoumissmePatricia is a woman on the cusp of change. Her day to day life appears to have reached a terminal point. With three children nurtured and grown and a husband immersed in his academic work, Patricia drifts between the unsatisfying routines of a dull day job and the gossip obsessions of her reading group. But routines are altered by the arrival of a kind-hearted black couple, James and Alva, whose mysterious spin on the world makes her reevaluate her every waking thought and, finally, confront the childhood secret that has made her who she is.

 

“Engaging … Callan has a keen eye for the foibles of not just woman, but man too”
Sunday Business Post

“Callan gets inside the mind of the central character … Anyone with a passing interest is in for a treat”
Irish Independent

Target: The Bronze Heist

targetThere were not many villains around who had put Detective Superintendent Steve Hackett on the spot – and were still around to talk about it. But, five years ago, Frank Paluzzi had done just that.

Now Paluzzi was back in town – with the most vicious collection of big-time criminals to be seen together in years. Their task: the most ambitious heist since the Great Train Robbery.

For the men of the Regional Crime Squad, it is the beginning of a harrowing battle of nerves. For Hackett and his assistant, Bonney, it’s the grudge fight of the century. And for gangland girl, Dink – Steve Hackett’s one hope of breaking the Firm – it is a time for revenge, conflict and deadly danger.

An original novel by Michael Feeney Callan, based on the controversial BBC television series, Target, developed and produced by Philip Hinchcliffe.

Capital City

capitalcityThe traders at Shane Longman Bank are a close-knit team – at work and at play they pull together. By day they are competitive and motivated, hunting the million-dollar deal; at night they drink champagne and drive fast cars – if they aren’t still working.

On the trading floor, Declan McConnochie nurses a secret passion for his close friend and workmate, the beautiful Michelle; Hudson Talbot has been left holding the baby – quite literally – when his wife walks out on him; and Director Leonard Ansen, accused of driving the bank to the wall, is fighting for its future and that of his team of maverick traders. Max Lubin, “The Alchemist”, can always pull a deal out of the bag, but now time is running out for Max, for Leonard, for them all…

When you can win or lose millions in a day, it’s hard to separate personal tragedies from professional life. In a world where everything is a risk and nothing is certain, there is no room for losers.

Based on the hit ITV series of the same name.