Joseph Calleia: The Bit Part Actors' Actor From the Island of Malta


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Joseph Calleia was born in Malta on the 4th of August, 1897. His official biography simply says Malta, but some of the people I have interviewed say he was born in the village of Rabat, others Sliema. Joseph had a very good singing voice and actually began his career as a concert singer in England and Paris. He came to Hollywood in 1931 and played the villain, Juan, in My Sin. His slightly menacing persona fit the role perfectly, and he was called upon to play similar characters often until his film career ended in 1963 with Johnny Cool. Perhaps his most famous role was the villain, Jeff Badger, in My Little Chickadee with W. C. Fields and Mae West. Though IMDb, which calls itself the world's largest Film Data Base, credits him with 57 films, he played bit parts in many others, including one of my favorites, After the Thin Man.

Although Calleia naturally spent much of his time in Hollywood making movies, he remained true to his native country and returned there as often as possible. The people of Malta appreciated him and started a fan club in the early ‘forties. Unlike many Hollywood actors of the time, he always faithfully answered his fan mail and happily sent autographed pictures to anyone requesting them. Unfortunately for him, his name was probably as little known in his time as it is now. Asked about it, he is reputed to have replied, “Everyone recognizes my face, but no one knows my name. "

One of his favorite roles was Buldeo in the 1942 version of The Jungle Book, starring Sabu. Buldeo as an old man tells a tourist about the jungle and the time when a young boy was orphaned and raised by wolves. Calleia liked playing the much older man and found getting made up to be enjoyable, though most actors and actresses of the time hated the process. He also liked his role in A Touch of Evil, playing a friend of the corrupt Sheriff, Orson Welles. He felt it showed a vulnerability that was lacking in so many of his roles.

Joseph Calleia returned to Malta to retire and died on Halloween in 1975. His fan club is still in existence and has several hundreds of members around the world. In July of 1997, the government of Malta issued issued a set of two stamps in his honor.

John Anderson is a Maltaphile who is interested in every aspect of the ancient island's culture and history. His novel, The Cellini Masterpiece, which was written under the penname of Raymond John, borrows deeply from three of its most important periods-the 16th Century, World War II and the present. If you would like to read a sample chapter of the book, or would like to ask John a question, you may contact him at


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