While he had the matinee idol looks and voice and was a regular presence on the Australian stage, John McCallum never became a movie star on the scale achieved by Errol Flynn, Rod Taylor or Mel Gibson. But his role behind the scenes of Australian television and film was of incalculable importance.
In his first major on-screen role, in the Australian A Son is Born (1946), McCallum played opposite the soon-to-be-famous actors Peter Finch and Ron Randell. From this time on he contributed the occasional leading man or character role in such landmark British films as The Loves of Joanna Godden (1947), It Always Rains on Sunday (1947) and Miranda (1948), and played a villain with significant impact in the made-in-Australia Smiley (1956).
By the mid-1950s he was well enough known in Australian theatre circles to be considered a box-office asset when he appeared on-screen to introduce Cecil Holmes's social realist portmanteau film Three in One (1957). From then on, his diversity reflected the state of the entertainment industries in the Australia in which he and his wife Googie Withers (with whom he had first appeared on screen in Joanna Godden) chose to call home.
In the mid-1960s, McCallum’s major contributions to the revival of Australia’s screen fortunes were behind the scenes – as managing director of the Australian theatrical company, JC Williamson Ltd, which co-bankrolled They’re a Weird Mob (1966), whose box-office smash restored confidence in Australian filmmaking; and as executive producer of the TV series Skippy (1967-69), which radiated a screen image of Australia to the world on a scale never before achieved. Skippy’s production entity, Fauna Productions, would continue with such other shot-on-film TV drama series as Barrier Reef (1971-72), Boney (1972-73), Shannon’s Mob (1975), and Bailey’s Bird (1977).
McCallum also produced and directed Nickel Queen (1971, starring Withers and John Laws) and produced the feature films The Intruders (1969), Attack Force Z (1982, featuring Mel Gibson and Sam Neill) and the Australia-Japan co-production The Highest Honour (1982).